Your Prayers Will Bring Them Home

How a Facebook group is encouraging parents whose children have left the faith

‘What Would Monica Do?’ book cover
‘What Would Monica Do?’ book cover (photo: Ascension Press)

This month, Patti Armstrong Maguire and I celebrated the first anniversary of the book we wrote together, “What Would Monica Do?,” after experiencing the tragic, and all-too-common, reality of some of our children leaving the faith — at least for now. 

We emphasize “for now,” living in the hope of their eventual and enthusiastic return, leaning on the story of the Prodigal Son and the loving guidance of St. Monica, whose persistence in prayer helped woo her son, Augustine, back home. 

By the time we began this project for Ascension, we’d been quietly sharing our common heartache with one another for several years, discovering consolation in simply naming it, and knowing we were not alone. Even more, we began praying for each other regularly.

Despite fears of exposing our heartache to the world, through prayer, we came to see the importance of doing so — firstly, to be authentic with our readers. But we also recognized how the Father of Lies wants us to keep our hurts in the recesses of our souls, where shame and regret brood and despair pervades.

Exposing our worries to light had brought hope to us, and might offer others the same. And as we dove deeper into the work, we came to understand that this vale of tears was, more than anything, calling us back to a deeper faith. 

As we wrote, we began praying for our future readers, and months before the book’s release on St. Monica’s Feast Day, Aug. 27, 2022, we started a private Facebook group to begin gathering our fellow wounded parents and loved ones. Why wait until the press had cooled?

That group (“Catholic Parents: What Would Monica Do?”) has grown steadily ever since, reaching now to nearly 2,000 members joining us to clasp virtual hands and hearts. We share prayer concerns, practical tips, advice from saints, novenas and other support. But above all, we are holding one another up by the reminder that we are not alone. In our harsh world, which can be so cruel with its isolative tendencies, that in and of itself can be golden.

Certainly, it’s not an end-all solution. We need real-life support, too, and thankfully prayer ministries are springing up for this purpose, such as Millions of Monicas and St. Monica Ministry. But our group can be a starting point. For many, it may be the first time they’ve shared this specific heartache aloud. 

Recently, a member posted about her 18-year-old child who’d walked away — not only from the faith, but from their lives, leaving her and her husband shattered. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time they’d experienced such a severe goodbye.

These lamentations aren’t uncommon in our group. We’ve heard stories of addicted children, children in same-sex relationships, children who think they were born in the wrong body, and children who have given up entirely and ended their lives. 

Starting the group, we knew there would be shared tears — tears like St. Monica’s, which were shed profusely, and in time, would water the soil of her son’s conversion. But we weren’t prepared for the profundity of the stories. Each new member must answer questions to join, and we read every one before admitting them. It often astounds me how much pain is revealed in just a sentence or two.

But there’s so much good news, also, and St. Monica leads the way. We continually look to her story — the story of a grieved parent who only wants the best for her children. The story of a spouse who feels like she’s carrying the weight alone. The story of God’s love, for a son and for a mother, and a reminder of how, when we stay faithful despite our hurting, God delivers abundant grace. 

It has been a wild and good ride with St. Monica, who has become endeared to so many. We’re grateful for the online community that has transpired in this last year, and delight in the positive reception of our book, including its two first-place awards through the Catholic Media Association. We recognize all this has come to be through sorrow, but in that, we are reminded that God can bring good, even from our suffering. 

Returning to the abovementioned mother’s story, my heart lurched as I read of her pain, and I felt compelled to share the advice a spiritual director had given me a few years back, in a moment when it seemed my own heart had been ripped out of my chest.

This priest had suggested that rather than focusing on my own pain in that moment, I should reorient my attention to the child’s. She was the one, after all, walking away from God, and from love. She was the one “throwing away the pearls in her hand,” I said, summarizing the priest’s sentiments. 

I encouraged her that, rather than despairing, she place her child in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “Remember the Crucifixion?” I continued. “That’s how he felt, too. It hurt immensely. But the Resurrection followed.” I suggested she rejoice in having a loving God on her side, and consider asking Our Blessed Mother to follow after her child as she enters this soul-crushing world without true love to remedy the challenges. 

Finally, ending on a note of hope, I said, “Your prayers will bring her home.” It’s advice I hope she takes, and words that I, too, need to continue to believe and practice, day by day. 

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