Praying with the Family

Shepherding Them Home: Guiding loved ones back to Jesus and his Church

By Deacon Mark Krejci, Ph.D./Office of Formation in Discipleship

Recall what the father says in Luke’s Gospel when the prodigal son returns to the family: “Get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.” How many of us would like to be able to say this one day upon the return of a family member to the Church? Well, we probably do not want to literally kill a big calf, butcher it, and then cook it. First of all, most of us do not own livestock and I also do not even know how to kill the poor calf. I guess, if I was in a similar position, I would say, “Get some nice steaks from the meat market and let us grill and celebrate.”

In the story of the prodigal son the father waited for his return, but perhaps you would like to do something that is more missionary in orientation, something to reach out and invite the person into a deeper relationship with Jesus. As you perhaps have read in another article in this edition of OND, the diocese has launched Shepherding Them Home which is a “prayershop” experience to help Catholics reach out to family members (or other beloved people) who have left the Church and grown more distant from our Savior. A “prayershop”? We call it this because, rather than a “workshop” where you merely learn some things, the ministry of reaching out to family members must begin with prayer and remain rooted in prayer. Thus, throughout the Shepherding Them Home Prayershop, we regularly pray.

The prayershop is divided into four areas: “Prayer, Prepare, Practice & Plan.” The very first topic covered is how to center this ministry in prayer and be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A woman described to me that she and her son “always got into a fight” whenever they talked about why he no longer believed in God or belonged to the Catholic Church. She told me that she would say to herself going into these conversations “remain calm!” but she would always end up frustrated, angry, and often in a shouting match with her son. “What can I do?” she asked. I suggested to her that it was time to step back from the conversations with him and pray about him more with God. Don’t give me credit for this great insight because this is what St. Ambrose said to St. Monica when she was trying to convince her son, the future St. Augustine, to become Catholic. “Talk less to Augustine about God and more to God about Augustine” said St. Ambrose to St. Monica.

The next section is “Prepare” to better understand why Catholics leave the Church and then how to address their reasons. Every straying family member has a slightly different way of stating why they left God and/or the Church behind.

The third portion of the prayershop focuses on “Practice.” During this section people practice what they are going to say to their family member and we use role-plays and see examples of how to address certain topics. Finally, the prayershop involves each person coming up with their own “Plan” to approach their family member, or at least develop what I call their “first plan.” There is nothing magical about the plan, but research shows that, when we have a difficult task to do, if we practice and have an initial plan for how to take on the task, we are more likely to follow through. In the end, we should ultimately be following God’s plan in all that we do.

The session concludes with an offer of companionship to each person who participated in the prayershop. What is this? We know that these are difficult conversations to have with family members. They do not always go as planned, they bring up hurt feelings, people may become frustrated or angry, or the family member brings something up that stumps you. The companion is someone to turn to for assistance, counsel, prayer and emotional support. Thanks to a grant from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, we are recruiting up to 25 people from around the diocese to help with this ministry, to serve as companions for those who are reaching out to family members to accompany them back to the Church. I am currently recruiting “Shepherding Companions” and so, if you are interested in receiving formation to serve in this role or want to find out more, contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In my next column, I will dig into how to “shepherd home” family members. Until then, talk with your pastor about whether your parish or one in the area is hosting a Shepherding Them Home session, and if you think you might be called to become a Shepherding Companion, send me an email and we can begin the conversation.