One of the most-asked questions we receive at Pilgrim Center of Hope is, “How can I bring my loved ones back to the Catholic faith?”
I myself have asked this; it is the sincere question of a concerned loved one.
In these situations, we tend to seek books, articles, or succinct answers. In my zealous younger years, this was my own approach. Such solutions would ‘do the trick’ if faith were merely a matter of logic and reason. However, as rich a Catholic intellectual tradition as we have, and as much as we should challenge ourselves to learn and understand the many aspects of our faith tradition; faith is not merely a rational matter.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that intellectual assent is only part of the story: “Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace” (no. 155).
Grace. That means that the first person to act is always God. Pope Benedict XVI said, “In the Church, we discover that every person’s life is a love story.” Do we trust that God Almighty knows and loves our loved ones, infinitely more than we could ever know and love them? If so, we trust that God is working in their lives.
Perhaps a person has simply drifted away from religious practice. Perhaps it was their conscious choice. Perhaps it was a response to being unwelcomed or even abused by members of the Church. No matter what the situation, let us be assured of God’s immense and active love for them.
What is our role, then? You and I; we are invited to participate in God’s ever-present acts of love—the showering of grace upon creation.
Rather than publish tomes or treatises, Jesus commissioned people to be his witnesses. The early Church answered Christ’s commission by personally and truly making present God’s Kingdom through the sacraments, helping people find healing, sharing their reason for hope, and serving others—especially vulnerable, downtrodden populations. Those witnesses wrote the New Testament; many of its books were personal letters.
In response to those first witnesses’ multifaceted participation in God’s showering of grace, people were deeply changed, loved, healed, and given hope. In response, those people sought answers. Then, they decided to believe.
Today, you and I are the Church, which means that we are those living witnesses.
We can learn from one of the Church’s greatest witnesses, celebrated this month—St. Dominic de Guzman, who brought even heretics to the Catholic faith. Dominic said, “Heretics are to be converted by an example of humility and other virtues far more readily than by any external display or verbal battles. So let us arm ourselves with devout prayers and set off showing signs of genuine humility and go barefooted to combat Goliath.”
Even as the founder of the Order of Preachers, Dominic instructed his followers to focus on entering the battle barefooted—vulnerable and trusting in God, becoming the most virtuous and genuinely-humble witness to Christ that they could possibly become.
Reflecting on my own journey of faith, I realize that I discovered the greatest peace, joy, and purpose through encounters with those true witnesses to Christ who embodied his words, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
So, rather than focusing on finding “the perfect answer” to offer those who have left the practice of faith, let us first realize our baptismal call; you and I have been commissioned as a witness to Jesus Christ.
Who is Jesus? Why do you follow him? Why do you hold the Catholic faith?
Today, I respond: Jesus is my healer, my teacher, my brother, and my friend. He is the most patient of all lovers. He is the truest of all liberators. At the same time, he is my God. I believe that, in his wisdom, God established a family that is today called the Catholic Church, and he calls its members to live and grow as his witnesses, to transform the world.
How do you respond?
I invite you to join us for a Day & Evening of Hope at Pilgrim Center of Hope on August 22, to venerate a relic of St. Thomas Aquinas, and to learn and find encouragement in being a witness to your faith.
Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator at Pilgrim Center of Hope. This first appeared in Living Catholicism, our regular column in Today’s Catholic newspaper.