Tuesday, October 23, 2018 - Updated: 10:43 am
QUESTION: I did all I could to raise my children in the Catholic faith. Now all but one has left the Catholic Church. I am not sure if they really know how badly I feel about that. The feelings I have range from guilt to anger to resignation. I just wonder if I still have any obligations for these children regarding their Catholic faith?
ANSWER: The question above is very common as children choose a religious practice different from that in which they were raised. Some young adults not only leave the Catholic Church but actually practice no religion at all. It is understandable that parents would ask about their continued obligation in such situations.
In raising children, parents are obligated to fulfil the responsibility they undertook at the baptism of their children when they promised to raise them in the Catholic faith. That obligation especially includes good example.
There comes a point in the maturing of a young person, however, where a personal choice must be made. Hopefully, that choice is where we have led by our good example. Nonetheless, the choice must become a personal commitment made by that young person. Unless the child makes that faith his or her own, it always remains “our” faith and not that of the young adult. As that occurs, parents face the reality that when adult children make life choices they are not always the ones we hope they would make.
What are the obligations of the parents in such cases? At the heart of it all, I believe our love for them can never cease. Despite whatever disappointment we might feel, our love for children of whatever age must remain strong.
St. Paul writes that “love never fails.” He believed that because he also understood the teaching of St. John that “God is love and where there is love there is God.” Thus, love never fails because God never fails. There is power in that New Testament teaching, and we must find our hope in it. Love can also be the vehicle by which relationships are maintained and hearts are changed.
But what about the disappointment parents feel? Is it ever appropriate to tell adult children how we feel? Yes, but we should never allow our disappointment to become the angry condemnation that would drive a person away forever. We must also balance our “telling” by our “listening.” It is likely that a young person believes he or she has good reasons for doing what they did. While we might even challenge some of those reasons, our challenge should never demean a person’s good will.
What about guilt? Provided that one did all that was possible to share the faith with children, I do not feel that guilt is particularly appropriate or productive for a parent whose child (or children) have left the Catholic Church. It is sometimes said that “God rewards efforts, not results.” There is truth in that statement.
Once we have done all that is possible, the rest remains with God and the individual child’s conscience. Our continued good example as we live the Catholic faith should remain the open invitation for them to return and to share what we continue to hold dear.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.