As we begin the season of Lent, it’s a time to reflect upon the sorrows and sufferings of our life and to offer them to the Lord Jesus, as we seek to follow him and his way of life. Among such hurts, many of us carry the heartache of loved ones who are away from the faith.
Of course, the reasons for such departures are vast and varied. They include anger with God over evil in the world, religious indifference, bad example by believers, a contemporary thirst for material prosperity, disagreement with moral teachings, and the scandals in the Church.
Recent polls indicate that for every one convert to the Catholic faith, we lose six members (and that’s before the pandemic). The departure of so many from the faith can be overwhelming. We can find ourselves being caught up in an array of emotions, as we feel helpless and unable to do anything.
Is there nothing we can do?
The Lord Jesus gives us hope. He also dealt with those who did not believe, and his own heart suffered and was sorrowful over the indifference of so many people who disregarded or mocked his offer of salvation.
In all these scenarios, however, the Lord did not respond with self-pity, resentment, or accusation. In every situation of rejection or dismissal, the Lord responded with selfless love and compassion. In reaction to the cold detachment of others, the Lord Jesus prayed, fasted, selflessly served, and offered up his immense sufferings for the good of those who ignored him.
The offering of the Lord culminated in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. In his torturous Passion, the Lord Jesus showed us the depth of his love. In carrying his Cross, he showed us the extent to which he would travel to reveal his kindness to us and share his friendship with us. The Lord sought our salvation beyond our negligence, and he loved us to the end.
In this way, the Lord Jesus modeled a noble response for us.
By his own self-oblation and desire for the salvation of all, the Lord exemplified and passed on to us his “most excellent way of love.” In seeking the return of our loved ones to the faith, we are called to respond to them with kindness and generously offer them our prayers, selfless accompaniment, understanding, and compassion.
We are called to take the hard and oftentimes long road of “loving others back” into the consolation of faith and into the fold of the Church. This can be a difficult task, filled with good moments and bad ones. Through them all, we are summoned to stay the course, persevere in hope, and pray tirelessly for the return of our loved ones.
As we accept the task of prayer, the Church offers some assistance.
As we contemplate the Lord’s sacrificial love, the Church holds many devotions and ascetical practices, including the beautiful and powerful devotion of the Stations of the Cross.
In many respects, the Stations of the Cross stand as a fitting response to the departure of loved ones from the faith. As a devotion, they allow us to take our concerns, heartache, and intercession before God the Father in the saving work of Jesus Christ. In doing the Stations, each of us is able to walk with the Lord as he carried his Cross and to offer supplication for our loved ones along the way.
As the Lord Jesus affectionately desires the salvation of all, so we are able to unite ourselves with him in making supplication for our loved ones. Through the fourteen Stations of the Cross, we are able to intercede for our loved ones and spiritually carry the Cross with the Lord Jesus for their conversion back to fellowship with God and the Church.
As believers, we are not helpless. The Lord provides his grace, and the Church promotes the devotion of the Stations of the Cross for our benefit. This Lent, therefore, as we grieve the absence of our loved ones from the Faith, it is a fitting and beneficial practice for us to humbly pray the Stations of the Cross for the swift return of our loved ones to the practice of the Faith.
Portions of this column were taken from Father Kirby’s new book, Way of the Cross for Loved Ones Who Have Left the Faith (Our Sunday Visitor).
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby