My children no longer attend the Catholic Church. Does that really matter, since they still believe in Jesus? Is there anything I can do about it?
by Father Gregory Haman
Father Gregory Haman
The end of this October will mark the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther, as the story goes, nailed his “95 Theses” on the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany, asking for a scholarly debate over several abuses he identified (some of them correctly) in the way the faith was being practiced, and how the common faithful were used by those in power. Somewhat to Luther’s own surprise, his words began a social and religious movement that broke its relationship with the Catholic Church and re-defined many doctrines. Today we call that movement Protestantism.
The relations between Catholics and Protestants has not always been friendly. There has been much arguing and identifying each other as heretics. There have been wars that carried the guise of religious zeal. People from different sides have written each other off and gone their separate ways, with little lingering concern about each other.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has tried a great deal to build bridges with Protestant communities in the hope that the deep rift in Christ’s body that has continued for half of a millennium might be healed. But one of the consequences of that progress may be that we have forgotten what makes us distinctively Catholic, and how valuable those things are.
It’s a curious fact that though Catholics and Protestants have historically had very little time for each other (other than to point out each other’s faults), many today, young and old, will look at the whole scene and wonder what the differences between the groups are.
The fact is, the Catholic Church acknowledges that any Christian community and any baptized person has a true connection with Christ through the things they have retained from the Church (for instance the Sacred Scriptures, the grace that comes through faith itself and valid baptism, obedience to the Commandments, etc.). Still, those who are not connected to the Apostles through a valid line of Bishops and a valid celebration of the Eucharist are missing essential elements of the Church as Jesus established it and the means of grace those elements provide.
A question remains for a great many people, “What should I do if my child has left the Catholic Church?” What is the best way to encourage your children to return to their Catholic faith? Here are some thoughts:
1. Continue to love them as you did before. As central as faith is to one’s life, don’t let this mar the rest of your relationship. If they find their way back to the Church, it will probably have been after walking a long road.
2. Don’t nag them about the faith, but don’t be mum about it either. When our culture fears confrontation or political incorrectness, we feel like we need to tiptoe around religious topics. When your adult children visit, don’t take the weekend off from Mass. Make it a given in your life. Whether they go with you is for them to decide, but you’re sure going!
3. “Always be ready to give a reason for your hope.” (1 Peter 3:15) Know and live your faith. Make it central in your life if you want to give a credible example for someone to remain (or become) Catholic. Avoiding a question you can’t answer by saying “It’s a mystery,” isn’t going to satisfy anyone.
4. Be clear when there are certain things that you just can’t do. If you attend your niece’s or granddaughter’s Lutheran Confirmation ceremony, for instance, you won’t be able to receive Communion there, even though you might be welcomed to do so. The sad fact is that we are not in full communion with non-Catholic Christians, and Communion from their perspectives and ours are vastly different. Your family may be upset by this. That’s okay. Be gracious and respectful, but also be honest. Don’t compromise your conscience.
5. Love Jesus in the sacraments. The sacraments are our keys to an intimate relationship with Jesus. Make a sincere Confession of your sins often and let his grace have its effect on you. Seek out chances to visit Jesus in the Eucharist, whether at a daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or even a visit to your parish at any time of the day.
6. Acknowledge the sincerity of your loved-one’s faith wherever you see it, even if it’s being nurtured through a non-Catholic congregation. Even adult children still hunger for their parents’ affirmation, and it can open the relationship to some good conversations.
Father Gregory Haman serves as pastor of Holy Rosary Church in LaMoure. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: If you have a question about the Catholic faith and would like to submit a question for consideration in a future column, please send to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Ask a Priest” in the subject line or mail to New Earth, 5201 Bishops Blvd. S, Suite. A, Fargo, ND 58104, Attn: Ask a Priest.