How to Make a Difference in the Life of a Fallen-away Catholic You Know

*This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register.

I’ve worked for Catholics Come Home, the international media apostolate working to invite
fallen-away Catholics and others home to the Church, since its founding in 1997. This has afforded me, personally, the opportunity to dialogue with hundreds of fallen-away Catholics who contact the organization after seeing a Catholics Come Home TV commercial or stumbling upon the website. Those who reach out to the apostolate via email, phone or mail make up a small but strong sample of the millions of people that Catholics Come Home has reached out to in less than a decade, and they have taught me a lot about those who leave the Church.

The messages I receive from these inactive Catholics range from cordial to scathing, and it didn’t take me long in this ministry to see that there are common threads in their conversations. Many of these people are hurting; many are angry; many are lost. All have stories; all have reasons for leaving — reasons ranging from “I just drifted away” to “I don’t believe in these teachings” to “Someone in the Church wronged me” (with the first and the last reasons being most common).

But perhaps the most-shared feeling or expression in the many correspondences I have fielded over the years is this: Almost all of these fallen-away Catholics want to know that someone cares.
They want to know that someone cares that they left. They want to know that someone not only notices their absence, but also is actually saddened, or at least affected by it. Sadly, many, if not most, of these inactive Catholics have never found anyone to express this concern to them.

So I make an effort to tell fallen-away Catholics who reach out to Catholics Come Home that they are missed, and their brothers and sisters in Christ — including me — want them home and that their Heavenly Father in particular wants them to again be a part of the Catholic Church that Jesus Christ founded.

As a unity in the Body of Christ, a living organism, we aren’t the same without them, and we care that they are away.

It never ceases to amaze me how even the seemingly hardest of hearts in an initial correspondence can be turned around after hearing that someone, anyone, cares about them and about their leaving the barque of St. Peter.

I’ve been moved to tears more times than I can count by people who seemed bent on spewing their rage toward the Church and have then responded to my reply with words like, “Thank you for answering. You are the first person to respond to me … and to care.” Some of these people have admitted attempting to reach out to other people or organizations, seeking a listening ear or an extended hand of welcome, only to be further disappointed by the fact that not only did they exit the Church without a single person knowing that they had gone, but they also couldn’t find anyone to help them explore the possibility of returning.

So many of our fallen-away family, friends, co-workers, relatives, neighbors and even strangers whom God puts in our path are desperately wanting to know that they are missed. Many just need to hear it from one person — and that one person can be you.

When you come in contact with people away from the Church, I encourage you to do two rather simple, yet important, things.

First, tell them they are missed and that you care that they are away. I used to think it sounded cheesy to say that out loud or in writing, but I discovered that it really was what so many of these people wanted to hear. I add the caveat that you must mean it. Your words, tone and demeanor must be genuine. They need real empathy.

Second, invite them home.
Often, when we ask people who return to the Church, after coming across a Catholics Come Home commercial or the website, why it is that they came back, they respond, “Because you invited me.” Don’t miss the opportunity to extend the invitation that may be the catalyst in that fallen-away Catholic’s journey back to Christ and his Church.

Pope Francis has warned of the danger of Catholics being “backseat Christians.” Don’t take a backseat when it comes to welcoming fallen-away Catholics home. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to people whom you can encourage on their faith journeys. That is certainly a prayer that God loves to answer. And when God puts that beloved, wandering child of his in your path, remember the words of the King in Matthew’s Gospel: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

How to Make Your Home a “Church in Miniature”

“Pope Francis has said, ‘Families are the domestic church, where Jesus grows.’ The idea of the domestic church or ecclesiola — ‘little church’ — the church of the home, dates back to the early Church, where Christians made their own homes sanctioned places to grow in holiness and discipleship. Still today, Catholic families make their homes ‘churches in miniature,’ imitating the actions of the larger Church in family life.” Read more from my recent article in the National Catholic Register, Fostering Holiness: Families Create Domestic Churches.

As Pope Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church.” What are some of those various aspects? In what ways does the domestic church mirror the actions and life of the entire Church? Here are some important tips for making your home a domestic church, imitating some of the actions of the greater – big “C” – Church:

  • Evangelization: The Church exists to evangelize, and so does the domestic church. Both within and outside the walls of the home, spiritual leaders recognize that their chief task as baptized Christians is to share the gospel and the love of Christ with their own family members and with everyone they encounter in the parish and community.
  • Sacraments: As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life” (CCC 1210). Spiritual leaders keep themselves and their families close to the sacraments, making the practice of them a habit that gives “birth and increase, healing and mission” to their families over the course of their lives.
  • Adornment of the church home: If you were to walk into the homes of many of the spiritual leaders I interviewed for this book, you would know you were in a Catholic home right when the front door opened and you crossed the threshold into the foyer. Like the Church is adorned with beauty that lifts one’s heart and mind to God, so do these domestic churches remind you of God’s presence in the church home.
  • Sacramentals: “Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life” (CCC 1677). Through blessings (which hold a pride of place among sacramentals) and other forms and articles of popular piety (like crucifixes, rosaries, icons, statues, and holy water), the domestic church is enriched in its family life and grafted more fully into the life of the Church.
  • Tithing: Whether or not we like to face the fact, Jesus spoke a lot about money in the Gospels. Just read the parables. Giving of one’s “first fruits” to God is critically important for spiritual leaders—through the tithing of their treasure, talent, and time.
    The domestic church is made a more active cell within the greater Church by generously giving a portion of what they have been blessed with by God.
  • Prayer: Strong spiritual leaders are dedicated to prayer as the Church is dedicated to prayer, especially through the celebration of the Mass, the pinnacle of the Church’s prayer life. Prayer animates everything that the Church is and does, and so spiritual heads and hearts try to grasp that same animating prayer life in their own lives and families.

If a friend spent time in your home and then spent time in your local parish church, would they see a resemblance of activity and lifestyle?

Book Review: Why Be Catholic, by Patrick Madrid

why be catholic coverIt’s the book Catholic readers and fans of author Patrick Madrid have been waiting for. His newest book, Why Be Catholic: Ten Answers to a Very Important Question, is finally a hard cover reality, being released June 3rd by Image Books.

I love being an avid consumer of Catholic literature, amassing a collection of religious reading material in my home, and I covet opportunities to serve as a resource guru for many of my Catholic friends when they are looking for recommendations. Because of my work with Catholics Come Home, I am equally passionate about having an arsenal of top picks for those considering returning to the Catholic Church or converting to Catholicism. Patrick Madrid’s new title is a long-awaited one on my currently-unwritten “most highly recommended” list, and one that I plan to advocate heavily to friends, friends of friends, and the many email-inquirers I engage with on a daily basis. Here’s why…

For those unfamiliar with his numerous works, Patrick Madrid is particularly gifted when it comes to clarity and charity in sharing truth, and this book is a masterful example of it. A cradle Catholic in a writing atmosphere that often seems dominated by energetic converts to Catholicism, Madrid explores the tenets of the Catholic Faith that he has always held dear, which he now confesses with precision and passion, after years of careful scrutiny of Church teachings and decades of practice engaging in apologetics. Why Be Catholicreminds me of why Patrick Madrid is one of our family’s favorite apologists: in about 200 information-packed pages, he champions the Catholic Faith in a way that is sure to make Catholics proud to be Catholic and non-Catholics question why they’re not Catholic.

In the first few words of the book, Madrid reminds the reader that the Catholic Church, like Noah’s ark, was built for endurance. In a modern culture and media climate that love to shoot flaming darts at the Church for Her unchanging and very logical teachings, Madrid writes to answer the question that “demands an answer now, more than ever”: why be Catholic?

He explores the gems that make Catholicism utterly unique—its history, sacraments, papacy and saints, as well as its love of the Blessed Mother and its teaching about good works, all while remaining blatantly honest about “the good, the bad, and the ugly” that the Catholic Church has to offer a world in need of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

There is something incredibly poetic about any writing—even the most informational—that speaks of the truths of Catholicism, because, in all of our hearts, whether we realize it or not, we crave the fullness of truth and happiness that we can only find in Christ’s Catholic Church. God Himself put that longing in us, and we all owe it to ourselves to be able to clearly articulate to others why we are Catholic, and why others should be, too. This book is written to help you do that.

In short, I hope this new book finds a respected place on your bookshelf, as it will on mine.

You can pre-order here.


The Engaged and Newlywed Book List

Getting married or have you recently tied the knot? Do you have a friend or family member who just got engaged? This book list is your ultimate shopping and reading guide.

My husband and I are both avid readers, and engagement gave us a chance to try out a new literary genre: marriage preparation and enrichment. We found a few of many gems during our scouring of literature meant to help us start off our lifelong commitment strong, and now I want to share that with you. These books make great engagement, shower, Christmas, birthday, and anytime gifts for you and those you love.

Specifically Catholic Books

Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family, Katie Warner

Yep, I wrote a book specifically for engaged and married couples (of all phases in marital life, but especially helpful to newlyweds), because my husband and I wanted a resource to guide us in our effort to become strong spiritual leaders for each other and for our growing family. I included it in this list because it has had a big impact on my own marriage, and on the marriages of many others who’ve shared their experiences with me after reading the book.

Three to Get Married, Fulton Sheen

Anything that the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen writes drips with beauty and clarity, and this book is no different. It is a top-notch theological reflection on what God intends marriage to be. Read it. Give it.

The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets to the World’s Happiest Couples, Gregory Popcak

My hubby and I became big fans of Dr. Gregory Popcak just a few pages into this book. It’s practical, implementable, straightforward, and spot-on in its marital wisdom. Our marriage reaped the benefits almost immediately, and we will be rereading this one for years.

Holy Sex, Gregory Popcak      

Trust me on this one. It is a surprisingly comfortable, refreshing, and honest read. Personally, I was so grateful that a book like this existed to help me prepare for this aspect of marital life…and that it is 100% Catholic!

Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, Gregory and Lisa Popcak, *just released*

The subtitle indicated another Popcak hit. It arrived in the mail a few days ago, and it took me no time to finish it. It’s filled with relevant topics for thriving in your first years, and it keeps discussion on those topics succinct and relatable. I simply loved the prayer plan it lays out for married couples.

 Life-Giving Love, Scott and Kimberly Hahn

Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn have inspired an untold number of Catholics and Christians over their many years of ministry, but also through their beautiful witness to married love, which they have communicated eloquently in this must-have item on your bookshelf.

The Good News about Sex and Marriage, Christopher West

If you too deeply respect the advice of Archbishop Charles Chaput, who writes the foreword to the new edition of this book, than I’ll let you take his word over mine: “Do the Church—and yourself—a favor: Read and reread this book. Encourage everyone you know to do the same.”

Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, Edward Sri

I was blessed enough to study under Dr. Sri during graduate school and to attend multiple of his Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love talks—including his mini-series on the subject filmed at EWTN studios. The powerful information he presents in this book never gets old.

Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards, Ray Guarendi

Dr. Ray, known for his wit and practical guidance, gives a Catholic therapist’s take on how to make your marriage more rewarding through small, useful steps.

The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse, Art and Laraine Bennett

The Bennett’s have written an entire series on the temperaments, and this book is a critical one in the pack. My husband and I have found that understanding one another’s temperament is crucial in learning how to better communicate with and love each other.

Non-Catholic Christian Books

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman

I remember my husband and I having long discussions about these languages from early on in our relationship. We learned that just because he loved little gifts didn’t mean that they were what would make me feel most loved. Understanding each other’s love language has changed our relationship for the better—every day.

His Needs, Her Needs, Willard Harley

Sometimes communicating your needs is hard—really hard. What if you aren’t really sure what your needs even are, or what if it is hard to express them? This book helps you describe (and rank!) your most important needs so that your spouse can respond to them. We simply loved it.

Love Busters, Willard Harley

It didn’t take us long to figure out not only what increases our marital love, but also what decreases it. This book made us conscious of the things we do that hurt our love and how to avoid them.

For Men Only & For Women Only (two separate books), Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn

These little (in size and length) books were light, yet informative reads. I’ve handed these out to a number of couple friends already.

For the Women

Graced and Gifted, Kimberly Hahn

Get this, ladies! It truly helped me see how to live out my call to be a homemaker with grace and thanksgiving. When you are already sick of vacuuming and dishes after only a few months, the wisdom in this books sweeps in (pun intended) to lift your spirits.

From the Church

Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla

Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II

Familiaris Consortio, On the Family, John Paul II

Casti Connubii, On Christian Marriage, Pius XI

Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, USCCB

Finally, why not read about marriage together from the best sources the Church can offer? Don’t leave these encyclicals and other writings out of your marriage library.