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Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
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Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
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Our readers asked:

What else can I do when family members have turned away from the Faith and joined a Protestant church besides pray for them?

Thomas Ryan, CSP Answers:

Prayer is a good place to start, but it’s by no means the only way you can constructively work with the situation both for your enrichment and for theirs. Keep the lines of communication open. Ask them, for example, what they find meaningful and energizing in the worship and life of the Protestant church they are now attending. You might go yourself a few times to personally experience what they’re talking about (for example, you could go to a Saturday Vigil Mass and then accompany them on a Sunday morning). Is this permitted? Indeed it is! There are many, many interchurch married couples who do it every week as a way of giving visible expression to their real albeit imperfect unity in the Body of Christ.

The Catholic Church recognizes that Christ and the Holy Spirit are active in Protestant churches, and that their congregational members can also advance the Reign of God in our world through their gospel living. We have real gifts to offer one another for our mutual enrichment. You will likely experience some things that are inspiring, and some things that challenge you to understand your own Catholic faith even better. Keep the channels of communication open. There will be plenty of opportunities to talk about your faith and practice with these family members if you and they are open to it. And there’s no need to do it in a contentious and argumentative way. Just approach the exchanges in a spirit of “I’m sure there are some good things there, and I know we have a treasure chest of good things in the Catholic Church.”

Your family members likely still have a lot to learn about the Catholic faith, and will be more open to hearing it and deepening their understanding if they experience you are open to learning about and growing in your appreciation of what they like in their present chosen Christian community. So let it be a dialogue of love and mutual enrichment. Pray for them, and ask them to pray for you, that you all might be a light for those whose lives you touch. Jesus and his Holy Spirit can form committed disciples in Protestant churches as well as Catholic. What we want to do is expand our appreciation for the common ground we share, which is much broader and deeper than anything which still divides us.

The Author : Thomas Ryan, CSP
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C.
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  • Mike

    they where already lost before they got found, they have no idea what faith really is. buy them a red letter bible and tell them to just read what is red, that is your faith.

  • Jack Florenz

    Excellent response.

    I’m reminded of these words of Pope Benedict XVI: “Members of the Church should not feel jealousy, but should rejoice if someone outside the community does good in the name of Christ.” The pope then quoted St. Augustine: “Just as one can find that which is not Catholic in the Catholic Church, one can also find something that may be Catholic outside of the Catholic Church.” And the pope said that “good and even miraculous things” can happen outside the Catholic Church when others “cooperate with the Kingdom of God” even in small gestures such as “offering a simple glass of water to a missionary.” The tendency toward jealousy can exist within the Church, said the pope, when Catholics resent holiness and goodness being attained by non-Catholics. “Instead, we should all be able to always appreciate and respect each other, praising the Lord” when “he acts in the Church and in the world.”

    I’m reminded, too, of the time when Archbishop Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) attended an ecumenical service in Argentina that brought 7,000 Evangelicals and Catholics together, where the Evangelical pastor asked Bergoglio if it would be okay for everyone to pray for him. The Archbishop knelt down to receive the blessing, and the next week a traditionalist magazine carried the picture under the headline: “Archbishop commits the sin of apostasy.” But the Archbishop was undisturbed, asserting that one can pray even with an agnostic: “What’s the problem?”

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