Reaching Out to Family
"Saint Augustine and Saint Monica" (Gioacchino Assereto, 1600-1649)
Reaching Out to “Nones” in Your Family
Almost everyone has a family member who has drifted away from the Church. Some of them are sons and daughters. Some of them are brothers and sisters. Some of them are spouses. Some of them are angry at the Church. Some of them disagree with certain teachings. Some just don’t see the spiritual need to encounter God through his Church. And all of them are people we love, and we want their happiness.
August is an especially good month for refocusing on our call to love our family through witness to the Gospel: August ends with the feast days of two saints who will guide us, St. Monica and St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was raised by his faithful mother and pagan father and refused Christianity in dramatic ways in his early adulthood. But he became one of the most prolific converts to the faith ever, and his theology still has a enormous impact on how we practice the faith today. Monica is the unsung heroine, however-she never stopped praying for her wayward son and reaching out, offering witness, trusting in God, and more. All this in the midst of what was clearly a difficult marriage and her own challenges with addiction. We can - and should - ask for Augustine and Monica’s intercession in our prayers for our drifted family.
One of the best resources available for approaching this reality with your family is Brandon Vogt’s Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to Church. (And it works for other family members as well, but the statistics bear out: we are losing our adult children.) That book is currently available as an ebook here: https://helpthemreturn.com/gameplan-international (and is coming out in paperback in a second edition in 2021).
1) Dedicate daily prayer for this person. Seems obvious, but do we do it? Our prayers are used by the Lord in ways that are mysterious, but powerful. Do this, consistently, before you do anything else. This can be the novena to Sts. Monica and Augustine below, or your own heartfelt prayer, a rosary, etc.
2) Maintain relationship. If you have a good relationship, great. Keep it up. If you don’t, be humble and mend it as best you can. The following steps happen within relationship.
3) Be a peaceful witness. Life isn’t always easy, but if you can radiate God’s own peace, you open the door to conversation rather than argument.
4) Set a time to talk and hear why he/she doesn’t practice the faith. If your relationship is sound, and you are at peace, ask this person if they would be willing to tell you why they don’t attend Church anymore. Make it a “set apart” conversation if you can, over coffee or lunch. Pray “Come Holy Spirit,” and ask in this way: “I care about you, and I just want to understand you better. Do you mind telling me why you don’t practice the faith anymore? I promise just to listen. Your chance to tell me what you think.” If they agree to share, keep to your word. Be quiet and listen, no reactions, no judgments! And then end by thanking them for sharing this with you. If there are parts of their story you can affirm, do so.
5) Propose a second conversation. “I would really like to share where I am coming from in my walk with God. Would you give me space to do that? Could we do coffee again? I really appreciated hearing this.” And if they are willing, set it up. Note: you are offering to share your story of why you believe in God and practice through his Church. This is witness, not apologetics. There is a place for apologetics, but not in this first conversation-you want to affirm relationship, not arguments.
6) Finally, what happens next depends on the person’s challenges with the faith and openness to more conversation. If he or she is open and has issues with a Church teaching, find someone who can respond to that in charity. If it is a matter of time management, see if you can help with that or encourage them to make time. If they don’t see the point of attending Church, talk about the Eucharist. One tip: often people who have intellectual problems with the faith are not going to return based on responses. They need to know Jesus Christ first…and when they do, Christ will help them through their intellectual problems. First things first.
If your family member is unresponsive to all of this, back off a little (you don’t want to be perceived as a nag) and increase your prayer. If this person lives with you, one of my favorite prayers is to pray over the person’s pillow and ask God to send that person dreams of Jesus Christ he or she cannot ignore. And remember that God wants your family member to return more than you do: He is on the job, so be at peace.
Novena prayer to Sts. Monica and Augustine, August 19-28 (or anytime you have the need)
St. Monica, you believed that Jesus Christ had an eternal plan of happiness for your life and for your husband and your children. In periods of great personal trial, you persevered and did not waver in your confidence that God would save your family. Your husband encountered the Lord on his death bed, and your son Augustine repented of his former life publicly rejecting your faith, and devoted his life to Jesus Christ. I ask for your powerful intercession, to join your prayer with mine for ( name ).
St. Augustine, you know how difficult life is without the peace of Jesus Christ. You shared your misery and many attempts to find something other than God to fulfill your deepest desires. You also shared your joy in finding your way home to God. I ask for your powerful intercession, to join your prayer with mine for ( name ). Lord, out of love, I ask you to help him/her return to You through Jesus Christ and his Church, for his happiness, healing, and salvation. In Jesus’ name I pray—Amen.