Before I moved to Ohio and began my conversion process, I knew more fallen away Catholics than active, adherent ones. Catholicism in New York City and the surrounding suburbs appeared to be strictly a childhood religion that people abandoned as soon as they left the restaurant after their Confirmation party. A good number of Catholics I knew still wanted very much to marry in the Catholic Church and have their own children receive the Sacraments therein, but weekly Mass was OUT of the question, too big of a demand on their time and their wallets. They resented the offering plate heartily, and disagreed with many of the Church's teachings, especially those that Protestant ecclesial communities have long since caved on like abortion, contraception, and extramarital sexual relations.
Noble's book, The Prodigal You Love, deftly weaves the author's own spiritual journey to the fullness of the faith with an instruction manual on how to invite your own friends and family members back to Catholicism without being too heavy handed, nor so passive that you seem not to care a whit for their souls.
One theme Noble covers that I see almost every day is the Catholic challenge to the fallacy that one's religious beliefs must needs fly out the window once a certain level of education is reached. The false choice here is: you can be an intellectual or you can be religious. Pick one. This is so obviously inane to anyone who knows the history of the Church, her contributions and the contributions of her members to science, to art, even down to the initial model of the university. But many laypeople and secularists buy into this, and the poorly catechized Catholic may begin to feel self-conscious when her religious faith is seen as the only stumbling block in a room full of serious and sophisticated, politically correct folks attempting to justify the latest aberration of the natural law. The fact of the matter is that if you know the WHY behind the Church teaching, you need never feel awkward amongst ANY group of people, regardless of how progressive and anti-Catholic they show themselves to be.
What do both "sides" need to find, according to Noble? Humility. She writes:
"Humility is a virtue that is not afraid to play in the dirt. The very word derives from the Latin word for dirt or soil, humus. . . humility speaks regularly to God, as one would with a friends, but also sees clearly that God is above human understanding. . . Everyone has dirty toes; the humble person is just aware of it." So Noble suggests that we approach our loved ones with humility if we ever hope to get a response in kind. If the friend or relative feels like you are simply saying "My way is right and yours is wrong," he or she is likely to have a less than gracious response. Author Theresa Noble states, "We need to become humble because our false selves do not know how to evangelize; they are too busy focusing on themselves!"
One of Noble's most intriguing formulas is, "Establish trust, attract, then challenge." Now how many of us have that completely backwards in our attempts to evangelize? I know I see it on an almost daily basis! Armchair apologists are starting with the "challenge" and it is NEVER received well by the person they are seeking to evangelize! How could it be? How will you draw someone into The Church if you seem as arrogant and intolerant as the world does? Then you are no different from the world, so what is attractive about you and your religion? Remember: Jesus is attractive. He is love. He is beauty. If you are being rejected, you are not showing enough of Jesus; you are showing yourself.
Noble tells us from experience that if a fallen away Catholic is very much into New Ageism, secularism, Eastern practices, or a charismatic Christian community, they may not have ears to hear you because they believe they are being "fulfilled" where they are. Until the novelty wears off, you must be patient. Noble says, "We have a responsibility to share with our loved ones the beauty of salvation within The Church, wherever they may be in their spiritual journey. We do this with words if possible, but sometimes we are called to communicate it in other ways, namely by the witness of our lives . . . our faith speaks when WE live it to the fullest, when we abandon ourselves to God's plan."
I loved Noble's book because she touched on the theme of unconditional love, which is a constant thread in my writing and in my life. Having lost my mother and suffering from complicated grief syndrome, I wasn't quite sure why I wasn't getting any better. What I was missing was the unconditional love my mother offered me, and I didn't think anyone else did. Noble points out that the people we are trying to evangelize must see our sincerely unconditional love. "If our love for others is contingent rather than unconditional, it will most likely lead to a breakdown in our relationship with that person. The root of the difficulty often lies in a lack of respect for the free will of the person we love . . . . shown through manipulation, by ceasing contact as a kind of punishment, or showing constant displeasure with the person, believing our disapproval will change him or her. When we fall into manipulative tactics, we can be sure that this typically ineffective behavior grows out of a desire to control another person, which does not come from love. . . although it can certainly be said that God doggedly pursues our souls, he does so in complete respect for our free will."
The most poignant and important section of the book for me is the one on prayer (and in fact, Noble provides an addendum with some beautiful, key prayers at the end of the book). She establishes that prayer DOES make a difference, and is an essential part of evangelization, perhaps the cornerstone of it! Here Noble recalls C.S. Lewis' idea that God created us so that we would be able to make things happen through both physical and spiritual action, or prayer. "When we pray," Noble writes, "we are opening a door for grace. We can count on this reality, just like we can count on opening an unlocked door if we push it open."
In the past, I have reviewed and recommended several books for the seeker. But if you are looking for a book to aid you in evangelizing someone who is NOT seeking right now, but to whom you would love to give the gift of the fullness of the faith as manifested exclusively in the Catholic Church, then this book is a necessary tool for you. Noble's style is friendly and readable, but extremely well-researched. Parts of the book serve as an ideal examination of conscience, one in which we must participate before we go about the business of trying to get ourselves involved in someone else's spiritual life!