There are seven things that are really essential if we want to enter into true evangelization and bring people back to the Church.
1. First and foremost is prayer, penance, fasting, and sacrifice. Nothing happens without the grace of God. Everything is God’s grace. We have to pray, it’s the greatest thing we can do if we want to help bring people back to the Lord. We need to pray and we need to offer petition and intercessory prayer specifically, of course, in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament after we receive our Lord in Holy Communion. But, also, we need then enter bodily into that prayer, through sacrifice, through fasting. Our Lord encourages this throughout the ages of the Church and we found this to be tremendously efficacious. So to enter into our prayer, offer something up, turn off Facebook, turn off the internet, fast from some sort of food or pleasure or convenience in your life and do it for the souls who have fallen away from the Lord. So, the first and foremost thing—in fact, nothing else that I say is worth anything—unless we are first and foremost becoming all the more united with our Lord and allowing His prayer to become our prayer, to be His prayer.
2. Apologetics. We have to equip ourselves. We need to know our faith. The greatest way that we will be able to bring people back to the faith after prayer is being a resource ourselves for others. So, there’s people sometimes who love the Church but they don’t really understand the Church. They just want people to belong to what they belong to. No, we need to be convicted, to know why we are Catholic and why we believe in 2000 years of faith tradition. So, we ourselves need to equip ourselves with the truth. We need to study the Catechism, we need to study our Scriptures, we need to study the tenets of our faith. We need to study the things that most people ask about Catholicism and have really good, quick and short answers to bring them back to the faith. We need to know our faith so when people ask us questions we are ready to defend our faith and not just to defend something that we belong to and that we like, but something that we actually truly know and are a part of.
3. Plant seeds. I love my Great Aunt Dee tremendously – she is with the good Lord now. Every single time that my Great Auntie would send me something in the mail, always with whatever she was sending me, a letter or a card, was always a seed. She would send me a prayer card or a tract or a pamphlet or a CD or a book or a medal. She was constantly dropping grace bombs all over the place and we need to do the same to people who have fallen away. Stop by their house and have a cup of coffee and then say “Hey, here’s a book I was reading. I think you might enjoy it.” At the end of an email say, “Hey, I was thinking of you the other day when I listened to this video, thought you might enjoy it.” And then send them the YouTube link. It’s through dropping these “grace bombs” that we have the ability to evangelize but also to begin to open their minds to truth.
4. Engage in a conversation and listen. The first thing you want to do when you are looking at trying to bring someone back to the faith is to just ask a really great question like “Hey, can I ask you something. I wonder if you’d be willing to talk something spiritual with me? I know you have mixed relationships with the Church and I’d love to just hear like why you’re no longer with us. I just want to hear.” And then listen. Do nothing but listen, attentively listen. Look at them in the eye, nod your head, and absorb like a sponge everything they say and don’t respond with objections. Because the reason that they’re giving is the valid reason of why they subjectively feel the Church has failed them. Fill up the greatest instrument of salvation and peace and joy and mercy in the world. This is their experience of why they believe that the Church that Jesus Christ founded has hurt them or has neglected them or hasn’t met their needs or hasn’t been with them. And so you just have to listen and that might be the end of the conversation that day. “I really appreciate you sharing with me those feelings, those thoughts, I’ll be praying for you.”
5. Move the dialogue further. To move the dialogue down the road, to begin to ask and begin to offer answers to their longings so someone might say “I just didn’t feel like I was spiritually fed.” So, then share with them the gift and beauty of the Eucharist. To listen to what they said, when they said “I felt like everybody was a hypocrite,” and then to talk about the true compassion, mercy, and love that is present within the Church. They said that they were hurt by someone. We must address that hurt but then speak of the great heroes that are in the faith. So this fifth step is the challenging step: it’s to move the dialogue further by truly listening but then applying the truth to those areas of hurt in their heart.
6. Invite them to an event. It might be a parish picnic, a parish festival, it might be a social of some sort. It might be just a catechetical talk taking place in your parish. It might be saying “Hey, why don’t you come to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with me?” The reason why sometimes the best thing to not do is to invite them back to Mass is that sometimes Mass is the place where it can seem really uninviting. You don’t know when to stand. You don’t know when to sit. You don’t know the words. You don’t know the gestures. And then all of a sudden you feel like everyone is looking at you. So, sometimes it’s great to invite them to a real introductory experience and in that introductory experience they realize there’s a community, that there’s hope, there’s vitality. There’s something great going on that they should be a part of.
7. Close the loop. Closing the loop means ultimately finding out what they need: Confession, RCIA, or catechesis. That will most likely involve engaging a priest. So find a good priest, engage in a conversation, and say “Hey, Father, can we have you over to dinner with this other couple or with this individual? Or, can we meet you somewhere for dessert, for coffee with this other person?” I will tell you as a priest, I have seen again and again and again, when fallen away Catholics or someone who’s disengaged are invited to sit at a table with people that love them, and also with a priest, it can be a game changer.
These are seven easy steps that anyone can do and I hope to God that we’re all doing the first one, that we’re fasting, we’re sacrificing, we’re praying for those who have fallen away. Dear brothers and sisters, God wants you to bring back the lost sheep of Israel. God wants you to be His hands, His feet, His heart, His voice. And He wants you to be a saint and to call others to do so . So let’s pray for that grace today. Let’s look for that opportunity to be the saint that God is calling us to be and to bring others with us.