Aug 14, 2021 1828 Father Joseph Gill, USA

Q&A: “Helping Friends Come Back to Church”

I am very close to my sister, but recently she told me that she has stopped practicing the Faith. She hasn’t been to Mass in a year, and she tells me that she just isn’t sure any more about whether Catholicism is true. How can I help bring her back to the Church?

This is a common situation that can be found in many families. When siblings, children or friends leave the Church, it breaks the hearts of those who love them. I have two siblings who no longer practice the Faith, and it grieves me deeply. What can be done about it?

The first and simplest (though not necessarily the easiest) answer is prayer and fasting. Although simple, it is profoundly effective. Ultimately it is God’s grace that causes a soul to return to Him. So, before we speak, act, or do anything else for this straying sheep, we must beg God to soften her heart, enlighten her mind, and fill her soul with the touch of His love. Enlist others to pray and fast with you for the conversion of this soul.

Once we have prayed, we must show joy and kindness. Saint Francis de Sales, often called “The Gentleman Saint” for his great courtesy, said, “Be as gentle as possible; and remember you will catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar.” Far too many people go straight to nagging and guilt when trying to draw back a lost soul. But we should seek to be a follower of Christ out of joy, not out of mere obligation! If He truly is our life, our delight, his joy should radiate in our life. This will draw souls without ever bringing up the name of Jesus, for joy and kindness is attractive in and of itself. After all, as the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God!”

Closely related to this is to ask the question: Are we living our faith counter-culturally? If our lives are indistinguishable from the secular culture, then we must ask if we are really effective witnesses to the transforming power of Christ. If we talk incessantly about our possessions, or are unduly attached to praise or our job, or if we gossip freely and watch trashy TV shows, we may not inspire anyone to follow Christ. The early Christians were so successful at evangelization because their lives were in such stark contrast to the decadent culture in which they lived. We still live in a decadent post-Christian culture, and our lives can stand out equally well if we live our faith radically.

It is also important to talk with your sister. Perhaps she has strayed because she has had a bad experience with a priest, or maybe she has a misunderstanding about something the Church teaches. Maybe she is struggling with a sin in her own life, and her absence from church springs from a conscience that is not at rest. Don’t get defensive, but listen patiently and agree with any good points she makes. If she is willing to ask questions, be prepared with responses! Make sure you know what the Church teaches, and if you don’t know the answer to one of her questions, offer to investigate further.

Invite her to go with you to a retreat or a talk, if you think she is ready for it. Perhaps give her a gift of a book about the Faith, or a CD of a good talk you once heard. Offer to arrange for her to meet with a priest, if she is willing. It can be tricky, because you don’t want to become pushy, so make the invitations without pressure or obligation.

Finally, trust in God. He loves your sister more than you ever could, and He is doing everything possible to draw her back to Himself. Persevere, knowing that everyone is on a spiritual journey. Your sister might become like Saint Augustine, who strayed far but became a Doctor of the Church! Keep loving your sister, and trust in our merciful God who wants none to perish but all to attain eternal life.


Father Joseph Gill

Father Joseph Gill is a high school chaplain and serves in parish ministry. He is a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Father Gill has published several albums of Christian rock music (available on iTunes). His debut novel, “Days of Grace” is available on amazon.com.

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