When You're Praying for Someone's Conversion
Monday September 9, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 5:1-8) Gospel (St. Luke 6:6-11)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul, writing to the Corinthians, condemns some of the actions that are going on, not only the immorality of the particular individual he had spoken of but also the arrogance of the people, the same basic arrogance we see in the Gospel reading as these people are simply looking to trap Jesus, to see if they can condemn Him for something. It was all about selfish pride. But Saint Paul does something that I think we need to take note of with regard to this particular individual. He says, "I, for my part, have already turned him over to Satan." Now that is not something that most of us would ever think about doing - not that I would ever suggest that that is what we ought to do - but he says that he has turned him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (since it was sins of the flesh he was committing) so that on the Day of the Lord his soul might be saved. So it is not just a matter of giving somebody over to Satan and writing them off; but rather, Saint Paul's intent was ultimately one of charity: it was to save the man's soul.
What I oftentimes will tell parents (and it is the reason I bring it up today) when they have children that are completely wayward and they are showing absolutely no sign of returning or even trying to repent, I tell them, "Now you need to think very seriously about what I am suggesting for you. My suggestion is that you give this person over to Jesus and you tell Him honestly, 'Do whatever it is going to require to get this person back - whatever it is going to require.' And you better mean it because we don't know what it's going to require to bring this individual back."
I think of the story of Father Corapi when he went in to visit a young kid whose mother had called him, and the kid was very wayward. When Father Corapi came to visit, the kid was just plain arrogant and did not want to have anything to do with him. So finally he said to the kid as he was getting up to leave, "I'm going to pray for you." And - putting it into a bit nicer language - the kid said, "Yeah, what are you gonna pray for?" "I'm going to pray that God kicks you really hard." A week later he was in the hospital, having been in a major traffic accident, and the kid then asked to see Father Corapi and made a confession of his sins and got his life turned around.
And so you need to be fully aware of what it is you are doing when you pray for these people. But as we look at it, is not an injury to the body not worth the value of the soul? Would we rather see the person whole in body and go to hell? That is not what we want. We want this person to be able to go to Heaven, and if what it requires is some difficulty - whether it be that they lose their job, their finances go completely haywire, they get into an accident, they get sick, whatever; we do not know what it is going to require - God will deal with that individual in the way that will be best for that person, and we need to leave that in God's hands. God is doing it, as Saint Paul did, out of charity. That would be the same reason you would be praying for the person. If you are praying that way so you can get even, that is malice; that is not charity and that would be the wrong reason. But if you are doing it so that this person can have a conversion and come back to the Lord, then just turn the person over to the Lord and tell Him, "Do whatever it takes." Do not try to tell the Lord how to do it. That might not work. Your plan may not be perfect; the Lord's, on the other hand, is - but it does not always look that way to us when it starts to happen until we see the results on the other side.
And so we need to trust in the Lord. This is not just the ordinary thing to do but it is the thing when there is something that is really extraordinary; if somebody is really wayward that is the way to handle it. The price of their soul is worth anything they might have to suffer; we need to keep that in mind. "What does it gain a man," Jesus said, "if he gains the whole world and loses his soul in the process?" It is the soul that is most important, and we should be willing to do whatever it requires to be able to get that person's soul to Heaven. If that requires turning the person over to the Lord and letting Him do whatever it takes then, out of charity, that is what we need to do. So always keep that in mind. I would not suggest turning them over to Satan; but if that is what is going to be needed, let Jesus turn them over to Satan. We do not need to take that into our own hands. Give them to the Lord and let the Lord do whatever it is going to require.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.