In the Company of God … and Mary … and Mom

My parents were visiting with us this week. Dad put in the dog fence (thanks, Dad!) … and Mom roped me into one of “those” conversations. You know the kind: high in drama, low in resolution.

This time, the subject was Catholicism … my practice of it, to be precise. I’ve had six years of intensive formal faith formation … but because in her mind I’ve rejected everything she taught me, she can only conclude I’ve been “brainwashed.” She accused me of considering her a pagan going to hell because she’s not Catholic (where she got that, I have no idea). Yet she clearly believes that the only reason I have any chance at heaven at all is because at one point in my childhood I prayed the “sinner’s prayer.” Not because I’m a Catholic Christian … but despite it.

*Sigh* “I never said you were a pagan, Mom. I never even thought it.”

“You say it all the time, with your actions! You wouldn’t even go to church with us at Easter!”

And there it was. For her, the fact that I won’t take my kids to their church when we visit them, or at the very least insist on finding a Catholic service that we can attend in addition to theirs, is proof positive to them that we consider ourselves better Christians than they are.

“It’s not that we’re better Christians, Mom. It’s that I need all the help I can get to stay spiritually strong … and the Catholic Church is the only place I can receive the Eucharist. It’s the only place I can be part of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Christ.”

She rolled her eyes. “By what you do, you are teaching your children that Grandma and Grandpa aren’t real Christians.”

“Actually … by not taking them to your church, especially when you have a communion service, I avoid having them asking questions about why you aren’t Catholic. They notice stuff, Mom. They see that you don’t make the sign of the cross when we say grace. They wonder why you aren’t as excited as we are about Christopher receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. They want to know why Jesus isn’t present in the tabernacle at your church, as He is at our church. They notice everything. I tell them that you are Christians, but not Catholic Christians, and we pray for the time when we can all go to church together … in the Catholic Church.”

“So you DO think you’re better Christians than your father and me.”

“Not better Christians … just Christians who have access to graces that right now you do not. I’d be so happy if one day you would look more into the history of the sacraments, and let yourself consider what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you.’ I know how much the sacraments have changed my life … and I think they would bless you, too.”

“I don’t need sacraments. I have my faith. I can read the Bible for myself. I didn’t raise you this way … and I’ll never understand why you felt the need to forsake your spiritual roots.”

A light hit. “Mom, how did Grandma feel when you decided to stop going to the church you were raised in?”

“It’s not the same. I didn’t have a personal relationship with God until I was in my thirties. I was baptized in Grandma’s church, but I didn’t know God.”

“I met God in a profoundly personal way in my thirties, too … through the Church. I came to know my brothers and sisters in faith — all the saints in heaven. I came to understand that I have a spiritual mother who loves me and prays for me in heaven, just as you do here on earth.” (I knew I was treading dangerous waters here, since Mom has told me how hurtful it is that I consider Mary my mother.) “And just like you, Mom … I’m trying to raise my children to love God and serve Him with everything they have. That, I got from you.”

052208_lead_new.jpgShe sniffed, considering this. “I do get a kick out of watching you lead VBS and doing all the arts and crafts I used to do when you were little.”

“You were a great Sunday school teacher. You understood how important it is to be consistent with kids, to keep things simple and straightforward until they get older and can handle more complex issues. You brought us to church every Sunday, because Sunday is God’s day.

“And that is what I’m doing with my kids, too. We go to church … to our church … because that is the faith we are practicing. We go to that church because, as Catholics, we are obligated to go … and, because I want to be there. It’s not that I don’t want to be with you during that hour. It’s that I have a higher responsibility, one that I take very seriously.
Mom, I want you to know that I understand that you don’t feel entirely comfortable at Mass, and that if you decide to go to your old church when you’re visiting us, I won’t be at all offended. If it means that much to you, I’m even willing to go with you to your church, by myself, on a Sunday when your church isn’t serving communion … so long as you don’t give me a hard time about going to a second service to fulfill my obligation to God.”

This was how the conversation ended. It’s not ideal, when issues of faith divide families. God intended religion to unite people, to draw them closer together as they approach transcendent reality together, on their knees. And I suppose if we were all completely rational about it, and worked hard to understand each other’s sensitivities and needs, the differences wouldn’t hurt so much.

As it is, I could relate to what Moses said to God:

Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own” (Exodus 34:8-9).

“Oh, Lord … come along in our company. Even when at times that company is divided. Even at times when we can’t understand each other. Even when at times we find it impossible to get past certain hurts, certain realities, certain conflicts. There comes a time when we have to make allowances whenever possible for the feelings of others … but we cannot allow those feelings to deter us from doing what is right. And so, today I’d like to offer this prayer for those of us who have family on the other side of the Tiber … close enough that we can see their tears through our own.

Lord of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
God of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel,
From the beginning You created family.
From the beginning You ARE family.
One and holy Triune God, unify with bonds of love.
Soothe angry hearts and enlighten blinded minds.
Make us forgiving, consoling, kind.
Render us family, just like You.
Mother Mary, Queen of Sorrows,
See our pain and pray for us.
We are waiting for a miracle …
Send out a miracle of love today.

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  • dmomof12

    Our family experiences this on both sides. My husband is a convert to the Church since 2003. I left the Church when I married him and returned to my faith in 1992 after much biblical, historical and catechetical study. My four siblings left the church and are evangelical protestants. My husband’s family is somewhat anti-Catholic. We live this every day and pray continually for the conversion of our family members. God bless you!

  • wgsullivan

    We were in the presence of relatives this past weekend and discussed the soon-to-be marriage of a nephew on my wife’s side. The nephew who is baptized Catholic and attended Catholic grade school goes to church with his fiance, a Lutheran. Our nephew has not denounced his Catholic faith but is as cool as a lukewarm Catholic can get. The couple paln to be married in the Lutheran church and the likely prospects of a Catholic priest being present are fading fast. With that knowledge in hand, we most likely will not attend the ceremony. One of my wife’s sister’s is much more upset that we don’t plan to attend the wedding than the fact her nephew is willing, as a Catholic, to live outside Christ and His Church’s graces. Isn’t it odd that my sister-in-law is willing to allow our nephew the freedom to do as he wishes but will not afford us the same freedom?
    How can we celebrate our nephew walking away from, as mentioned in the article, Christ himself in the Eucharist?
    Any suggestions as to how we might enlighten the relatives to our plight?

  • CherylDickow

    wgsullivan,

    My grandfather died this morning and I can only share with you that he lived his life faithful to his Catholic Church and yet watched while his heart was broken, I am sure, by some of his own children wandering into other Christian denominations. However, never, not once, did my grandfather withhold his support for any of his children, grandchildren, or great-granchildren because of their wanderings. Instead, he steadfastly practiced his own Catholic faith and made sure we all knew that he loved us unconditionally. I am the oldest of his grandchildren and am humbled by the greatness of way in which my Polish immigrant grandfather witnessed his Catholic faith to our family.

  • gk

    One day we will be one Church again. It might not be in our life times but it will be soon. The Truth will eventually make it so.

    Love our separated bretheren. Love them and always offer the sacraments and graces that we have in the Catholic Church. If they seek the truth, He will show them where He is most completely (at least here on Earth).

  • janemartin

    Hello Heidi,
    I’m sure you’ve read Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kim Hahn. If not, it would stike many chords with you and your situation. There is so much ignorance of Catholicism even in our own parishes! Couple that to the many cafeteria catholics ( I myself was once one of them) who pick apart every teaching that doesn’t feel right to them and it is no wonder that many outside the Church are hostile. I add with empathy that you may want to refrain from calling the Mass a “Catholic service” for the same reasons that you have mentioned. There is no substitute for Holy Mass and the Sacrifice that is represented, no matter how good the music is and how inspiring the preaching is. It is really one of the points of confusion between Catholics and Evangelicals. We define worship entirely differently. Services may be optional but Mass is not. Just a friendly suggestion.
    Peace,
    Jane Martin

  • janemartin

    Me again,
    Just so there is no confusion about what I wrote. The Sacrifice is re-presented. Nothing symbolic. An actual re-presentation.
    Peace,
    Jane Martin

  • Claire

    Cheryl, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. Losing a grandparent is so painful. You will be in my prayers.

  • Cooky642

    To Cheryl, my deepest sympathies and prayers for you and your family, and for the repose of Grandpa’s soul.

    To Heidi, you really struck a chord with me. I have this same “discussion” with my daughter every time we visit. She’s the one who’s studying to be a United Methodist minister. She seems to accept that I have a responsibility to my own Church, but even as a “lost” Catholic, I can’t get her to understand why.

    I had this same discussion with my mother, hours before she died. She had converted to Catholicism, and left to marry my father. Because she had “turned against religion”, she really turned against religion. My last memory of her is pushing herself out of a chair saying, “Nope! Nope! Nope!”

    Finally, my husband the cradle-Catholic, who left the Church during Vatican II, tried the “guilt trip” method. He spent weeks “suggesting” that I go to his church and I kept saying no. When it dawned on me what he was really after, I responded with, “Sure, I’d love to go with you sometime; just give me enough notice so that I can get to Mass first”. From that day to this (10 yrs), I’ve never heard another word about my going to his church.

  • wgsullivan

    Cheryl,

    I too pray for the repose of your grandfather’s soul. From your note it appears he was (and is) grand indeed.
    I really appreciate your input. It has caused me to reflect on our situation from many angles.
    My wife feels we must give good example to our kids and live what we preach to them. We started at a very young age in telling them if they aren’t called to be married to the church and choose to marry a heaven sent person of the opposite sex they need to do it through the one, holy, Catholic, apostolic, church or we could not attend. We both feel it’s a bit hypocritical to attend a close relatives ceremony outside the church when we have already missed another nephew’s ceremony for the same reason. This was by the parents request as they did not attend either. Kids are unmatched when it comes to sniffing even a hint of hypocrisy.
    We plan to support these relatives and we don’t shun them in any way other than not supporting their public declaration of love. In the eyes of the church the Catholic being wed in another church is committing the sin of fornication unless they have officially denied the Catholic Church.
    Did your grandfather ever voice his heart felt pain? My Catholic brother-in-law, after his godson’s (our son’s) Confirmation informed us he didn’t plan to ask his son if he planned to marry in the Catholic Church. “After all”, he said, “He’s a big boy and as long as he goes to a church that believes in God it’s all the same.” I’m willing to ‘bet the farm’ my brother-in-law doesn’t really believe what he said but helped him feel better about the situation. He could rationalize his statement.
    My point is if we don’t speak up, how can we be sure those we love clearly understand our hopes and prayers for their salvation lie squarely with the church Christ founded. In addition I don’t give my own children the rope to hang me along with themselves.

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