Perhaps it is what I get for being married to an English major. Perhaps it is my theology degree coming out. Either way, I tend to be pretty picky when it comes to words related to the Faith, and this is one of those terms.
Here’s the thing that a surprising number of people don’t know about their baptism: it means you are Catholic forever. And ever. Amen. Baptism leaves an indelible mark on your soul. You don’t wash that away when you stop going to Mass or live in a way that is contrary to Church teaching. You are – for all intents and purposes – still a Catholic. And you always will be.
When I worked in parish ministry I heard all kinds of things about how people did – or didn’t – understand the Sacraments. I once talked to a grandma who never received Confirmation because she “hadn’t decided if [she] wanted to be a Catholic for the rest of [her] life yet.” When I informed her that, because she had been baptized Catholic, she was already Catholic for the rest of her life, she was practically beside herself.
This is why the wording is important: those who choose not to live in accord with the Church teachings, though they have been baptized, are still Catholic. They are, simply put, non-practicing Catholics. Non-practicing Catholics sometimes go by other names: CINOs (Catholics In Name Only), ChrEasters (those who go to Mass only at Christmas and Easter), or even fallen away Catholics/lapsed Catholics. Because non-practicing Catholics are still Catholics, they still need – and deserve – our prayers.
As another election approaches there will, no doubt, be any number of stats saying that 95% of Catholics will vote for Candidate X. We’ll wonder where they got those stats and who these Catholics they are polling are. Well, they are us: the universal (that’s the meaning of the word ‘catholic’ by the way) Church. They may be the daily Mass goers, or they may be the non-practicing Catholics, or somewhere in between. Either way, they are – as I said above, for all intents and purposes – Catholic. Which is why we need to pray so fervently for those who are non-practicing.
Prayer for those who have left the Church isn’t to skew the polls or make us look any better. Prayer isn’t about the optics of how the Church looks or presents herself to society. Prayer for those non-practicing Catholics is for the good of their souls, and our own. It isn’t ‘us’ practicing Catholics over here and ‘those’ non-practicing Catholics over there in that corner. It is about us, the baptized, the ones with that indelible mark on our souls. It is about saving souls because Jesus called us, not only to go out to the end of the earth and baptize, but to teach the world of His love, His mercy, and how to be holy. He desires what is best for us – whether we are practicing Catholics or not.