First of all, don’t worry about what words to use when you begin to pray for someone who has been away from the Lord – from the Church – for a long time. Just talk to God about the situation as you would to a good friend. In your own words, tell God your fear, your concern, perhaps your sense of hopelessness/discouragement.
God loves and cares for the person even more than you do. He wants that person back in his family, back in relationship with him. To have a son or daughter of God back in the fold must bring untold joy to the Lord. Think about the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32); think about the father waiting and watching for his son – looking for him on the road, running out to meet him. This parable is a wonderful example of how God looks for his sons and daughters who have strayed.
Know that God loves them even more than you, and when you ask for his help, do it prayerfully, simply and daily, He will show you the part you are to play. Remember you are not the Savior – God is.
Your part is to be a true servant of the Master through prayer and sometimes conversation. We cannot see the whole picture – only God can. And he will show us how he wants us to help. After daily prayer, God might inspire you to say something, or a book may come into your hands that is needed by the one for whom you are praying.
Remember, our job is to pray and be attentive to God’s inspirations. Consider areas of blockage to God’s grace. Pray against anger, fear, depression, pride, hopelessness. Say to the Lord something like this: “Lord, I think what is really holding them back from coming back to you and to the Church is their fear of rejection or their pride or anger” (or whatever you think it might be). Ask God to help you identify what might be a blockage to their return. Then ask God that all the graces of their baptism may be activated again; pray that fear or anger, or whatever the obstacle might be, might be overcome by God’s generous grace. Grace is God sharing his life with us, and God longs to give it to us, and to those who have been far away from him.
- Pray the rosary each day or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. If the situation is particularly difficult, pray a 54-day novena to Our Lady: 27 days in petition; 27 days in thanksgiving.
- Fast from one thing each day and offer it to the Lord as a sacrifice for the need of the one for whom you have a concern.
- Some weeks, pray the Our Lady, Undoer of Knots Novena. This is a great prayer in situations like this.
Remember, although God is always working in the soul offering and extending invitations, whatever turned that person from God/from the Church can create spiritual blindness or deafness. So just keep on praying. Don’t give up!
I close with a story about a grandmother who prayed for her grandson, whom we’ll call Joe Smith. This grandmother saw her grandson straying, so she began to pray for him to return to the Lord. She died some years later without seeing any result of her prayer. Many years later, Joe says, “I was walking down a city street on a Sunday morning and just had the strangest desire to go to my grandmother’s church. I was high on drugs, and could barely remember where the church was, but amazingly, I found it very quickly.”
When Joe went into the church, the whole congregation was quietly praying. Joe sat down, and then the pastor asked if there were any visitors that morning. Joe tentatively raised his hand and the pastor asked him his name: When he said, “Joe Smith,” the entire congregation erupted in loud applause. Thoroughly confused, Joe asked the pastor why they were cheering for him since they didn’t know him. The pastor replied, “My son, we have been praying for you every Sunday since your grandmother asked us to 18 years ago! Welcome home!”
Pray this Advent season and never lose heart!