With all of the turmoil occurring in our country, across the world, and even within the Church, I know that many are tempted to get discouraged with the way things seem to be going in the world. On top of that, with the increasing number of people that are abandoning the practice of the Catholic faith, the situation can seem especially desperate. This is a cross that is particularly heavy for us to carry when our children or other family members fall away from the Church and stop attending Mass.
The situation of our times today has many similarities with the craziness of the 16th century, which saw tremendous political, social, and religious upheaval. However, Christ never abandons his Church, and in the midst of the chaos of that time, he lifted up great saints to meet the challenges of that period. There are many saints from the 16th century that responded faithfully and courageously to what Jesus was asking them to do. One of these, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), not only sought to restore the identity and mission of the Carmelite Order, but also possessed a deep longing for souls to return to the Catholic Church during the heat of the Protestant Reformation. As such, she teaches us how to pray for those in our own time who have fallen away from the Church, as she writes in her Soliloquies:
O compassionate and loving Lord of my soul! You likewise say: Come to me all who thirst, for I will give you drink (Jn. 7:37). How can anyone who is burning in the flames of cupidity for these miserable earthly things fail to experience great thirst? There is an extraordinary need for water so that one might not be completely consumed by this fire. I already know, my Lord, that out of Your goodness You will give it. You Yourself say so; Your words cannot fail. Well, if those accustomed to living in this fire and to being reared in it, no longer feel it or, like fools, do not succeed in recognizing their great need, what remedy is there, my God? You have come into the world as a remedy for needs such as these. Begin, Lord! Your compassion must be shown in the most difficult situations. Behold, my God, Your enemies are gaining a great deal. Have pity on those who have no pity on themselves; now that their misfortune has placed them in a state in which they do not want to come to You, come to them Yourself, my God. I beg this of You in their name; and I know that as they understand and turn within themselves and begin to taste You, these dead ones will rise.
O Life, who gives life to all! Do not deny me this sweetest water that You promise to those who want it. I want it, Lord, and I beg for it, and I come to You. Do not hide Yourself, Lord, from me, since You know my need and that this water is the true medicine for a soul wounded with love of You. O Lord, how many kinds of fire there are in this life! Oh, how true it is that one should live in fear! Some kinds of fire consume the soul, other kinds purify it that it might live ever rejoicing in You. O living founts from the wounds of my God, how you have flowed with great abundance for our sustenance, and how surely those who strive to sustain themselves with this divine liqueur will advance in the midst of the dangers of this life.
Just as in the 16th century Jesus raised up great saints to carry the Church through tumultuous times, so too do I have confidence that he is doing the same in our own time, to restore all things in himself. As he has always provided what the Church has needed in difficult periods, he continues to do so today. For our part, we continue to pray for those who have fallen away, that they might heed the Lord’s invitation to come back to the sacraments!