My teenage son does not know if he wants to be Catholic, in fact he is not even sure if he even believes in God. When the subject comes up between us, my response, quite frankly is usually terse and accompanied with a tone much louder and more frustration-filled than I intend it to be. The result of the pain in my heart hearing his words which cut much deeper than he intends them to. I blame myself for his faith struggle, wondering what I could have done better or differently, and if it is now too late to make a difference. Yet the truth remains despite my greatest efforts, or at least my best attempt that my greatest efforts, my son is not sure where he stands with the faith that I love so very much.
Under the heading of “God’s perfect timing”, comes the book The Prodigal You Love by Sr. Theresa Aletheia, FSP published through Pauline Books and Media. I purchased this book when the Daughters of St. Paul were vendors at a retreat I was hosting. My choice based on an assumption that the book would help me minister to future attendees of my Seeking Faith retreats. However, as soon as I began to read, it was clear the book was additionally meant for me. As I read, I could not help but recall St. Paul’s teaching about the trials and suffering. In 2 Corinthians, Paul explains that which God has comforted us in through His son, at some point, will be called to comfort others.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with St. Theresa Aletheia during an interview on my radio show, A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras. Sr. Theresa, an atheist turn Daughter of St. Paul, lays out a guide to inviting our loved ones back to the Church. “It is not a script”, she clarifies, “People want a script but we are all too complex for one answer fits all.” She went on to explain, “Like no two snowflakes are alike neither are the reasons to people leave or reject the Catholic Church.” (visit Real Life Radio on Podbean to hear the entire interview). Since I am in the middle of Snowmageddon 2015, her snowflake analogy was not lost on me.
Here are 10 lessons I believe will make me better prepared to invite my loved one back to the Church, from the insightful writings of The ProdigalYou Love:
- Pray for humility. No matter how much it hurts or how uncomfortable I become. As Sr. Theresa Aletheia shares, humility has to be at the core of our invitation to the Church or it will not be met with the love in which it is intended.
- Learn to recognize when “silence is best”; my strategy for this? See answer to #1 and #3.
- Be attentive to the Holy Spirit. I will pray for and pay attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit in my heart; allowing it to direct my words and action.
Following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is an essential component in our interactions with loved ones who are away from the faith.” The Prodigal You Love, p. 40.
- Learn from Mary! Consider the answer to Jesus’ question, “Who is my mother?” (Mt 12:48). Mary is the model of faith, holiness, and corporation with grace.
- Love, love, love, and then love some more!
- Don’t judge! Only God knows a man’s heart, so why waste time trying to decipher why he has left or doubting?
Judging behavior can push others away, and is “opposite of the Christ-like behavior we are called to model.” (p. 67)
- Stay close to the Sacraments. For me this means first bringing my behavior in dealing with my son to Reconciliation (see #8); and spending more time in adoration. The Sacraments abound with God’s loving grace, and I personally like to take as much of it as I can get! What I took away from the chapter, Why Faith Matters – to call upon the grace of baptism to first and foremost be an example authentic and joyful witness of what God has done in my life. As Pope Francis warned, avoid being a sour-puss Christian, share my answer for why I was drawn back the Catholic faith after drifting for so many years.
- Put down the sword of righteousness, oh I wait that one is acceptable but I had the saber of self-righteousness! Learn to respond to my son with gentleness and love, opening of the line of communication, providing a safe place for questions, discussion and yes, even disagreement.
- Remember my son has free will. My path to the Catholic Church was not a straight path, quite frankly it still isn’t. I continue to take detours, find dead ends, and even take the long scenic way around (analogy reference pg. 81-82). We invite our loved ones to consider a relationship with God; we don’t coerce or manipulate. Authentic love is what God desires, hence our gift of free will.
- Pray, pray, pray, and then pray some more. The most important work in evangelization (and in parenting – if you ask me) begins with, remains and ends with prayer.