All things are in the hands of God. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. Colossians 1:17-18
I knew a devout Catholic woman — a daily Mass attendee — who was married to a violent-tempered man several years her senior, who was not a particularly good father, either. Despite her spouse, this loving mother did her best to raise her three children in the Church.
Two of their children stayed faithful to the Church throughout their young adult years, but one son not only strayed morally, but joined a new age cult the year he started university. He succumbed to life’s physical and intellectual temptations, which led him far from his family and faith. As he became blind to the Truth and bound by sin, his mother feared he was lost.
She was crushed, but never gave up on him. As her tears flowed down over the years to flood the earth, her prayers floated upward to appeal to Jesus, Mary, and the Saints.
Perhaps in your family there is one or more loved ones who have who have strayed from the faith. You are not alone. Young Catholics especially are leaving the Church in droves--according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, two recent national studies show that less than a third of people raised Catholic stay Catholic as adults. And 79% of those who leave do so before age 23, according to the Pew Research Center.
If these alarming statistics are reflected in your own family, do not despair! Nor should you become complacent, thinking your child will naturally return to the faith once he’s older and more mature or she gets married. Instead, put your love for that child in action:
DO pray for them constantly. Upon rising each day, pray for them for five or ten minutes. Ask other family members to pray for them, too. Request prayers from parishioners and friends. Pray before the Blessed Sacrament for them regularly and if possible, commit to a “holy hour” at Eucharistic Adoration when it is available. Ask Mary and the saints to intercede for your child, too. If possible, go to daily Mass and pray for them after receiving the Holy Eucharist, when you are especially close to Jesus. You also can request that Masses be offered for the person.
DO make small sacrifices for their conversion throughout the day. God is very moved by our willingness to sacrifice out of love for each other and we can procure additional graces for others through the traditional practice of “offering it up.” Even small sacrifices are powerful, such as abstaining from your smartphone for a while, giving up a food you particularly like, or volunteering in some way. Be creative! There are many things you can offer to God to obtain added graces for your child’s soul.
DO take time to learn more about our faith. Take time each to read Scripture, apologetics material, or spiritual readings. The time spent will not only benefit your own spiritual growth, but also will deepen your knowledge about the Church’s teachings and God’s love for us.
DO NOT confront, attack, or emotionally spar with your son or daughter who has ventured away from the faith. It is better to joyfully discuss the truth of the Church, the love of God, the sacrifice of Jesus, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and other positive themes in an open and inviting manner than to push someone away with negatively charged, emotional attack. If your child feels condemned, it will just push him away more.
DO trust that God will provide the right opportunity for you to dialogue about our merciful and loving Father and the wonder of the Church. Just remember that our adult children are intelligent souls who are not fooled by insincere, empty rhetoric. Make your words to them credible by truly living the faith--walk the walk and don’t just talk the talk! Let them see a loving, faith-filled disciple of Christ when they spend time with you. There is nothing more evangelical or compelling than a soul on fire with the love of Jesus!
DO “always be closing.” In my short-lived attempt to be a salesperson, I learned how important it is to always be inviting: Invite your child to Mass, to Confession, to Adoration. Invite, invite, invite! We know God is working mysteriously behind the scenes and that one day, they may accept that invitation and the Holy Spirit will touch their heart. That moment will then be a stepping stone on their path back to the Church.
DO NOT bury yourself in unproductive guilt. When it comes to how our children turn out, we parents can’t take all the credit and we can’t take all the blame. As I suggested, use the months or years your child is away from their Catholic faith to re-examination and strengthen your own faith. Let it be a time of spiritual renewal for yourself. In addition, view this time as a series of opportunities to help God bring your loved one back into the fold. Above all, God is merciful and loving and He allows these struggles because they can bring about great spiritual growth for the whole family if we take the right perspective and follow through.
There’s is a happy ending concerning the Catholic woman I mentioned before, whose son left the faith. The woman’s name was Monica and her son was Augustine--who’s mother’s prayers, sacrifices, and perseverance gloriously brought him because to the faith. We now know him as St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church. And now you know the “rest of the story!”
Perhaps you, too, are helping God return another saint to the loving arms of Jesus and His Church. Continue to love and pray unceasingly!
For further reading, check out these resources:
1. St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer by Mike Aquilina (2013).
2. The Confessions of Saint Augustine by St. Augustine
3. Catholics Come Home (www.catholicscomehome.com)