THE SAINT MONICA CLUB
How to Wait, Hope and Pray for Your Fallen-Away Loved Ones
By Maggie Green
Sophia Institute Press, 2019
144 pages, $14.95
To order: sophiainstitute.com or (800) 888-9344
It was in 2007 that I received my invitation to join the St. Monica Club. There was no engraved R.S.V.P., no enticing list of member benefits, no cutesy “save the date” refrigerator magnet, no pin to wear on my lapel. There was only my 17-year-old son Leo matter-of-factly informing me that he no longer believed in God.
In that moment, I was drafted into a club to which I had never wanted to belong, a club for those who, like St. Augustine’s longsuffering mother, St. Monica, fervently hope and pray for loved ones to be reconciled with the Catholic Church.
In her book The Saint Monica Club, author and club member Maggie Green speaks to the challenges of loving a “prodigal” and offers gentle strategies for evangelizing the fallen-away Catholics in one’s life. Green’s approach is based on her belief that “method does not bring people to the Faith; witness does.”
“You witness to the Faith by your love, both for your loved one and for God,” she says. “You get to be like Christ, always proposing rather than imposing.”
But while practicing holy patience may be the right thing to do, our fallen natures make us much more likely to argue, accuse, insist and incite. In our haste to “do something” to draw back the one we love, we’re apt to forget that “the hard work of loving begins on your knees.” We ought to instead follow the example of St. Monica, says Green, by being “both relentless in prayer and patient with our prodigals.”
In addition to living out these disciplines, we should create opportunities for a prodigal to “experience something of what that person has removed himself from.” An invitation to attend Mass or to take part in family devotions may be “a sideways door that allows a prodigal to enter in, and sometimes, that little visit is all God needs.”
Conversations can also open the door to transformative grace, because “evangelization begins with connecting on a personal level.” Find out where the prodigal’s heart lies; know what it is that he has substituted for God in order to rightly understand “how God is still reaching” for him. Wherever a prodigal may be on his faith journey, there is some good that can be affirmed. Green points to St. Paul’s view of the early Greeks and their temple to the Unknown God: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). If St. Paul recognized a creed even among the pagans, can we do any less for our loved ones who have fallen away?
And then there’s Our Lady’s own special means for drawing prodigals back to her Son. (“You knew we’d talk about the Rosary eventually,” the book’s author quips.) “The Rosary Is Your Best Tool,” a brief but powerful chapter in The Saint Monica Club is, in the opinion of this club member, the most helpful section of the book. Green’s poignant suggestions for Rosary meditations could only have come from someone whose own heart had been pierced by a loved one’s abandonment of the faith. “There isn’t a single mystery explored in the Rosary,” says Green, “that we can delve into without finding a connection to our own struggles.
“If you want your loved one to return to Jesus, pray the Rosary. Pray it daily,” Green adds.
The Saint Monica Club is a blessed resource for all who are walking “The Way of St. Monica.” Green is an encouraging guide along the way, reminding club members/readers that such suffering for loved ones is, like Christ’s, both “sacrificial and redemptive.” Her book is poetic in its insights and practical in its remedies. I wish that The Saint Monica Club had been in print when my son Leo embraced atheism and, more recently, when one of Leo’s brothers decided to follow the same path. Reading the book and following its counsels may well have precluded my frantic attempts to “fix” things — as if I had the ability to do so! — and, instead, helped me to better cooperate with God’s grace.
“We are neither the sower nor the seed,” Green reminds readers. “God’s doing the work; we’re trying to be His hands and feet … trusting Him to bring about the miracle.”
Indeed, God alone can give the increase. But The Saint Monica Club can equip us to prepare the soil.
Celeste Behe writes from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.