“Ask a Priest: How Should We Help a ‘Lost Sheep’?

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Q: Many of us suffer greatly when our loved ones have strayed away from the faith and taken a less-than-attractive path. In addition to our prayers and sacrifices, how can we avoid going “overboard” in our efforts to encourage a conversion of heart? What is the best way to discern when to speak and when to be silent? -E.D., New England

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This problem is painfully all too common today. Even the best of Catholic homes have their members who drift from the faith. Many parents and grandparents and siblings are heartbroken to see a loved one who lives far from the faith.

This is where the virtue of hope is so vital. We should never give up on a soul. Christ loves each and every person, and he is anxious to have everyone with him forever in heaven.

That said, we need to recall that conversion, like faith itself, is a gift of God. It is beyond our power. We simply can’t force anyone to convert. Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten a darkened heart and lead it back home.

To avoid going “overboard” in our efforts, first we need to commit ourselves to intense prayer for a soul. Prayer keeps us close to Jesus, reminds us of how much we need him, and how much he loves the person that we love. So offer up your Masses and your rosaries.

Second, offer up sacrifices for your loved one. Sacrifice helps make prayer that much more effective. A video on sacrifices appears at http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2013/02/18/what-does-it-mean-to-offer-it-up.

Third, look for the right moments to share your own experience of faith. That is, let your loved one know how much your faith helps you. In a word, be a witness. Let the loved one process that data: He might not understand your faith, but he will be faced with the fact that it has deeply impacted your life.

Fourth, keep loving the other person. Christ certainly does. And don’t lose hope. The grace of conversion could come at any time.

As you do all of these things, trust that the Holy Spirit will guide you as regards knowing when to say what, and how much to say. God is even more interested than you are in bringing his straying sheep back to the fold. When you feel your helplessness, throw yourself into the arms of the Good Shepherd and exercise your trust in his goodness. In the end, it is not up to us to save the world; it is up to Jesus. We are just junior partners.

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