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How to Save Your Loved Ones (Or Not)

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The Confessions of St. Augustine (Week 3 of 15)

There may be someone who has been called by you, and has heeded your voice, and has shunned those deeds which he now hears me recalling and confessing of myself.  Let him not laugh to scorn a sick man who has been healed by that same physician who gave him such aid that he did not fall ill, or rather that he had only a lesser ill.  Let him therefore love you just as much, nay even more.  – The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book 2: Chapter 7

Recently, one of my teens made a poor choice – not the worst choice in the world, but a mistake, nonetheless.  When I confronted him about it, he pulled from his back pocket the time-honored, one-size-fits-all rallying cry of teenagers everywhere – Everybody does it.  But rather than address his cliché with the old standby, “If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” retort, I just flew right to the heart of his argument by trying to prove him wrong.  Without batting an eye, I raised my chin and defiantly quipped,  “I don’t.”

In the moment, my words seemed reasonable.  I mean, weren’t they straight from Logic 101?  Disprove the premise, and the argument falls apart.  But when the discussion was over, I walked away feeling like I’d handled the situation all wrong.  That I’d sent the wrong message.  Left the wrong impression.  In fact,  I could almost smell poisonous fumes of self-righteousness wafting through the air in my wake.

Sometimes, as Christians, we become frustrated with others – particularly loved ones – because we can’t understand why they make the choices they make.  And we even accuse them of compounding our aggravation if they make the same destructive choices over and over again.  We tell ourselves that our irritation with them stems from love.  But the truth is that while there may be love swimming around somewhere in all the frustration, that pool of virtue is infested with a dangerously prideful heart.

You see, many of us who practice our Faith are pretty good with rules. We may not be experts at applying them to ourselves, but we get the standards.  Unfortunately, sometimes we are guilty of being long on knowledge, but short on heart.

From this mindset, when we encounter wrongdoing we think to ourselves – or worse gossip with another person – “What was he thinking?!”  “ When’s she going to get a clue?!”  We give them the proverbial eye roll.  Or we respond like I did, raising my chin and declaring that,  ‘I would never do such a thing.’   We justify ourselves by claiming a great concern for the soul of our loved one.  After all, we only want what’s best for this person, if only we could reach her.

When it comes to reflecting the love and mercy of Christ, it may be in those brief, spur-of-the-moment encounters that our reactions matter most.  Sadly, in those ever-important moments our behavior too often belies shortcomings in our own character, causing us to miss profound opportunities to share the gospel without speaking a word.

Those encounters may be more productive if we keep in mind three important truths:

1.  God is the Source of all Good.  Often when confronted with the wrongdoing of others, we expose a serious shortcoming on our own part.  Without even realizing it, we give ourselves credit for our own good decisions, rather than attribute those choices to God, who alone is the source of ALL good.  Saint Augustine makes it clear that the same God who saved him from his sins after they were committed, saves some even before they take that dreadful step.  It might be helpful to remind ourselves in those situations, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

2. Admonishing the Sinner is a Spiritual work of MERCY.  We have a spiritual obligation to admonish the sinner.  But we must be very careful.  Body language and unspoken signs may betray our hearts and render us unfit to admonish anybody.  This important spiritual work of mercy is quite delicate, as each soul is ever so fragile in the face of condemnation.  In order to affect change, our hearts must be emptied of pride and filled with the humility of Christ, that love may be poured out in full, untainted by even a drop of self-righteousness or judgment so as not to risk damaging a precious soul.

3. Only God can Save. Saint Augustine mentions that God listened to the prayers of his mother, whom He loved.  He does not attribute his conversion to his mother, but to God, who heard her prayers.  Elisabeth Leseur, in her diary, puts it beautifully:

I know that only God performs the intimate transformation of the human soul and that we can but point out to Him those we love, saying, “Lord, make them live.” (p. 14) 


Reading Assignment:

Book 4 (The Teacher as Seducer – False Conceptions of God)

Discussion Questions:

1. Please share a story about someone you know who experienced God’s grace and converted  (or reverted) to the Catholic Faith.  Who or what was the conduit of grace in that experience?  And how did that grace manifest itself?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!


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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • TRod

    A friend of mine was Baptist but worked on the weekend and couldn’t get to church due to her schedule. She would ask me what I learned on Sunday, so I started taking notes during the homily to share them with her. I eventually told her I would attend mass during the week and she could come with me so she could have the chance to go to church and not be by herself. I would invite her up for a blessing during Communion and she would not go up. One day she asked me why she couldn’t receive and I explained that it was the Body and Blood of Christ and those who do not believe that or who are not Catholic could not receive. Weeks go by with us attending mass till one day, as I went up for Communion, she sat in the pew and decided to imagine…what if that really is the Body and Blood of Christ? At that moment the Holy Spirit overwhelmed her with the knowledge- visually and spiritually. After mass she shared this experience with me. My heart smiled as I knew that once you know this you cannot “unknow” it. Shortly after she went thru RCIA and asked me to be her sponsor. To be honest RCIA was one of the greatest experiences of my life a true renewal of faith for me. As well as a transformative time for her. It has given us years of material to talk about. So to answer the question in short…the Holy Spirit thru the Body and Blood of Christ.

    • Vicki

      Beautiful story – thank you so much for sharing!

  • Diana Marie Winkler

    I am a revert. I can look back now and see how I did not realize I was walking out of the Light and into the darkness. It was subtle, yet once caught up in it I felt too wrought with shame, discouragement and hopelessness. If I did not love myself, how could God? But, our God is a loving and patient God.Once He saw that I was exhausted from the running and pain He came and got me. I stepped back into the Church one Sunday the gospel was of the Lost Sheep (God-incidence) as I looked up at the large crucifix at the altar I did not see the horror of a crucifixion but of arms stretched out to embrace me with His Love.That was about 20 yrs. ago. I came back stronger. I am now writing and sharing His Words. I am taking my messes and using them as messages as being a part of His evangelizing team.I keep in check what all I have been forgiven. I am learning that if I do need to admonish someone I think of how I can deliver it with love and not condemnation as He did with me.

  • DianeVa

    Thank you Vicki for a beautiful article and reflection, and most especially for the important reminders. I feel I “blow it” every time I have a chance to proclaim the gospel quietly via my actions with my husband. Elizabeth LeSeur is one of my role model’s and her quote I will fix into my heart and whisper “Lord make him live.”


      I also feel that I have blown it many times when attempting to share the Catholic Faith with my husband. I was raised Catholic but left the Catholic Church in my early 20’s and became Protestant. I met and married my husband who was Protestant. I then reverted back to the Catholic Faith in my early 30’s and my Catholic Faith just keeps growing and growing. Thanks for sharing your role model of Elizabeth LeSeur. I will be reading about her life.

  • steven ham

    I am a convert .. thanks be to God! My wife is a cradle Catholic and I was a nominal protestant when we married 43 years ago. I was not ready for Catholicism and didn’t understand it .. until friends encouraged us to attend a Marriage Encounter about ten years into our marriage. That weekend changed everything; I witnessed Catholicism “from the inside” and determined to convert. I did, and my life, our marriage, and our family life has been immeasurably enriched as a result. I love the Church and everything about it and I have slowly realized that living a life of virtue and holiness is my core goal in life and the source of enduring joy & happiness. Reading of St Augustine’s struggles as a young man resonates with my own experience and learning of his conversion reminds me of my own. Alleluia, alleluia!

    • Jeff Cann

      Amen Steven!


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