Dear Father Joe: I’d like to invite my “lost sheep” family members back into the crèche. How can I invite them back to church at the holidays and moving forward?
What a great question – it can be such a difficult thing to invite someone into practicing the faith without coming across as self-righteous or as somehow a bit “off.” A big part of the process of bringing someone back is to start with the recognition of a couple of points.
First, remember that what you are desiring is holy; it’s good. Sometimes, what we desire isn’t so good, isn’t so holy. You have in your heart a hunger to bring someone back into a communal practice of the faith and that is a blessing. You desire something good.
With that idea, I ask you to read this passage from Philippians 1:6: “He who started a good work in you will see it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.” This good thing you desire? It came from God. He placed it in your heart and you can be confident that, however he uses you in this effort to bring someone back, he will be the one to see it to completion.
So, the last preparatory step in bringing someone back is to ask God to bless your efforts. Remember the words of the Book of Psalms, Chapter 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Your effort is inspired by God; now you are making sure it is strengthened and guided by him as well.
With this solid foundation of faith and prayer, you are ready to begin. To be clear, I’m going to offer you a few different ways to go about this: it doesn’t mean you have to follow it in this way – let God lead you. You may find that you mix and match these ideas or go in a totally different direction. Trust that you can follow his prompts well.
One good way to go about it is to be a bit more covert, frankly. If Mass is at 4:30, invite your friends to “Come to Mass and dinner with us.” It’s a bit less threatening to people if you make your invitation a social one. “Mass and dinner” can be a nice way to ease into the topic. This will serve as an invitation for them and a great blessing for you as well. When they come to your house, make sure and pray before the meal. Make sure that your conversation is joyful and life-giving and that they walk away having had a lovely time.
Also, you can consider if they have hobbies or things that are a consistent part of their life that you can be a part of. Scripture tells us that, when Jesus first met St. Peter, he got into Peter’s boat. It was only after he had been in Peter’s boat for a bit that he initiated a conversation/relationship with him. In the same way, you can “get into your friends' boat.” Enter into their lives and bring the light and life of Christ with you. Go to their kids' games, head off to bowl with them or whatever it is they enjoy doing.
A lot of people in our culture are “doers.” As a general rule, people like to help. Is there a project at the church where people are asking for help? Maybe some table set ups or some church cleaning? Volunteer for it and ask your friend to help. Bring them in to see you and others volunteering. Prepare any of the volunteers who are there for the fact that there will be a new person coming and that you want to make sure they are welcomed and loved in that volunteering.
Hopefully, at some point, they will begin a conversation about why you go to church or why you are connecting with them. This is your moment!
Before you speak, pray and ask God to lead you in your words. I like to tell people in this moment “Share your why.” This is the time to share why you go to church, why it is important to you and how it has made your life better. Don’t worry about defending the Catholic faith. Don’t tell them how they are wrong or their church is wrong – share how Christ is present at the Mass!
I find it helpful if you practice what you are going to say. You are going to share your heart in this conversation and, if you are like me, it’s easy to get emotional or overly passionate. I know it sounds funny, but practice what you are going to say. Keep it simple, clear and personal.
These are just some ideas. They key is to get them there and let Christ do the work. Show them through your words and example how faith in Jesus has made your life better, has made you a better person. A final point: do not worry about results. Do not focus on whether your efforts are successful – focus on being faithful. I often remind myself of the fact that Jesus gave us a parable where he spoke about the Kingdom of Heaven as a sower sowing seeds. In the end, the sower was “successful” only about one in four times. Your goal is to let Christ use you to plant a seed in their hearts. Maybe you will see it grow, maybe someone else will. May God bless our efforts to lead people to his glorious Kingdom!
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.