Currently there’s a severe hemorrhaging in the membership of the Church, with large numbers leaving the practice of the faith. Such a struggle is not unique to the Catholic Church. Mainstream religions are all experiencing it. Such a phenomena has led to the rather stark observation that we are entering a “post-religion” civilization.
As the Church labors to address such an exodus, many outreach programs, evangelization efforts, and catechetical resources are being provided to local parishes and dioceses. Regrettably, such efforts are lacking a robust spiritual response.
This is a surprise since many who have left mainstream religious traditions are still reporting that they believe in God and want to learn how to pray.
It would seem, therefore, that we should offer a strong spiritual response. First, because it’s what the Church does best and is one of the reasons why the Church was founded by the Lord Jesus. And, second, because it appears to be what will resonate the most with the very people we’re trying to reach and bring back.
And so, as we work to bring loved ones back to the Church, let’s explore the spiritual treasury of the Church and offer a few suggestions. Each of the suggestions have been proven reliable by the lived tradition of the Church. They are excellent resources we can use in the slow, and oftentimes painful, process of bringing loved ones back to the Lord Jesus and his Church.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Mass Intentions. We can have a Mass offered for our loved ones. These can be offered any day, but birthdays and anniversaries are often a nice option. Depending on the openness of the loved one, you might send them a Mass card or invite them to come with you to the Mass.
- Adoration. Prayers offered before the Lord Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament are particularly powerful. Saints throughout the Christian tradition have praised supplication and intercession offered before the Blessed Sacrament. You might spend time in adoration praying for the return of your loved ones, as this can be a tremendous source of grace. In addition, depending on how open your loved ones are, you might consider inviting them to join you in adoration (which they might see as “quiet prayer”). For many who have left the Church, an invitation to adoration is easier to accept than an invitation to come back to Mass. For some, the idea of Mass can be overwhelming, but adoration might seem less intimidating as a first step back. Depending on your loved one, consider extending an invitation to adoration and see what happens.
- Rosary. Pray a decade of the Rosary — or even a full Rosary — for your loved one. This can be done daily or on a specific day of the week. This can also be done before a conversation or interaction with the loved one. Any of the Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous, or Glorious mysteries could be prayed, but the Sorrowful Mysteries might resonate more with the suffering of the situation. As your loved one might receive such news, let them know you’ve prayed the rosary for them, or invite them to pray it with you, or give them a gift rosary. Even those who have completely fallen away from the faith seem to be comforted by the presence of a rosary.
- Novenas to Specific Saints. The Church offers a vast multitude of novenas to various saints. Any of these nine-day prayer devotions can be of spiritual assistance, especially to saints who have a tie to our loved one. You might consider finding out their namesake, their Confirmation saint, the saint of their birthday, or the patron of their occupation. By choosing a saint that is somehow connected to your loved one, you might find more of a spiritual connection and a greater consolation in making the novena.
- Green Scapular. The Green Scapular of the Immaculate Heart of Mary has consistently been associated with the graces of conversion. In particular, we seek these graces for those who have left the Faith. You can wear the Green Scapular for the conversion of a loved one and/or place the scapular on (or behind) their picture.
The above are only a few options from the Church’s extensive spiritual treasury. Whatever practice or devotion we might use, our efforts should always focus on prayer and God’s work among us. It is our spiritual response that is our best theological and pastoral response.
Portions of today’s column were taken from my recent book, Way of the Cross for Loved Ones Who Have Left the Faith (Our Sunday Visitor).