Our spirituality

The Power of Our Tears

I’m worried about my daughter’s salvation. She has recently stopped going to Mass, and says she no longer believes in the Catholic Church.

Carmel

A woman once confided to a bishop her concern for the salvation of her child. His remark, on hearing her story, has echoed down the centuries: 'The son of such tears will never be lost'. All three involved in the incident are now among the best-known saints of the Church: St. Ambrose was the bishop, St. Monica the distraught mother, and St. Augustine the errant child. Shortly afterwards, Augustine, already in his late twenties, changed course so dramatically that he was to become one of the most influential figures in Christian history.

Love and Concern
Ambrose's first words were of consolation and encouragement to Monica. Carmel, likewise, has to find personal peace in her situation. What Thomas a Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, says is profoundly true: 'There is no living in love without pain'. When you love your children, it is impossible to avoid the experience of pain, especially when something appears to be going wrong for them in an important area of life.

We must not let the pain paralyse us, however, nor allow worry to dominate our lives. It is important to distinguish between worry and concern. Telling someone not to worry is not the same thing as telling them not to be concerned. Concern can lead to clarity and a well-thought-out plan of action, but worry gets you nowhere fast.

We can transform our worries into effective concern by placing our hope, not in our powers of persuasion, but in God. In the following verses from one of the psalms, the Lord himself encourages us, when in difficulties, to turn to him with confidence:

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
then you will live in the land and
be secure.
If you find your delight in the Lord,
he will grant your heart's desire.
Commit your life to the Lord,
trust in him and he will act,
so that your justice breaks forth
like the light
and your cause like the noonday
sun.
(Ps.37:3-7).

Sensitivity
There is no stock answer that covers all cases where people have stopped going to Mass or, a much bigger issue, where they have ceased - or claim to have ceased - believing in the Catholic Church. Things are done or not done for as many reasons as there are people. Motivation is so individual that it can only be learned through personal conversation with the other. Without this personal exchange, it is not possible even to bring up the delicate matter of participation in public worship or the meaning of Christian faith.

In the case we are dealing with, great sensitivity and gentleness are required. If a parent tries too hard and too often to convince, this is often interpreted as nagging, something that usually makes things worse.

Presence of God

Carmel should realize that God is already on the job. He is even more your daughter's parent than you are. With infinite power and wisdom he is always working to bring all of us to himself. This he does while respecting our freedom, something which he never interferes with.

Even when we are not co-operating with God in any conscious way, even when we are systematically thwarting his plans, he is always working for our good. His love for us has ways of bringing things about that are beyond our powers.

Edith Stein, who would later die a martyr in a concentration camp and who is now known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, came to a profound realization of human limitations some time after her conversion to Catholicism. She was so full of her new faith that she thought she could convince her former teacher, Edmund Husserl – a famous philosopher, and Jewish like herself - of the truth of the claims of Catholicism. She spent a whole evening trying, unsuccessfully, to bring him to her way of thinking.

The entry in her diary for that night reads something like this: 'Every time I experience my inability to influence other people directly, I become more aware of my call to holocaust'. By 'holocaust' here she simply meant a very committed Christian life, lived in conformity with her apostolic desires. That was in 1931. Just over a decade later, in 1942, she would die, literally, in the Holocaust of the Second World War.

Mutual Benefit
You have probably done your best for your daughter, making many sacrifices for her over the years. None of this will go amiss. Indeed it will all add up and do untold good, both for yourself and for your daughter, in the long run.

During a sermon one day in Lourdes, I referred to the famous meeting between Ambrose and Monica. Afterwards, an elderly, aristocratic-looking French lady who spoke good English and who, with her husband, spent her summers working as a sacristan in a church, said to me, 'So all we have to do is weep for them'.