Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Pope Francis has asked that we pray and reach out to Christians who have left the faith. “We must not leave him alone! We should offer him Christian hope—with our words, yes, but more with our testimony, with our freedom, with our joy.” I posted the intentions on my Facebook feed.
The internet took exception to the petition. Some pounced on the word, “fallen,” as meaning those within the Church held an elevated status, as if the rest of us are not fallen. We are all fallen. Sometimes we forget, the Church is not a health club for those already in Olympic-caliber shape; it’s a hospital for the sick, and we are all of us, every one of us, sick.
Fallen away in this circumstance doesn’t refer to others who were not sick; it refers to people who have deliberately placed something between them and Christ. It can be any issue, but most people will state their objection up front, whether because of abortion or LGBT issues or contraception or women’s ordination. But there’s a reason they’re not in the Church, and until the Church changes, they’re not coming in. They’re withholding themselves from the Body of Christ.
The Pope is asking us to invite them and ourselves, deeper and deeper in. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” Invite them to come and ask their questions of God, and of us, and to keep asking and seeking to understand, rather than any of us staying at the point of “I disagree,” and thus, our relationship is at a standstill. That objection will grow ever bigger. God can remove it, but only at our request and only if it will bring us closer to Him.
Others objected that once people become adults, parents ought not to attempt to impose their faith or presume to know. Ergo, praying for people to convert is a form of trying to coerce/guilt others via God’s grace. That’s not how prayer or grace works. As parents, we’re called to model God’s love, ergo, we’re to be constantly proposing, inviting our own children, to have deeper relationships, both with God and their brothers, sisters, spouses, friends and children. We still need to pray every day, for their lives, their livelihood, and their eternal well-being. I can’t say I don’t care what they believe, because if I didn’t care, it would mean the faith wasn’t and isn’t something precious and true. Otherwise, all this time I’ve spent trying to form them in the faith, was merely a preference like a flavor of ice cream, and man was that a waste of energy and time.
Christ uses us, as the body of Christ, to go out and seek the lost sheep. It is a case of the fallen seeking the also-fallen, but we are to be like the widow, and sweep the whole house, searching for the two coins, and throw a party that costs more than the coins once we find them. We’re to be like the Prodigal Father, each day praying and watching for the slightest sign of his son returning, and rushing to him so he’ll know from that smallest beginning, how welcome he is. Our God is the God of the Crucifixion, so he’ll use our nail wounds and our splinters to get to us, whichever we allow. He respects us enough to seek always and in all things, our consent.
Objecting to praying for those away from the Church also fails to recognize how deeply God cares about each of us. To profess that what one believes doesn’t matter to God, is ridiculous. Why? Because God is love, ergo, God cares. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. God is never indifferent to any of us. God minded our indifference so much, He did something about it. He offered and is still always offering us His friendship, healing, and true joy. God minds so much, He spends all day, every day, seeking to find a way to pierce our hearts and fill them with His love. He is constantly seeking an invitation into our lives more deeply and inviting us into his deep and merciful heart. Jesus is constantly providing invitations to the wedding feast, and as the Body of Christ here on Earth, we the Church have that job as well. So this July, let’s heed the call of our Pope and pray for all of us, to say “yes” to God’s knock on our fallen hearts.