For every parent of an adult child who has rejected the faith, the story of a local man named Bill ought to infuse hope and a renewed determination to pray and fast for their children.
“I was away from the Church for 32 years,” Bill told The Soulful Catholic one hot afternoon during a discussion about faith and the Bible. Bill had signed up to participate in Christ in Our Neighborhood, a small-group program focused on the Sunday Mass readings.
While away from the Catholic Church, Bill belonged to a denomination that proclaimed Catholics are not actually Christians and will not be saved.
There was a long and rocky road back to the Church established by Christ, but eventually, Bill was home.
One of the things that haunts him is that he was never able to take back what must have been profoundly hurtful words. While away from the Catholic Church, he told his parents they were going to hell if they remained Catholic.
They died before he could say he was sorry and explain that he had returned to the Church.
“I’m working on forgiving myself,” Bill admitted.
It isn’t hard to surmise that his parents must have been praying fervently for him and that they now know their son has returned to the fold. Like any good parents, they wouldn’t want their son to be suffering in anguish over his misguided words. They would want him to know they have forgiven him and are overjoyed he has returned to the faith they handed on to him.
When you love someone, you would do anything to take away their pain — you might even go so far as to offer to suffer in their place. You know, like Jesus did on the Cross. He did that knowing that many would turn away, yet He loved them still, with every drop of His precious blood.
It’s a reality we need to remind ourselves of every day. God knows and understands our suffering and the deepest desires of our heart. And He desires the salvation of our loved ones even more than we do.
Storming the gates of Heaven
It’s an achingly familiar prayer request: “Please pray for my son/daughter/children who have left the Church.” The real pain and distress parents feel over the loss of their children’s Catholic faith is palpable. They worry about the souls of their children and wonder where they went wrong or what they could have done differently.
Here’s the thing: Even some parents who seem to have done everything “perfectly” still have kids who are no longer Catholic. And some of those kids left the Church despite serving as lay Catholic missionaries after college!
The fact is our children have a free will of their own. We can model the faith and do everything in our power to pass on the faith, but ultimately, THEY have to choose, because God has no grandchildren.
God loves us so much, He gave us the beautiful, powerful gift of freedom. Love isn’t really love unless we choose it, after all. So, God lets us choose.
The Soulful Catholic has some recommendations: If your children are angry at the Catholic Church or have reason to be angry with you, preaching at them will probably drive them further away. Quit sending them links to Catholic content, at least for now while their hearts and minds are closed.
Instead, pray fervently and fast for them. “Do whatever it takes to bring them back, Lord.” It can be a scary prayer at first, but it’s effective and forces us to really trust God.
Offer up the anguish you feel, uniting it to the Cross. Ask your children’s forgiveness if you need to. Keep on loving them and leave the door open.
Don’t hesitate to invite them to Mass. Sweeten the deal by offering to take them out to eat afterward or babysit the grandkids. When they’re going through a rough patch, tell them you’re praying for them. “What can I do to help?” Those are words that heal and offer solace. And when the Holy Spirit nudges you and they seem open, cautiously ask questions that ever so gently point them to Christ and the Church.
Like Bill’s parents, you may not see a return to the Catholic faith in this lifetime. For now, quit torturing yourself and surrender those precious kids to the Lord. He’s got this.