It’s Sunday. You sit in your pew, waiting in prayerful silence for Mass to begin. All around, you can hear the sound of other people filing into the church, preparing to offer their prayers and thanksgiving to God.
Then you glance to the empty space in the pew next to you. Yet again, the thoughts whisper through your mind:
If I tried inviting him again next week, would he come?
Why did she decide to stop coming to church?
Maybe if I got him to talk with the pastor, he’d realize why he needs to be here.
What can I do to bring her home?
If you’ve ever had someone close to you walk away from the faith, you can relate. And you’re not alone. Now that you’re wrapping up your school year, you might be heading home to friends or family members who have stopped practicing. Since you’ve been deepening your relationship with Christ and encountering Him in the sacraments, you may feel moved to help those loved ones come back to church again at some point during the summer.
When it comes to the eternal destiny of a loved one, many of us feel we should do whatever it takes to get them back to church. However, not all approaches are effective. Some can have disastrous results. Even so, the summer offers a great opportunity for you to help those around you view God and the faith in a new way — and perhaps even view their own relationship with Him in a new way, too. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
1. Look within. We have to remember that everyone — whether they go to Mass every day, or only twice a year, or not at all — is continually being invited by God into a richer relationship with Him. Before we invite someone else to rediscover the fullness of life with Christ, we must be pursuing our own relationship with Him more deeply through prayer and the sacraments. We can’t share what we don’t have.
2. Remember the cause of your joy. Some folks wonder whether the Church really has anything to offer them. Life, they say, is good enough. We’ve got technology, modern conveniences, and entertainments galore. But the truth is, despite all that the world can offer, there’s no way of life more attractive than an authentic Christian life.
As Christians, our joy should be impossible to contain. He is risen! If that good news has started to transform your habits while you’ve been at school, others back home will notice. So many people I’ve known have been led back to the faith because of a classmate, friend or relative who was doing just one thing really well: living out their faith with joy. We Christians should always be ready to share the reason for our hope — and the simplest way to share it is to live it.
3. Listen. Fr. Mike Schmitz makes a remarkable point that, when encouraging a loved one to consider coming into or back to church, we shouldn’t really be doing the talking. Instead, we should listen.
Our friends and family members may have a number of reasons for why they’ve stopped coming. They may think God is a cruel judge, not a loving Father. They may have a poor impression of church because of their encounters with sour-faced parish staff or standoffish parishioners. They may have heard strange things about Catholic beliefs from whatever source, and now they feel the Church is misguided at best and dangerous at most. They may bear deep wounds from sin and don’t feel they could ever belong back in God’s house. They might not realize just how much they’re missed.
Whatever the reason, it’s extremely important to acknowledge their experiences. Oftentimes, our willingness to listen is enough of a gesture of goodwill to help keep the door open, giving us a chance to share what Christ has done for us personally and how great His love is for each of us.
1. Lecture. Nothing pushes lapsed Catholics further off the path back to God than a lecture on doctrine or arguments about Catholic social teaching. The truth we must share, first and foremost, is this: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life…He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength” (CCC 1). That beautiful, powerful message is what will transform hearts, not dry discussions about dogma.
2. Attack. There’s a reason Satan is called “the accuser.” Criticism is in the devil’s court. It might be easy for us to point out exactly what influences or habits are pulling our loved ones further away from God. But someone who’s left the Church never responds well to statements like “God is judging you!” or “Keep it up and you’re going to hell!”
3. Give up. St. Monica is a testament to what can be achieved through perseverance. Had she given up praying for her wayward son, St. Augustine, he may not have experienced his conversion of heart in his moment of great despair. No soul is entirely lost. It is important for us to pray with hope for our loved ones who have fallen away, that their hearts may be open to receiving Him in faith once again.
One final note: God’s grace inspires conversions of heart. For us, it’s important that we trust in His timing in all things, especially in regards to helping others come home to the Church. So don’t be discouraged, and don’t be afraid. Our simple, gentle invitation to others may be all God needs to set miracles in motion.