“Ask a Priest: What to Do About a Lukewarm Catholic?”

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Q: I have a sister who is a cradle Catholic like myself. I have reverted back to the Church after being away for some time. However, I love my Catholic faith and go to Mass and Communion every day. I love praying the rosary and chaplet of Divine Mercy. I go to confession every week or two weeks. I still have a problem with sin; however, I love Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. With that said, my sister, who is married to a cradle Catholic (who doesn’t practice his faith), goes to Mass with me on Sunday. I got her to go to confession and communion last year, and she goes to Mass with me every Sunday. I feel though that she is lukewarm or slipping. One time she told me she had used God’s name and vain, and that it was all right for her to go to communion. I gave her one of those looks and got her to go to confession the following week and not to go to communion that day. My main question is, how do I keep her from falling away from church and into missing Sunday Mass? Because of the influence of her husband, she takes missing Mass lightly. I am afraid of her falling into mortal sin and not caring. I have to watch what and how I talk to her because she is prideful and stubborn. Do you have any suggestions? I already include her and other people in my daily rosaries. I explain to her about how the Mass is Jesus on the cross at Calvary, and she feigns interest. I don’t know what to do. -J.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to hear that you are trying to help your sister live the faith.

Faith is a gift, and some people have it in more abundance, others less so. It isn’t something we can force on people. I know you have your sister’s best interests at heart. But it’s good to recognize that your sister is on her own journey, and there is only so far anyone can coax her.

That said, it is good that you pray for your sister. Keep looking for the opportunities for the both of you to go to Mass and even confession.

What might help your sister go deeper in her faith is for her to get involved in some kind of apostolate — that is, volunteer work that promotes or involves the faith somehow. This could be anything from visiting shut-ins to helping out pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to parish work to raising money for the missions.

The idea is that, if your sister gets more involved in the work of the Church, she might feel more attached to the faith. It would also help her meet other lay faithful. The more she sees other people who live their faith deeply, the more it might help her live her own faith. This might help her more than any well-intentioned finger-wagging.

One clarification if I may: Taking God’s name in vain, though an offense against the Almighty to be avoided, is not necessarily a mortal sin. It could be a venial sin, especially if someone uses Our Lord’s name in vain thoughtlessly (out of habit, for instance). Thus it might not be a reason for refraining from communion.

Beyond that, you might want to continue to go deeper into your own knowledge of the faith. Listen to your sister closely. What are her views about things? How does she think? This might help you to focus on what you need to study in the Catholic faith in order to give her direction.

In matters of faith, it will help to try to meet your sister where she is. Explaining the relation between the Mass and Calvary might be over her head right now. Maybe what she really needs (and what she could understand) would be insights into why the Church teaches what it teaches in some other area, such as social issues.

Above all, keep looking for ways to show her and her husband your love. That will help to open hearts and minds to the working of the Holy Spirit, the real agent of conversion.

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