How do I get someone who has stopped going to Mass to return?

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A common question I receive from many people is how to get their loved ones who stopped going to church to attend church again. This is especially true from parents of adult children who lament the fact that they brought their children to church every Sunday and taught them to be faithful to Christ and follow everything the church teaches, and often the children not only don’t go to church but don’t even bother to have their grandchildren baptized. They ask me, “What can I do to get them to return to church?” There is of course no easy answer to this question and certainly no one answer that would settle all situations. It’s almost easier to say what we should not do rather than what we should do. One thing I always remind people that is never going to work is nagging people. You know very well for, for example, that parents with teenagers, if you nag them and nag them, you can guarantee you’re going to make sure they never do what you asked them to do. The same thing can be said of grown children and anyone else who leaves the faith. There will be many different reasons why people have stopped worshiping. Some people are perhaps disillusioned, others maybe have problems with things we believe, and for many others it’s just not important enough to them. But in the past it seems to me that our approach has often been to harp on people and to be negative, to try to convince them that they’ll go to hell if they don’t worship God or threatening them with harmful things that will happen to them, that God might even punish them for not attending Mass. Or we may point out their faults and try to get people to start attending because we tell them that they’re not good enough people. Yet such an approach rarely works well.

Whenever we put people down, we tend to treat them as less than ourselves. We place ourselves in a superior position and condescend to them as if somehow we are better and we’re going to help them be as good as we are. That often can come across rather pharisaical and insulting to the individual. Instead, I suggest witnessing to them about the difference that faith makes in our own lives. Letting people know why we worship God and what we get out of being disciples of Jesus is a far more powerful way to convince people to worship than to tell them why we are better than they are or why they are sinful because they are not doing what we do. As the old expression says, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!” If people see us living a life in Christ that has made a difference; if they can see that our worship has made us better people, has given us a happiness in life that they don’t know or that they would like to know, then perhaps we will bring them closer to the Lord. Leading them by desire rather than by force is certainly a better way to bring them into a faithful relationship with the Lord. We also have to be intentional disciples; we have to be living out our faith and desiring to bring Christ to other people so that they can see by our love and our actions the difference it makes, so that we are a living example to them of how faith works and how it makes a difference and is a positive attribute in our lives. Writer Madeleine L’Engle observes: “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they will want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” I often feel that in the past our approach has been all the wrong way and has turned more people away from Christ than towards him, even though our intentions were very good. Be the light of Christ; show him to the world in your words and actions. Let people see the difference Christ has made in our lives by our conscious decision to follow him, how he has given us strength to endure even the most difficult of situations and come out unharmed, and they will be compelled to want to join us as well.

What Should a Parent Say To a Son Who Tells Them He’s Gay?

I have been engaged in a debate on another blog with a young man who asserts that any parent whose son tells them he’s gay, if the parent loves him, must show him the empathy that is at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus and support him in living a gay lifestyle. Obviously I disagree. But the question still remains: what should a parent say to a son who tells them he is gay? Here is my answer to the question:

“Empathy” is not at the core of Jesus’ teachings; love of God is. What did Jesus say was the greatest commandment? “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Therefore, loving obedience to God is the first rule of Christian life. If I were a parent and this were my son who just told me he was gay, I wouldn’t love him any less! He is still my son and I would still die for him. But at the same time, any parent who loves his child can never counsel the child that in his situation it’s okay to disobey God. The loving thing for a Christian parent to do is to promise to help his son in any way possible to carry the cross that has been laid on his shoulders and be faithful to what God has clearly taught. Let’s imagine it this way: suppose the son was not gay but instead was a homely young man that no woman has ever found good enough to love. He knows his appearance is so horrible that the chances of anyone loving him for whom he is are slim. The son did nothing to cause or deserve his homeliness, but there it is nonetheless. Does his father, in an attempt to show empathy, tell him that there really is nothing homely about his appearance, that he’s just as good looking as the most attractive of Hollywood heartthrobs, and that therefore he should go out and demand everyone admit that he’s good looking? Of course not. Or does he say, “well, since no girl will have you and you have the right to sex, go find a prostitute- here’s the money!” Absurd! No, if he truly loves him, he tells him the truth and helps him deal with it. Perhaps he might tell him not to despair, that there may yet come a girl who will love him for the person he is, but he doesn’t give him a false hope by telling him she will eventually show up. Instead, he would prepare him for the life outside of marriage that he will end up living and show him how happiness can be found there just as much as in marriage. We as a society are so caught up in the concept that sex is the key to happiness and that everyone needs good sex to be happy and has a right to it. That does a tremendous disservice to scores of people, including those who are perfectly straight but simply have no desire to marry or never met the right person. Marriage does not possess the monopoly on happiness. I am celibate and chaste and am enormously happy with my life. Ultimately, we can never find true happiness until we are living a life that reflects the image and likeness of God, in whom we are created. If my son were gay, I would counsel him not to continue to try to convince God and the Church that they have erred in saying that homosexual activity is sinful (which is never going to happen and is a lie), for that would only set him up for a lifetime of struggle against God in a battle he will never win. Instead, I would tell him to prayerfully ask God how He wishes him to serve Him and how to use his condition to do His will. Only that would bring my son happiness.