How much should parents beat themselves up when kids leave the Church?
Keep the communication going but remember: the journey of faith is your child’s to make.
There are few things more heartbreaking for a Catholic parent then to watch their children abandon their faith and leave the Church. When I addressed this issue in my last column the response from parents going through this very ordeal was overwhelming.
What if you do everything right — parochial school, family rosaries, take the children to adoration, never miss a Mass, pray together all the time, serving at the altar, all of it — and they still decide to leave the Church? Then what?
Please parents, forgive yourselves. Stop carrying around the pain of blame. If you spend too much analyzing everything you think you did wrong or could have done better your own mental and spiritual peace will be negatively affected. Refuse to become the victim and let your heartbreak consume you to the point of self absorption.
Realize that this journey is your child’s to make. We all have our own stories of how we came to be where we are in within the Church. I ran the gauntlet of disbelief and doubt before I found myself converting to Catholicism at the age of 30. My grandmother came back to the Church on her deathbed and my mom returned after a 40-year absence from the sacraments.
The problem with youth is that it believes itself to be all-knowing and invincible. I remember my own strong headed youth and later my struggle to find something substantial to believe in. When I think of all that I went through to get where I am today I recall the series of paintings by Thomas Cole called The Voyage of Life.
Youth is strong and vibrant with the world laid out before them, leaving little room for the certainty of mortality and the eternal consequences of feckless spiritual wandering.
Parents, try to remember your own youth and have patience with your children. Have forgiveness and patience for yourself and try your best to embrace this as an exercise in faith and trust.
While writing this I researched the various advice written on this subject. Many suggested not to nag or force the conversation, suggesting for parents to just back off. While well-intentioned (and perhaps effective advice in some circumstances or families) I wonder would the same advice be applicable to a child with a serious drug habit. What parent wouldn’t aggressively intervene to save their child’s life? Therefore, I cannot condone a passive approach to such a grave matter.
How lacking our Church would be if St. Monica, for fear of losing the relationship with St. Augustine, didn’t cry and beg prayers all over town and follow her son to Rome and Milan? St. Monica very aggressively intervened for her son’s salvation. When people suggest St. Monica as a model to parents of wayward children they usually just mean to model her example of ceaseless prayer. But she also climbed on a boat, crossed the sea, and chased her son across Italy. Her example is completely contrary to the “don’t nag, back off” advice more accepted and practiced.
Storm the heavens in prayer. Ask for saintly intercession. Have Masses offered for their conversion. But at the same time, don’t shy away from having those conversations that need to be had. Voice your concern and disappointment. As parents would we not do the same for anything else harmful we saw our children doing? Why is there this exception made for matters of faith, which have far more serious everlasting consequences?
Start asking those tough thought-provoking questions. Initiate an earnest conversation with your adult children, talking to them about their decision to leave the Church and see if you can determine the root cause of their decision. Did they stop going to Mass because they believe you can still be a good person and not go to Church or because they are plagued by spiritual doubt? Do they not fully understand the nature of sin and its consequences? Knowing the “why” can help determine the “what next.”
Maybe they simply don’t realize that faith is a gift, and that they can ask for it.
Invite them to Mass with you and if they have children, invite your grandchildren to Mass. If it weren’t for my Abuela I wouldn’t have set foot inside a Catholic Church until I was in my twenties.
Be a joyful Catholic, set that example, put your faith and trust in the Lord, and pray without ceasing — but at the same time let your children know that you love them more than anything on this earth and that you’ll never give up fighting for them.