Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Maggie Green’s book, The Saint Monica Club, a book for parents whose children have left the faith. We also recommend the article “I Still Have Hope That Christ Will Bring My Kids Back to the Faith” here on CE.
Saint Monica’s faith converted both her husband and her son, and it is this steadfastness of faith we seek to imitate. She’s the patron saint of parents and spouses who bear the same cross of having someone they love not love the Faith. She knew the pain we know. She prayed and wept and wrestled with it, and she saw God’s generous response. She loved her husband and her son through the long desert into the promised land of faith. She loved them before they converted. She loved them through their conversions. She remains the model for all of us, showing us how to weather this storm, not because she suffered but because she loved.
Not being saints, we still struggle with living out that love. It remains a challenge to keep the reality of our loved ones’ being far from the Faith in our minds and hearts while letting love guide our actions, words, and thoughts. We keep busy; we try not to rock the boat. Maybe we even allow our prayer lives to diminish in order to trick the estranged persons into thinking we’re not so serious in our faith, so that we won’t seem like a threat to their professed “anti-faith.” Alternatively, perhaps we run through Rosaries like chainsmokers. We may offer bargains, grand plans, and promises.
When we love someone who denies, refuses, or ignores the Faith, our own faith is revealed. When someone we love leaves the Faith, we discover all the holes in our own hearts, all the ways in which we haven’t fully followed.
I prayed and fasted for a year in the hope that my prodigal would come back to the Church. “No bread but the Eucharist, until she returns,” I said. The reasoning felt sound. After all, Jesus told His apostles that some demons leave only through prayer and fasting. It remained an offering at the altar, however, not because God didn’t want my child to discover His deep, absolute love for her, but because I had failed to trust God with the offering itself.
I had treated God like an equal. My gift presumed a quid pro quo. I do this, and You, God, fix that. But prayer isn’t a bargain; it’s an act of love. Devoted I might have been, but my prayer and fasting weren’t a gift. They were a bribe I hoped would win God over.
Stupid, I know, but pain and sin can make one stupid, and there’s no stupidity quite like my “I’m a desperate, frightened, frustrated mother” kind of stupidity. I wanted a quick fix. I wanted my child back. I wanted things to be better but didn’t know how to go about it. I knew only how to ask.
Crying out, “Lord, the one we love is lost” applies both to our loved ones and to us, who sometimes lose our way in our struggle for their return. Own this pain, this reality; it hurts because we love. Own it daily in prayer. Members of the Saint Monica Club, persist!
Saint Monica never allowed herself to be satisfied with Saint Augustine’s settling for himself, and we’re not to settle either. Book 3 of Augustine’s Confessions tells the following story:
Monica had a vision. She was standing on a wooden beam. A bright, fluorescent being told her to dry her eyes, for “your son is with you.” Monica told Augustine about the vision. He responded that, yes, they could indeed be together if she would just abandon her Faith. Monica immediately retorted: “He didn’t say that I was with you. He said that you were with me.” Augustine never forgot her quick, insightful answer.
We should never forget her quick, insightful answer either. In interacting with someone who is far from the Faith, there’s a real temptation to abandon whatever parts of the Faith might cause problems, so as to have some hint of a relationship without friction with the person you love. Settling for a friction-free life, however, is a refusal to love that person or God enough to be willing to suffer. Eventually, it means that our relationships with both God and that person will become a shadow of what they should be. You will become lukewarm and will neither win your prodigal’s soul for God nor prove yourself to be a true disciple.
So keep the prayer in your heart and return to it daily, asking for that person’s full return to the Faith. Call upon Saint Monica to pray with you. Ask her to pray for you as well, because she knows how hard the long wait is. She also knows the wait is worth it.
This article is adapted from a chapter in The Saint Monica Club: How to Hope, Wait, and Pray for Your Fallen-Away Loved Ones. It is available as a paperback or ebook from Sophia Institute Press.