The problem of someone being hurt by the Church and staying away is one as old as the Church herself and will be with us until the end of time. It’s not generally thought of in the singles context, but it can have a very deep effect on finding a healthy Catholic marriage. It’s also important to note that this applies even if the person doesn’t formally leave the Church, doesn’t reject her teaching, doesn’t even leave the sacraments, but simply has a lingering wound that permeates their outlook toward life and towards different social circles.
I’ve seen it happen with people in the “real world.” I’ve seen it happen in the cyberworld here on Catholic Match. And it’s happened to me. A person is hurt by someone they see as representative of the Church, or some particular group within her, and they overreach. The pain is deep enough that it leads a person to reject everything about a particular group within the Church. Here on Catholic Match, perhaps it was a blowup in the message forums. Perhaps someone’s upset that they weren’t responded to in a message or emotigram. Rather than just moving on to the next person, conclusions too broad are drawn.
At the core of the problem is ascribing too much power to one single person, particularly too much Catholicity. A common error made—including by me—is assuming that this person who’s offended you or hurt you is the symbol of “all devout Catholics”, “if all orthodox Catholics are like you I can see why people stay away”, “if all trads are like you…”, “if all charismatics are like you….”, and so on and so forth. But where does this person’s power come from? Unless they have a formal position within the Church or related organization, that power comes exclusively from what we give to them. And why do we want to give that much power to someone who’s hurt us?
Allowing the wound to fester has all kinds of effects. The most obvious and immediate one is that keeps us out of social circles where our spouse might be. While we might not be “one of them” (whoever “they” are), a human person is more than just the label we slap on them. The same person who might be “the trad” or “the charismatic” or “the forumite” might also have common interests with us in other areas, but through an exclusive focus on the area of anger, we become blinded to the other possibilities.
There’s another funny thing about anger. It’s really not controllable. It’s like an insidious poison that slips into your mind and clouds your outlook on life in ways you can’t predict or control. To try and control the side effects is as useless as trying to stop the spread of cancer without eradicating the tumor. I still recall vividly one instance several years ago of a hidden up resentment come spilling out on a date. Unsurprisingly, I felt like a fool and it certainly didn’t present me very well. If nothing else, that embarrassing display was a vivid reminder of the damage unchecked anger can do.
The situations we are talking about here do not involve the actual leaving of the Church, but where a person’s heart or mind become separated from Faith, even as they carry on what seems to be a perfectly normal Catholic life. I recall spending 45 minutes in meditation in the morning, saying a rosary in the afternoon, doing monthly confession and regular Mass attendance, but still feeling deeply separated from the Catholic Church. Because nurturing anger and grudges and wanting revenge against someone isn’t consistent with any of that, and that drove the mental struggle. Which in turn had negative effects on pursuing a serious relationship. And that was for the better, because far better for something to hinder a relationship then to get into one and dragging unnecessary baggage in (as some of us know all too well, there’s enough real baggage to deal with without bringing in extras).
Let’s say you’re someone in this spot and recognizes it, but has a grudge or a wound that just won’t heal. Where do you turn from there? First, recognize that the problem is in the head, but your heart is in the right place. Make sure you keep doing all the right things. Over time, the head and heart will align with your actions, and if the actions are right, that’s certainly not what you want to change. Ask God for direction of what you might do to clear new pathways in the mind that will loosen things up. And above all remember the futility of nursing a grudge. As a friend of mine recently said, holding a resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person will be bothered by the smoke.