When I first began working on my latest book, "When's God Gonna Call Me Back?," I sent out a request for testimonies from people who had left the Church. Although I haven't always been as good as I would have liked to be, it was never my experience to separate from the Church. I had to learn from the experiences of others, so I asked them three questions:
1.Why did you leave?
2.What kept you away?
3.What brought you back?
In return, I promised them that I would refrain from all judgment and proselytizing, that I would protect their anonymity, and that I would ask all identifying factors.
As you can imagine, there was quite a variety of responses. Many of them were so heart wrenching that it was hard for me to hold back the tears – abuse, rape, imprisonment, betrayal, suicide attempts, conflict, loniliness, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, confusion. These brave individuals shared with me some of the most difficult things they have ever told anyone, and I was both humbled by them and proud of them for their courage.
I also was surprised by their responses – in particular the number of individuals who credited the prayers of their mothers for their return to the Church, even when they didn't know that their mothers were praying for them at the time.
Take Brenda, for example. Brenda grew up in a dysfunctional family, was the victim of date rape, attempted suicide, and eventually ended up getting pregnant before marriage. Her relationship with her father, a very troubled man, was almost non-existant, and her relationship with her mother was distant at best.
She ended up marrying the father of her child, and gradually they both found their way back to the Church. But it was a long, difficult journey.
It was only a number of years after she'd returned to the Church that Brenda discovered that her mother had faithfully prayed the rosary for her every single day, in spite of their trials and differences. Not only did Brenda come back to the Church, but she even ended up becoming an oblate in a monastic religious order.
Through her mother's prayers, God rescued her from an ugly past and gave her another chance at life. For this she is eternally grateful.
How many of us are mothers, either spiritually or actually? How many of us have children who are lurking on the edge of the Church? How many of our chldren have wandered from the fold completely? How many of us realize the power of our prayers for our children?
The classic example of the long-suffering mother is St. Monica. She prayed for St. Augustine's conversion for 33 years, never giving up hope that someday God would break into that cold, confused heart. But I think we may tend to relegate the long-term prayers to the saints, thinking that only they are capable of decades of fervency.
We forget that we, too, are called to be saints. And so are our children.
It's agonizing to watch anyone we love walk away from the Faith – and devastating when it's our own child. We're left feeling helpless, hopeless and empty. We wonder where we went wrong, and what we could have done better. We wonder why.
We may never understand, but we can take great consolation in Brenda's story. Thanks be to God, she's not the only one who has benefitted from a mother's prayers. There are countless others.
We may not ever see the results. But when moms pray, good things happen-- even if it takes a good, long time.
Photograph by Silvestro Silvestori (http://silvestrosilvestori.wordpress.com/)