When a person we love leaves the faith, the first thing we do is scrutinize our own contribution to the decision. Did I witness enough? Where did I mess up?

Part of this is the normal examination of conscience we’re required to do of our own actions and inactions, and part of it is the snare of the devil that seeks to prevent this sadness, this grief, from bearing fruit. When someone leaves the faith, it is an opportunity for the faithful to die to ourselves so as to pour out even more love for the prodigals.

Satan seeks to stop the process of witness by leading the faithful to a form of rejection, despair, or pride and presumption.

If the parent finds what seems like an “ah-ha” moment, they can treat the process of learning the faith like a machine process. Maybe they gave their kid a smartphone too soon, they think, or they let them read the wrong sort of books — just cut that out for the next one and everything will be perfect. It won’t.

Or if they can’t find an “ah-ha” moment to fix, they might simply shift all of the fault of the child leaving onto the child — a form of rejection and blame that again, exonerates themselves from the decision. If they can’t find an “ah-ha” moment, they might think, “Well, we can’t fix it now. We did our best.”

These are indulgences a person of faith who loves someone who is not of the faith cannot allow themselves. But they are snares for the faithful.

The parents may have nothing to do with the child’s decision. They may have everything to do with it. The reality is, faith relationships with God, like relationships with everyone else, are organic, ongoing things that are either growing or dying. The one key difference is that, when a faith life ebbs, it is the fault of the human, not God, and it becomes the obligation of those who love both the faith and the person to deepen their own and offer prayers of petition, silent fasts and witness of the faith all the more.

So scrutinize not for the “ah-ha” but for how to witness still more deeply, because we can always learn to witness more deeply.

There’s also still the matter of free will and the ocean of life in which we now swim. To assert even tacitly that those who leave the faith must have had no witness to the faith is unjust to every person who did witness, and who aches because someone did leave the faith despite their witness.

If Judas could betray after spending three years in the witness of Christ, and Adam and Eve could choose to abandon Eden and the perfect relationship they held with God and Creation at the mere suggestion of Satan, then our witness (while part of our obligation both to God and our children) is not a guarantor of success.

Witness brings people in, but Jesus tells us there will be birds that swoop down, weeds that grow up, and those who refuse to let their roots grow deep though the same good seed is sown.

The witness is not an inoculation — it is a form of perpetual treatment of the illness of sin. For families who love someone who has left the Church, your job is to wait in joyful hope, for the coming of Christ into our prodigals’ hearts — always praying, always witnessing, always hoping that today is the day Jesus will take them by the hand, bid them to sit up, and tell us to give them something to eat.

In the meantime, witness, pray and raise the fatted calf. Wait in joyful hope.