Listen to this story:
This week, the Church celebrates the feast of the beloved Saint Monica. The saint has endeared herself to believers through the ages as a model and encouragement to pray and labor to bring loved ones back to the faith.
The devout Saint Monica interceded for over ten years for the conversion of her son, Augustine. She never wavered as Augustine seem to spiral into greater darkness and fall ever farther from the Christian faith. Monica persevered. Eventually, Augustine left a world of sin and became a great saint, even a Doctor of the Church, the highest of saints.
It is heartwarming, then, to see Saint Augustine’s feast day celebrated the day after his mother’s feast. It is a triumph and testimony to the power of prayer and of a mother’s love. The two saints, mother and son, echo a message of hope to everyone who has watched a loved one leave the faith and pray for their return.
Such a message of hope is needed today. The consequences of the pandemic are still being felt in the Church. For many believers, the habit of going to Mass was broken and they’ve chosen not to pick it up. The Church finds herself in a conundrum. There are many possible solutions to addressing the exodus of people from the Church. Of these many options, we cannot neglect Saint Monica.
Saint Monica can be hailed as a help to our day. The Church can elevate her powerful story even more and encourage believers to turn to her and follow her way of prayer and supplication.
The methods of shame and guilt only alienate those who have fallen away. Endless nagging also proves unhelpful in bringing people back to the faith. We must begin with prayer, as Saint Monica did.
From our prayer, we are then called to listen to others, desiring to understand them and what has led them away from the faith. In our listening, we discern similarities and shared convictions with the other person, seeking to build a bridge with the other person, so that heart can truly speak and listen to heart.
As Pope Francis observes: “Listening is never easy. Many times it is easier to play deaf. Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says. It involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice,… Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice. “
When a believer is willing to focus on the other person as someone made in God’s image with their own journey and struggles, and is willing to listen to them and show the necessary patience and gentleness, then God can work.
When such an approach is used, we are blessed with an on-going conversation of some type. Rather than allowing the faith to become a taboo in our dealings with our loved ones, we have allowed it to become an open topic for conversation and a mutual sharing of experiences and thoughts.
Such an approach reminds believers that inviting someone back to the Catholic Church or to the Christian faith should not be a contest, a game, a battle of wills, or an indulgence in dark guilt, but an outreach of love and spiritual generosity that desires the good of the other.
As Pope Francis also teaches us: “Freely giving of our own time to listen to people is the first act of charity.”
When believers are willing and selflessly listen to the hearts of others, and surround such listening with prayer, then surprising things can happen. A wayward Augustine can become a great saint. Disinterested souls can become zealous for the things of God. Those formerly on the periphery can once again join the community of faith.