How To Help With the Greatest Rescue Mission Ever Launched

Search and Rescue: How to Bring Your Family and Friends into—or Back into—the Catholic Church

by Patrick Madrid

Sophia Institute Press, 200

256 pages, $14.95

My college-age daughter recently persuaded the young man she dates to consider the claims of the Catholic faith. He did, and was received into the Church this past Easter. Even allowing for the help that romantic attachment must have given to this conversion, I was impressed.

I've never converted anybody. In fact, my attempts to evangelize a fundamentalist boyfriend back in high school failed miserably. I can still recall long, fruitless phone conversations, Bible in one hand and apologetics reference in the other, in which each of us tried to “save” the other. I didn't realize at the time that arguments, even winning ones, are not enough. Too bad the book Search and Rescue wasn't around at the time.

Apologist and author Patrick Madrid, who's also editor of Envoy magazine, wants us to see that there is much more to evangelization than winning arguments. Our success has as much to do with who we are as it does with how many Bible verses we can quote. The very first piece of advice he gives here is a pearl of wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi: “Evangelize always; when necessary, use words.”

People can tell when we are simply trying to score an intellectual victory for our pride rather than evangelizing out of a genuine love and concern for them. If they don't see something in us that is admirable and desirable—moral ideals lived up to, serenity in the face of problems, kindness, generosity—they won't be moved by our defense of doctrine, no matter how well-reasoned.. And if we don't pray earnestly for the people we are trying to convert, nothing is likely to happen.

This much we all know, but Madrid forces us to examine ourselves in these areas—and to take steps to develop the heart of a disciple. “Devote as much time to praying for these persons as you do to speaking to them,” he writes. “Resolve to love others as fervently as you try to convert them. ... [A]sk Christ in the Eucharist to help you keep your ego in check.”

After leading us through work-outs on charity, example and prayer, Madrid suggests that much time and effort could be saved by finding out precisely why an ex-Catholic left the Church in the first place: The convert to fundamentalism might appreciate scriptural argumentation, but the worldly materialist will not. The individual whose practice of the faith ended with news of a scandal will respond to different talking points than the one who feels alienated from the Church because of its teachings on a specific moral issue. Madrid offers techniques for discerning motives, listening attentively and responding in a way that is tailored to particular situations.

The concluding chapters explain how to deal with discouragement when people do not immediately respond to the truth that we offer them. Madrid reminds us that, in the parable of the sower, “the job of the sower is to cast the seed and move on. His mission isn't to stand there, huddled over the grain of wheat, waiting anxiously to see whether it will take root and grow. That's God's task.”

Only God can see what is going on in a person's soul. We must be patient, as God is patient with us. We must be humble, because if we really think this person's salvation depends on us and our wonderful words, we are destined for disappointment.

Madrid illuminates this point in the book's conclusion with an account of one of his own failed efforts. I'm glad he did. Somehow it's comforting to know that even an accomplished apologist goofs up now and then. His candor, combined with his evident perseverance, motivates us to get out there and try. And, when we think we have failed, to try, try again.

Daria Sockey writes from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.