Perspectives

By Faith Alone?

Today’s Gospel provides excellent evidence that in Heaven, actions speak louder than words. We could also quote St. James the Lesser, in his only epistle (2:12 – 26), but let’s take the (translated) words straight from the Lord. (We added a few preceding and succeeding verses to today’s Gospel according to Matthew.)

7:15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
7:16 You shall know them by their fruits. Can grapes be gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?
7:17 So then, every good tree produces good fruit, and the evil tree produces evil fruit.
7:18 A good tree is not able to produce evil fruit, and an evil tree is not able to produce good fruit.
7:19 Every tree which does not produce good fruit shall be cut down and cast into the fire.
7:20 Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.
7:21 Not all who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
7:22 Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and perform many powerful deeds in your name?
7:23 And then will I disclose to them: ‘I have never known you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.’
7:24 Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them shall be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.
7:25 And the rains descended, and the floods rose up, and the winds blew, and rushed upon that house, but it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
7:26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them shall be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.
7:27 And the rains descended, and the floods rose up, and the winds blew, and rushed upon that house, and it did fall, and great was its ruin.”

Helping Skeptics Believe (Part 1)

Occasionally, Fr. Sean receives inquiries from parishioners about bringing a loved one back to the Catholic faith, including cases when the individual no longer believes in God. In these situations, the concerned parishioner often wants both (1) answers to the questions or points posed by the loved one and (2) advice on how to best address those questions and debate the issues in discussions with the person.

People struggle with their faith for various reasons, and it seems that every atheist/agnostic/ skeptic has his or her unique story or experiences that have led them to non-belief. An easy—but frequently unused—way of convincing skeptics that they may be misguided is to present common philosophical misconceptions in their beliefs and opinions, and that’s our goal in this series of posts, in which we hope to provide the faithful with insights into their loved ones (and, again, their beliefs that influence their non-belief in God). Knowledge is important, but empathy and love are crucial to encouraging a skeptic to return to the faith. 1 2

For those seeking advice on leading someone back to faith in God, it is crucial to understand and accept that faith is a gift. Without that gift, believing in God seems like nonsense and superstition. It’s important to be patient and to listen to your loved one and to realize that if or when the time comes when he or she begins to reexamine their beliefs that god doesn’t exist, that person will usually need to pray for that gift. This is often a necessary step, and it stands as a reminder that faith is a gift and not simply something that can be reasoned to by one’s own intellect.

It’s worth noting that believers often think nonbelievers are either just being difficult or expressing their anger at God for some past, negative event. Indeed, some skeptics are angry or disappointed at their own or others’ misfortunes, but many other skeptics simply don’t believe that God exists. Because nonbelievers may have lost their faith for various reasons, each may need to have different questions addressed: there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

There is an important truth every believer needs to know to help recover a lost soul. In John Ch. 15, Jesus tells us:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothingIf you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.

So, what can you do to help the nonbeliever?

Make sure that you are still actively attached to the “vine.”Remaining in Jesus” means more than attending Mass on Sundays. It includes maintaining an active, daily prayer life and living your faith. Your prayers and actions will assure that life will continue to flow through the vine to (and through) you.

More specifically, pray to God for the nonbeliever and love him or her. Prayers and expressions of love are far more important than having all the right theological answers—just as Jesus said that loving God and loving each other are the two most important commandments. “They will know you by your love. (John 13:35).

While these actions may seem less satisfying than engaging in persuasive debate and forceful argument, they are crucial. Consider anyone that you may know or may heard or read about who has abandoned the faith and returned. In almost every case. there was someone praying for that person and giving example through their life and actions that ultimately caused the skeptic to reevaluate his beliefs. Action do speak louder than words!

So, before considering other conversion methods, never underestimate the power of prayer and the power of love.

Think of it asprayingthe person into heaven. St. Ambrose—at the time, Bishop Ambrose—was once asked by a crying St. Monica what she could do to bring her son, St. Augustine, back to the faith. Seeing the mother’s love for her son, Ambrose replied, “it is impossible that a son of so many tears should be lost.”

St. Monica prayed for many, many years for son’s conversion. After struggling with doubts for decades and answering many of his own questions and challenges, Augustine did convert. (He was eventually named a doctor of the Church and was canonized.) It’s possible that had God answered her prayers quickly—without that long struggle, during which Augustine reconciled ancient Greek philosophy with Christianity—there would be no St. Augustine and no St. Monicaat least not as well-known, historical figures in the Church.

The then-Bishop Ambrose’s approach is probably the best advice anyone has ever given on the subject.

  1. However, please note that these articles are not meant to provide evidence of God’s existence. Fortunately, internet articles and books on that topic abound. Moreover, our intention is not to debate the evidence. Please visit a site like strangenotions.com, for those types of arguments.
  2. If you have genuine and/or difficult questions, please ask (provide link to form), and we will try to answer them.