I Pray for My Fallen-Away Children to Return to the Church

I’ve had the same item on my Christmas list since 2008, and it was there again this year. What do I want? I want my fallen-away children to return to the Church.

Julie Ribault (1789-1885), “The Return of the Prodigal Son”
Julie Ribault (1789-1885), “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (photo: Public Domain)

One long-ago Christmas, my son Leo was thrilled to find a comic book under the tree. This was a new experience, as Santa’s gift choices usually leaned towards the edifying and instructive. The comic’s title, spelled out in blocky text, was “Soldier of Goo.”

Leo was beside himself.

“Wow! Santa got me a comic book about a mutant hero using radioactive ooze to fight deathless aliens of hyper-destructive chaos!”

Imagine his crushing disappointment when Leo realized that, in the pre-dawn light of Christmas morning, he’d misread the title of the comic. It wasn’t “Soldier of Goo” but “Soldier of God,” and the comic was about St. Maximilian Kolbe.

That year, Leo didn’t get the Christmas gift he’d wanted. I know the feeling. I’ve had the same item on my wish list since 2008, and it was there again this year. What do I want? I want my fallen-away children to return to the Church.

I want them to kneel before the tabernacle in thanksgiving for the untold blessings they have received.

I want them to stand beside me in the church pew and resolutely profess the one true faith.

I want them to worthily receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord.

Yes, I am grateful for the warm relationships that I have with my children who have left the Faith. The fact that my prodigals are loving and kind, and that they are respectful of their parents’ beliefs, is in itself a wonderful gift. But affability is no substitute for agape, and being “good for goodness’ sake” an insipid stand-in for sacrificial love.

While the return of my children to the Church is my daily prayer intention throughout the year, during Advent and Christmas I pray for that specific intention with a short, beautifully evocative St. Andrew prayer inviting reflection on the birth of Christ “at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.”

Occasionally, during one of its many repetitions, the phrase “piercing cold” will bring to my mind an image pertaining less to atmospheric chill than to the coldness of indifference: for example, the hands-in-pockets posture of a nonbelieving child during mealtime grace. Such signs of faithlessness can “pierce” a mother’s heart as sharply as any sword foretold by Simeon.

The trappings of Christmas are fading. The fresh-cut evergreen, despite its name, is already turning brown and brittle. The Italian strufoli was consumed in short order, leaving behind nothing but an unwanted legacy of excess poundage. The highly-coveted gifts that were received will eventually be forgotten or lost, broken or discarded.

I don’t begrudge my prodigals the passing happiness of a secular celebration of Christmas. But the true joy of Christmas cannot be wedged between Thanksgiving and Dec. 26, sustained by Christmas carol airplay, and defined by retailers. The true joy of Christmas is unbounded and eternal, rooted in Emmanuel, “God with us.”

I want my fallen-away children to experience that joy. I want them to know and cherish the foundational truth of our holy Faith: that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

May God grant us all a firm and abiding faith!