At a recent Catholic conference I attended, one of the guest speakers asked those present if they had a family member who had either lapsed from the Catholic faith or if they had family members who never had it to begin with. Out of the more than 700 attendees, nearly every hand in the audience went up. Not surprising since it is estimated that upwards twenty million Americans consider themselves to be lapsed Catholics. More than likely, we all know of someone within each of our families who simply no longer practice the faith or who have not yet come to know Jesus. Yet despite this, Jesus wants each person to receive salvation. We know through the Gospels that Jesus continually interceded for others throughout his ministry – including the sick, the possessed, and even his Apostles. Following Jesus’ example, we know that God the Father also wants us to intercede for the conversion of others.
Chances are when we are praying for a loved one, they won’t have an immediate conversion like Saint Paul, who in an instant converted from Judaism on the road to Damascus. Therefore, we must be willing to persevere in prayer for our loved ones, knowing that prayer is powerful and that God has begun to work in their soul through his grace. We can look to the Saints to see many examples of how they persevered in prayer for the conversion of another. One of the most popular examples is Saint Monica. Through her daily prayers and copious tears for 17 years, Saint Monica’s prayers eventually led to the conversion of her pagan husband and her son, who went on to become Saint Augustine of Hippo. When Saint Monica once approached the great Christian theologian, Saint Ambrose, to see if he would speak to her son to help bring about his conversion, Saint Ambrose replied to her, “It is impossible for the son of such tears to perish!” Even though she did not see immediate results, Saint Monica serves as a great role model in never giving up in praying for the conversion of her son despite no real change in St. Augustine for 17 years!
It is also important to note that God wishes us to pray for the conversion of not only our loved ones, but also for the conversion of all unbelievers across the world, including those we have never met but may feel called to pray for in a special way– whether they be a politician, celebrity, sports figure, or someone we encounter just once in our lives in a chance meeting. An example of such prayer comes to us from St. Therese of Lisieux who prayed for the conversion of a notorious and unrepentant killer named Henri Pranzini prior to his death by guillotine for his murderous crimes. Therese read what happened in the paper the following day after his death and recorded how when he was about to put his head into the guillotine saying, “he turned, took hold of the crucifix the priest was holding out to him, and kissed the sacred wounds three times! Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of him who declares that in heaven there will be more joy over one sinner who does penance than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance!”
From these powerful examples we can see that Jesus desires that we actively participate in the salvation of all souls through our prayers. Combined with fasting and penance, our prayers become even more powerful for the conversion of others, even hardened sinners such as the one St. Therese prayed for.
In her diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, Saint Faustina Kowalska recorded that she received a private revelation regarding intercessory prayer from Jesus who told her to “Call upon My mercy on behalf of sinners; I desire their salvation. When you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith on behalf of some sinner, I will give them the grace of conversion. This is the prayer: “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You”(Diary, 186-187). You may be saying to yourself, “this is too simple an act to bring about the conversion of another!” Yet even if we find it difficult to comprehend or believe in the power of intercessory prayer, such as the prayer above, we are encouraged to act with faith and trust that Jesus will honor His promise to save the souls for whom such prayer is offered.
We must also realize that conversion is a daily process for all of us by which we all are called to grow more like Christ. Frankly, I see myself as ever converting! Of course, we must also realize that individual souls ultimately have free will and can decide to love Jesus or reject him along with God’s saving graces. For while God desires each person’s individual conversion, He does not desire a coercive conversion; He desires a cooperative conversion. Still, this should never deter us from offering ongoing prayers for the conversion of another. To borrow a famous line from Winston Churchill he once used in speaking to a group of students just after the Blitz, “Never, Never, Never Give Up!” Trusting in the power of God, these words can also be applied to us in praying for the conversion of others when it comes to the battle of saving souls in our own families and across today’s world.