For My Friend Who Has Fallen Away from the Church

I have a friend, a powerful, brilliant man who has accomplished far more than I. He has been in higher places and shaken more important hands. He belongs to the best clubs, dines in the best restaurants, attracts the most beautiful women. But there is another difference between us. My friend was raised in the Catholic Church and has fallen away from it, while I was raised apart from it and have been, by some unaccountable mystery, called to it. When I think of my friend, I feel sad. And I truly don’t know what to do.

Do you know someone like this?

When I began to see how powerful an impact Catholicism was having on my life, I soon thought, I wish I had been a Catholic all my life. Then, in almost the next thought, I thought of people like my friend, cradle Catholics for whom a door closed somewhere in their minds, for whom the Church is now something in the past that they would just as soon leave behind, and I realized how lucky I was to come to it now, after two-thirds or three-quarters or who knows how much of a long, winding life, only to find myself finally at home. 

This, it seems to me, is the contemporary story of the prodigal son writ a million times over—all of the born Catholics of my (boomer) generation who, in the years following Vatican II, meaning the years of Vietnam and the sexual revolution, thought to themselves, I know better, there’s something about the Church that is wrong, I don’t need that anymore. I know that the Church, like the good father in the parable, or the good Mother that it is, waits to welcome them all home again, if only they would find their way there.

But what can we do to help get them there? More specifically, what can I do about my friend?

I see him now, same age as me, approaching sixty, with his children moved away, his house gone quiet, his power at his firm on the wane, his golf game getting shorter and more erratic by the year, and I wonder, What do his last years hold for him? What does eternity hold? I like him, I love him, and for all that he is not a church-going Catholic anymore, I admire him tremendously. At times that are not necessarily my best, I even envy him, even today: the power, the clubs, the money, the women.

What can I do for my friend? I know that the direct approach will not work. I’ve tried it, and anyway, I’m not subtle enough, not by half. Ever hear of a bull in a china shop? Well, Bull is my last name, so that’s half of the old chestnut right there. I’m not as direct as Ferde—who can be a sledgehammer when tweezers would do—but I’m in that league.

What can any of us do? Because just as Ferde and I and everyone at St. Mary’s are Catholics for Julian DesRosiers and for all the other young people coming along behind us, it seems to me that we have to be Catholics for all those who once were Catholics and could be again. Somehow, I’m thinking, we have to live our lives in such a way, or somehow find the grace, or let the grace find us, so that we are so joyous, so resplendent, that others will be drawn to the Church by our example. This will never happen, at least for me, by standing on a soapbox in front of St. Mary’s and proclaiming the kingdom or by ringing doorbells door to door. But somehow happen it must, if my friend is ever to find his way back. Either that, or God will just have to hit him over the head, as He did me.

I know the answer, or think I do: prayer. I must pray more often and more fervently for my friend. But even with prayer and the grace that buoys me, I slip, I sink, I fall. I myself am so weak that sometimes in confession I feel most of all that I’ve let the world down with my sins. Forget my salvation. What about my friend’s salvation? What about the salvation of everyone for whom I am repeatedly a bad example, not a holy one? Every time I slip, every time I’m a jerk instead of joyful, I risk shedding a negative light on my experience, on the Church, the good Mother waiting at the door.

Of course, I’m probably giving myself too much credit. And the Mother not enough. Jesus Christ, working through the Holy Spirit, is the one calling the prodigals, all those lost sheep, home. I’ve tried to recount all the many reasons YIM Catholic. I even summarized them in a personal psalm. And they don’t add up to the One Reason, what I have called the unaccountable mystery, for which any of us is a Christian.

Probably, then, I should just shut up and pray. And go regularly to confession. And say a rosary at Adoration today for my friend. Because I do love him, I do love my life as a Catholic, and so therefore logically I can only want that life for him and for all those I love.

Come, Holy Spirit.

  • skeeton

    Scott Hahn has said on numerous occasions that sometimes it takes an immigrant to help natural born citizens fully appreciate their heritage. And sometimes it takes a convert to open the eyes of the cradle Catholic to the great gift that is God's Church.As a fellow convert, I see only one plausible way to awaken the slumbering souls of those who once were Catholic but now are aimlessly wandering through life outside of the Church. And I agree that this act of charity cannot be done from a soapbox or a random front porch conversation. It will come from love and love alone. Your friend must notice how you love him and how your love for him has changed and grown in the time you have been Catholic, and your actions toward him must make that manifest.Ultimately, the Catholic Church exists to teach men how to love. Jesus said, "man hath no greater love than to give up his life for his friends." And then he backed those words up by doing that very thing at Calvary. When we participate at Mass every day, we repeatedly join in the Paschal sacrifice, and we are swept up into the self-giving example of Jesus day after day. In this continual witnessing of the one true sacrifice of the God-man, we are students in the ultimate school of love. Jesus is showing us by His actions made present on the altar that we humans are capable of the same divine love that he carries out, that we have the same power to lay down our lives for others, both literally and figuratively.So love your friend intensely – lay down your life for him – and intercede for him daily. If it is God's will, his eyes will open.

  • Webster Bull

    Thank you, Skeeton! That is wonderful advice.

  • Mary P.

    As a cradle Catholic, I daily watch as those who were given the same gifts as I have been treat it with an obligatory nod and a sigh (or less). Webster, you and I know that our faith is so much more than the required attendance at Sunday Mass (and how extreme is that seen by the general population?) As a parent, my greatest hope is that my children realize the gift that I’ve been trying so hard to show them, that God has placed right before them. They have gone to parochial schools throughout their education, gone to Mass on Sundays and days of obligation, confession, etc., regularly. But what are the results of our efforts so far?Right now, my husband and I have three kids out of the house, and three still at home. The three on their own are (as yet) unobservant. I can only hope that the seeds that we have tried so hard to plant must still be there slumbering, and I pray every day that they will sprout, take root and grow. We still have three at home, so we’re still trying hard to reach them. I tell them, that their father (a convert!) and I spent their entire childhoods teaching them. I liken our efforts to teaching them a new “language” in this classroom of the Church. The trouble with cradle Catholics is that we think we already know everything about the Church and about faith, but we probably don’t. Unless we try to use this “language,” to make that leap (or even stretch into faith), he or she will never realize the richness of these amazing gifts that come with knowing God.Your concern for your friend, and mine for my children, is the same. It hurts, because we know what they’re missing. As Skeeton said, I have decided that the best recourse we have is through prayer, which can accomplish all things. I’m also always trying to water the seed that I know must be there through example. I’m also leaning on St. Monica a lot these days! I have to believe that it is never too late, either for my children or for your friend.Good luck!

  • kirsten

    as a fellow convert."let me but put a Rosary around the neck of a sinner, and he shall not escape me"give him a rosary. better yet, MAKE one for him (instructions for a knotted cord one are at and look for the hand dyed rosary twine folks.. one of them makes twine in team colors!)the Rosary brought me into the church.. over my protests on occasion.

  • Anonymous

    Praying for your friend regularly, simply giving the prayers to God without question, leaving them with Him – that is giving your time for your friend. God will do the rest, in His time!

  • Stefanie

    Webster — God does indeed honor our prayers for those who have abandoned their Church. I am ever hopeful that their abandonment is temporary in God's eyes ('a thousand days' equals 'one day' to the Lord afterall). As an RCIA director for four years, so often have I discovered that most who come to us through RCIA, come as a result of the prayers of their grandparents! Even though a devout Catholic's children may walk away from the Church, do not underestimate the effect of a grandparents' prayers. And the older the RCIA participant, the more they, too, are praying for their own children to come to the Church they have now come to love.Harvests come only from seeds, you know. And the seeds sprout when and where they will find nourishment. Our prayers are the nourishment for the harvest.Stefanie

  • Anonymous

    I too am a cradle Catholic who fell away…for a long time. What brought me back? My wife's example of faithful living. You see, she is not a Catholic but a born-again Christian (our marriage was eventually blessed in the Catholic Church, just in case you wonder).She did not speak much about her faith and what God had accomplished in her life. Only on those times when I was down and out she would nudge me just enough saying: "Trust Him." I must admit that many times her nudges where met with less-than-charitable responses…One day I said fine, and gave in. I had my first serious "conversation" with God. I said "I give up! I give in. I lay everything I am in front of you. You get me out of this mess".Slowly but very surely I felt his pull. At the begining it was just enough to get me to Mass. I can not express what I felt during that first mass. You mention the Prodigal Son… I can truly attest to the embrace of the Father. I felt it! I was finally back home.It's been more than a few years since I recommited my life to live in God's live and live the way He intended me to live.Many words to say that you need to stay close to your friend and speak freeley of the wonders of Jesus' love when the time is right (and it will be right quite often). Be present for him, always in love. As my spiritual director tells me from time to time: "Do your best. He'll do the rest".** Mike **

  • Anonymous

    I was raised as a catholic, but left the Church. I was gone for 30 years. By the grace of God, I have been back for the last 11 years. Why did I leave? I believe it was a combination of a weak faith, pride and "The Spirit of Vatican II" After the Council, I saw everything up for grabs! Now I know that the Spirit of V2 has nothing to do with V2 and Chirst's Church. The Spirit of V2 has all to do with dissent and pride. How sad that so many bishops, priests, nuns, and lay catholics still embrace the demonic "Spirit of V2."

  • Anonymous

    Don't worry about it too much.People do 'bang on' on these blogs.He's baptised;he's got a Guardian Angel.AND: God loves him-as him.He does n't want any of us to go to Hell.And be available when you're needed.PRAY.

  • EFpastor emeritus

    excellent post. Thanks.

  • Colleen

    Somethings are impossible for us but not for God. Never for God. I have seen miracles happen, conversions that totally blew my mind because there was no hint of it and it had seemed so impossible. My own included. God bless.

  • Mrs. O’Riordan

    This morning when I awoke I wondered what I was doing here. I'm not depressed or anything like that (I love my life) but this question has popped into my mind a number of times recently apon awakening; it's like a conversation and this morning the answer was to keep a life line between heaven and earth! And so I go into the day trying to remember that! We're here for "the others". We all have loved ones who need our prayers and sacrifices. Hope this makes sense. – Blessings – Rene

  • Donna P

    I empathize fully. My friend has let herself be sucked out of the church by the new age movement. We have "debated" the faith for a decade, and she continues to email me snippets from radically liberal Catholic newspapers, mags and books, knowing (hoping) it will get my goat.Over the years I have dutifully, thoroughly, and, I hope, charitably, replied to these emails and include articles that may support my message. Inevitably I receive scornful negative responses. Several months ago in a fit of exasperation I asked my friend why she continues to send these liberal articles when she knows they will get my defensive back up. I was stunned by her response. She replied that I am the only one she knows who will give me good answers – and I make her think. And she went on to thank me. Of course, prayer is the absolutely vital underpinning for our friends who have strayed, but we must remember we need to seek every opportunity to defend the faith – even when it seems they have tuned us out.

  • johnson

    I was born and raised a catholic and have enjoyed being a catholic all my life nad nothing can take me away.I met a girl recently and we happened to become good friends and thinking of going into a relationship. she was born and raised a strong catholic family. she told how me how she had enjoyed been a strong member of region of mary for many years. she recently travelled abroad to study for her masters' programme where she deflected to one of the new generation churches claiming that catholic is making her spiritual life weaker and weaker each day. she has tried inviting me to worship at her new church where i will find more salvation. we had always ended up arguing about it and i have made her realized i want to remain a catholic and that if her sole intention is to take me out it then our relationship will never work.after much more she has agreed to come back to catholic having been out of it for 9 months. how do i know she is truely coming back with her whole heart or just temporary so that we can get on with our relationship?

  • Allison Salerno

    I just stumbled on this post, which is near and dear to my heart. Church attendance in our area of the diocese is down 50 percent in the past 15 years. Prayer? Setting a good example of faithful Catholicism? Both of this will help.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Allison. All of us know people like this, I'm sure and your advice is good.