This article first appeared at: matthewsleonard.com
If I had a nickel for every time I’m approached at a speaking event or via email by someone lamenting their spouse, children, or friends who have left the Church…well, let’s just say I’d have a lot of nickels.It’s heartbreaking.
All of us know someone who has left the faith (or never fully grasped it to begin with). They walk away from the very source of eternal life and we’re beside ourselves as to what to do.
Out of frustration we nag, cajole, and strategically place evangelistic books on the coffee table in a desperate effort to light a spark in the heart of the wayward.
It rarely works.
So what do we do? How do we get them back? How do we get them to desire divine life and return wholeheartedly to the sacraments? First of all, we have to acknowledge that there’s no “silver bullet.” Every person has a free will. They can choose to simply reject God.
Not only that, everything…and I mean everything is a matter of grace. Repentance and salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit.
That said, as members of the Body of Christ, we have a definite, even powerful role.
In fact, I would propose that we possess a spiritual battle plan that has the ability to break through the defenses of even the most obstinate prodigal.
It’s not easy, but it’s incredibly effective.
So if you’re serious about unleashing the powerful mercy of God in your loved one’s lives, here’s a step-by-step master plan:
1. Look in the Mirror
In other words, do a self assessment and see whether or not any of your behavior is turning the other person away.
At it’s core, this means making sure that you are growing in holiness.
It means focusing on real spiritual growth that will help you to quell your anger, relieve your anxiety (which leads to the nagging and impatience), and fill you with merciful love.
Yes, it takes a fair bit of humility to realize that we might be part of the problem.
But since humility is the taproot of all virtue, it’s an absolute necessity to exercise it and take a hard look at ourselves.
And the primary way to achieve humility and holiness is number 2.
Millions of parents and spouses have begged St. Monica to intercede for their lost children and loved ones.
And certainly she is a powerful, powerful ally. Don’t ever stop those novenas.
But don’t forget that in order to evangelize, we must first be evangelized. We have to first focus upon ourselves and ensure that our personal relationship with the Lord is growing and maturing.
That happens primarily through prayer, particularly authentic Catholic meditation.
(If you need a free, quick start guide to Catholic meditation – Click Here.)
If we’re going to be a reservoir of love to others, we must first tap into the living waters of Christ’s love.
Growing in holiness helps us to crush our self-centered attitude and begin to put the other person first. We die to our own desires and shower others with Christ-like love
And this is a huge point.
People don’t come into, or return to the Church because they were beaten into submission through apologetic arguments, drug by the arm, or nagged to death.
They come back because of love. They come back through relationship.
But we can’t offer a truly loving relationship without a deeply personal relationship with Love Himself.
Prayer is that relationship.
And this deep, prayerful relationship with God is supposed to take us to another level.
In fact, it’s supposed to literally make us like the One we love.
“Prayer restores man to God’s likeness and enables him to share in the power of God’s love,” says the Catechism (no. 2572). And becoming like Christ is the whole goal of the spiritual life.
But here’s where things get difficult.
If the goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ and extend his love to the rest of the world as part of his Mystical Body, what does that actually look like?
Does it only consist in asking and petitioning for those living in darkness or is there more to it?
Yes, there’s more. A lot more.
And you can sum it up in one word…
Yep! It makes me squirm, too. But if you are serious about reclaiming lost souls, sacrifice is the key.
Because when you offer yourself up in sacrifice you’re doing exactly what Christ did on the Cross. You’re making a gift of yourself for the salvation of others.
Remember, we are a union of body of soul. We’re not simply spiritual beings. That means that if we’re going to truly make a gift of ourselves, our body must be involved.
“We love only to the degree that we are willing to suffer,” said the great Jesuit, Fr. John Hardon.
And again, Christ is the perfect example.
He was beaten, bloodied, and crucified for us. His exterior suffering was a manifestation of his interior sacrificial love. He gave it all up – body and spirit – for us.
And we are called to do the same thing.
We’re called to offer up our whole selves – body and soul – in sacrificial love.
And it’s extremely powerful not because of us, but because we’re wielding the power of Christ. Joined to him through the sacraments, we’re tapping into the saving power of the Cross, the ultimate source of sacrificial, saving love.
And realize that I’m not saying we have to go all “Rambo” on ourselves.
Even small penances – turning down the hot water in the shower for a minute and saying a Hail Mary, not having that second cup of coffee, eating all the cauliflower on your plate – can be incredibly powerful.
They are sacrifices driven by love that unleash the powerful mercy of Christ.
Of course, not only will this sacrificial love help others to conversion, it will lead to your salvation, as well.
As Christ told St. Catherine of Siena, “Those who are willing to lose their own consolation for their neighbors’ welfare receive and gain me and their neighbors…and so they enjoy the graciousness of my charity at all times.”
So there you go: Look in the mirror, pray, and sacrifice. It’s a serious battle plan that paves the way for the Holy Spirit to powerfully penetrate the hearts of our lost loved ones and move us closer to Christ, as well.
Finally, don’t get frustrated if things don’t happen right away. Conversion normally takes time. But at the end of the day, don’t forget that the Lord loves your loved ones even more than you do and desperately wants to draw them close.
God bless you!
P.S. Here are some episodes of my Art of Catholic about similar subjects:
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