“Thank you,” I whispered as I stood under the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has been in my bedroom for most of my life, tears streaming down my cheeks. At that exact moment, my father was in the living room making his first confession and receiving the Eucharist for the first time in over 40 years. It was the day before my 24th birthday and he gave me the best birthday gift I’ve ever received – his reversion to the Church.
Only a few months before, we had been told that my father’s colon cancer had returned after a short remission. Not only had it come back with a vengeance, but it had also spread and was now terminal. They gave him 6 months to live. I envisioned all the milestones he would miss – my undergraduate graduation, my wedding day, and the birth of my future children. But, beyond that, I worried about the state of his soul.
I had just returned to the Church only 3 years before. I was very aware that both of my parents were away from the Church. We were your (typically) poorly catechized Catholics in name only. After my reversion, I knew how important it was for them to return as well. I began praying in earnest for their reversion.
It wasn’t easy. I encountered a lot of resistance from both. My father used to grumble about missing his soccer matches when I wanted to go to confession. Since I didn’t drive at the time, he was my chauffeur and he hated to be asked for a ride to our local parish. My mother was encouraging… but didn’t want to do it herself.
So, I prayed. I did novenas and offered things up. When we found out about my father’s terminal cancer, I stepped up my prayers. My mission became a fight to get my father back to the Church before he passed. I recruited the help of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. I prayed for a miracle – for complete healing of my father’s cancer or his return to the Church. Eventually, my prayers were answered.
On Bl. Pier Giorgio’s feast day, 2009, I went to Mass asking for a miracle. My father was a shadow of his former self at that point; he weighed less than I did and was wheelchair-bound. He was no longer eating. Less than a week later, he was rushed to intensive care. We were able to get a priest to administer the Last Rites on time. Exactly one week after my final plea to Bl. Pier Giorgio at Mass, on the feast of St. Benedict (patron for a happy death), my father passed.
During that last 1.5 months of his life—the time from his first confession in +40 years in late May to his death in early July—my father noticeably changed. He was known to sing hymns – loudly and very early in the mornings—from his hospital bed. He received the Eucharist as often as he was able to, My father had given the rest of his life to God. Shortly before my father’s death, my mother also returned to confession and Mass.
Why do I share this story with you? Because I want to encourage you to pray for your parents and/or loved ones who may be away from the Church. Don’t think that only parents can pray for their children’s reversions and conversions a la St. Monica; the opposite is also true. To this day I’m grateful that God used me to help my parents return to the Church. I was just a small instrument in their reversions—God is the one who made it all happen.
Are you in a similar boat? Here are five things I recommend to others.
1. Have Masses offered up for their reversion/conversion
We often think of offering up Masses for those who are sick, deceased, or as a way of giving thanks for an answered prayer. Why not have Masses offered up those you love and are away from the Church? And while you’re there, don’t forget to offer up communion for them as well.
2. Fast and offer things up
Prayer and fasting are important when asking for big prayer intentions but fasting isn’t done nearly as often as prayer. If you can’t fast from food due to medical reasons, fast from something you enjoy. Having a particularly bad day? Offer it up. These little sacrifices are worth it.
3. Try to use common interests to evangelize
My father and I shared a love of soccer. I would use our time watching matches together to point out when players did the Sign of the Cross before entering and after leaving the pitch. If I knew a particular player was Catholic, I’d share that tidbit. Sometimes it would open the conversions to other faith matters. Use whatever you have at your disposal to plant little seeds of faith.
4. Pray without ceasing
It seems like a no-brainer but, let’s be honest, it’s harder than one can imagine. Sometimes life gets hectic and you find yourself barely getting your prayers in at the end of the day. I’d recommend the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. No time for them? Even if you end up praying the simplest, heartfelt prayer that takes you 5 seconds, do it!
5. Recruit a heavenly ally
I chose Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati because his parents had also been away from the Church. I knew he would understand the prayers of someone who desired to see her parents back in the Church. You can choose him or a number of other patrons for families, reversion/conversions, etc. If you have trouble choosing one, you cannot go wrong going straight to our Blessed Mother.
No matter how difficult the situation may seem, nothing is impossible for God. Keep praying and fighting for them. Miracles happen every day.