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Everyday Evangelists: Ministry follows St. Monica’s example

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

DAYTON DEANERY — Before St. Augustine became a church father and doctor of the church, he was a young man who had fallen away from the Christian faith in which he was raised. His mother, St. Monica, prayed fervently for him until he returned to the church at the age of 33.

Today, Jack Buchner looks to St. Monica as he helps others who are troubled by a loved one’s faith crisis.

Buchner recently spoke at St. Luke Parish in Beavercreek, sharing what he has learned through meeting with inactive Catholics and helping active parishioners reach out to loved ones. He has written three books, including St. Monica Ministry: Spiritual Exercises to Help You With a Loved One’s Faith Crisis, Scriptural Responses to a Loved One With a Weakened Faith and How to Welcome Back Inactive Catholics to Your Parish.

Jack Buchner
Jack Buchner (Courtesy photo) 

Buchner is the pastoral associate for faith formation at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Parkton, Md., where he is a parishioner. He taught theology at Loyola College and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and served as a member of the National Council for Catholic Evangelization and the subcommittee on catechesis for the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education.
Buchner provided several suggestions for facing a situation in which a loved one has become inactive in the faith, but he said the most important things to remember are to “pray for each person, individually, regularly and fervently” and “be a positive example of what Catholicism means to you and the wonderful difference it makes in your life.”

He added that personal invitations to inactive Catholics can be especially powerful in encouraging a return to the church.
“It’s simply, but importantly, a matter of caring a whole bunch, for everyone, as God cares for us,” he said.

A desire for all people to “know and experience the Lord” led to Buchner’s interest in speaking and writing about outreach to those who no longer practice the Catholic faith.
“Over 25 years ago, I was shocked when I realized how few registered Catholics go to Mass on Sunday. I felt bad, wanted to find out why and offer to assist them in whatever way I could,” he said.

Barbara Murray, adult faith formation coordinator at St. Luke, said she hoped parishioners would take away the messages that “it is not their ‘fault’ that loved ones no longer practice the faith, and that God continues to be active in the lives of their loved ones.” She also saw “the importance of patience and trust and prayer with St. Monica’s faithfulness as a model” as a core message of the program.

Buchner visited St. Luke thanks to the efforts of a parishioner, Teresa Gooding, who read a magazine article about his ministry and brought up the idea of bringing him in to speak. Murray said other parishioners have also expressed concerns about children who have fallen away from their Catholic faith.
“It has made me aware of the pain, heartbreak, and guilt that parents experience as a result. They really question if they did enough in forming their children and ask themselves where they failed, consequently burdening themselves with a sense of failure and even shame,” she said.
Buchner addressed these feelings in his presentation. “One of the most painful things that a parent can experience is to see a child or loved one make mistakes that can be and are harmful. There’s often a feeling of confusion, helplessness or even guilt,” he said.
He also described some of the reasons why people become inactive in the faith. For example, some people come to disagree with tenets of the Catholic faith; some stop going to Mass out of laziness; some feel they “don’t get anything out of Mass” and others begin to lead a destructive lifestyle. Whatever their reasons might be, if a loved one leaves the church even after being raised in the faith and receiving the sacraments, “don’t panic!” he said. “Just love them as our Lord calls each of us to love everyone, with heavy doses of kindness, understanding and prayer.”
Buchner emphasized the power of prayer, which he called “our love joined with God’s love, which visits the person for whom we are praying, even if people don’t know we’re praying for them.”
He also warned against “nagging,” which can cause resentment. Instead, he advised keeping the lines of communication open and never giving up.

Mary Caffrey Knapke can be reached at [email protected].

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