We don’t always think carefully about the language we use. And even when we don’t it can reveal quite a bit. When I worked in university fundraising, we had two six-letter designations on our file cards for alumni: LYBUNT and LAPSED. The latter is a word, and you all recognize it. The other is an acronym: last year, but not this this year.
We callers usually welcomed the LYBUNT card because it usually meant, “Oh, I got the pledge card and I just forgot to do something about it.” The other card might mean that, but it might also lead to a listening exercise on our part: some graduate didn’t like the speaker the university invited, or they disagreed with some other political thing. They gave to the school at least once–so you know there was some level of caring. But they stopped, and that might mean disagreement.
When I hear of or read about Catholics who once went to Mass, but no longer seem present, there are three common terms. And which one gets used usually tells you more about the people using it than those labeled as such.
At the NCReg, there’s an ad that reads, in part:
Help us reach millions of Catholics, and those fallen away, with our catechetical content …
On the surface, it’s an earnest plea. I could make a comment about the presumption that if only Catholics, including the fallen away, were more educated. But that term, “fallen away” strikes me as a bit narcissistic. If an ally of an abused child got the cold shoulder of litigation, that person might well feel that morally, the institutional church fell away from them.
Over the years, I’ve also known many sick and elderly people who sagged little in their beliefs, and continued to pray at home. They don’t come to church anymore–but not by choice. We have a lot of older people in the world today, including those who lack physical ability, transportation, and friendly support to get to Mass. It seems to me that the lapse is on the part of the parish community. Yet we don’t talk about lapsed parishes when people are not visited, comforted, and befriended.
My own vocabulary choice is to use the word “inactive” when a word must be used at all. But I’m reconsidering that, too. Maybe I could just call these people by their given names, and while I’m at it, make a call–phone, or better: house. And cut the labels entirely.