As stated in the previous post, “Fallen-away Catholicism and its causes,” students from my ecclesiology class were required to interview “fallen-away Catholics.” It just so happened that few of them interviewed their own children. Like many of other parents I spoke to in the past, these students expressed both guilt and dismay over their grown-up children having left the Catholic Church. Sure, there may have been many mistakes in the religious training of their children, but it is good to keep in mind that from the 1960’s to 1970’s Western Civilization and American society suffered from convulsions like no other time in history. Indeed, the world had changed dramatically from 1960 to 1970; just within a ten year period. If a person were to have gone into a coma in 1960, he would have awoken to a different world in 1970.
In 1965, the Catholic Church had just concluded the Second Vatican Council and in the few years that followed, she implemented the new changes that the Holy Spirit had inspired. But with this transition, and with rapid cultural changes, there was plenty of opportunity for confusion and floundering. To the surprise of many, this fog of confusion had infiltrated into Catholic institutions; the very institutions parents had relied so heavily on in the previous years. For decades, parents had delegated their responsibility of educating and forming their own children to the Catholic schools and even to the clergy. However, it became apparent to many of them as late as the 1980’s that these institutions were not as reliable as they were in the 1940’s and 1950’s. To their dismay, what they discovered was that their children were deficient both spiritually and intellectually.
It also happened that many parents became better educated with their Catholic Faith as time went on. When the fog of confusion cleared, they were in a better position to discern what was authentically Catholic and what was not. For this reason, their regret over missed opportunities should be put into this context. These last fifty years were probably the most difficult fifty years in Church history to raise children in the Faith. This time period was exceptional in many ways.
But that is water under the bridge. The question is: Where do we go from here? There are four things that I have learned over the years that I would like to share with you:
First of all, do not be discouraged. Bear in mind that conversion is the work of God. It’s hard to imagine, but no one wants to see your children return to the Faith and saved more than God does. For this reason, in order for parents to bear witness to their son or daughter, they must be full of hope. One who is easily prone to anger or resentment with discussions about religion and morality- especially when there is disagreement -is being counterproductive. The peace of Christ in an important instrument of winning a fallen-away son or daughter back to the Catholic Faith.
St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, never lost hope when her once-wayward son seemed to be miles away from converting to the true Faith. She even sought the counsel of St. Ambrose, Church Father and Bishop of Milan, on how she might save her son from the erroneous sect called Manichaeism. In response, Bishop Ambrose said to her, “Only pray to the Lord on his behalf. He will find out by reading what the character of that error is and how great is its impiety.” She then implored the saintly bishop to talk to Augustine. But St. Ambrose refused, saying to her that Augustine needed to be willing to talk to him; that a conversation about the Faith should not be imposed or forced on any unwilling soul. Nevertheless, she persisted, with tears flowing, in asking the same favor over and over again. Finally, St. Ambrose got annoyed and said, “Go away from me now! As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” Harsh sounding? Perhaps! But he was right. St. Augustine did convert to the Catholic Faith through his mother’s prayers, spiritual sacrifices and tears.
Second, many parents make the mistake of trying to get their "spiritually unformed" child back to Mass as the first priority. This is a mistake. The participation of the Mass is the fruit and consequence- not the cause –of a personal relationship with Christ. Daily prayer, observing Christ’s moral law (especially with one’s sexual purity), reading Scripture, and even fellowship with other Christians are foundation blocks that have to be laid if the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to prove beneficial for the soul. As such, the parent should work and pray towards that end. If a son or daughter it is not going to Mass it is because these other spiritual principles have not taken root yet.
With that said, if a parent wishes to bear witness and win over their son or daughter, they should talk about Christ and other things that have inspired them. The discussion about attending Mass as a sacred obligation should come later. Plant other seeds first.
Third, you must know that the Saints and the way they bore witness to Christ were very much in line with the personal demeanor that God gave them. Some were introverts, others were extroverts. For some Saints, it was easier to speak candidly and loudly about their love for Christ. But not all of them were wont to exclaim, “Praise the Lord!” in a room full of people. Indeed, for some Saints, like St. Edith Stein, they were more subtle. Yet, even the more reticent Saints never went out of their way to hide their love for Christ. When the occasion presented itself, they forthrightly spoke about Christ. Although personalities among the Saints differed, what people saw is what people got.
The point is this: We are not obligated to parade our faith in Christ before others, but neither is it right to disguise who we really are. Our Lord gives us an admonition about the latter: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 10:32-33) And as Jesus said earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, we have to let our light must shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. Yet, we do this with the personality that God gave us; especially with those who are closest to us. At all times, we want to be sincere and authentic to who we really are while, at the same time, challenging ourselves to be as courageous as possible.
Fourth, spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ will have a saving effect upon your children. To give us confidence towards this end we should meditate on the parable of the workers in the vineyard. These workers came to work at different times of the day but received the same wage. Even for those workers who showed up to work at 4pm, one hour before the workday ended, they were paid the same as those who arrived at 9am. What our Lord seemed to be saying is that time of salvation is never too late. Eternal happiness is there for the taking up to the moment of death.
However, our Lord preordained that we should join him in his sufferings. Perhaps this is why St. Paul said, “For as Christ's sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation…” (I Corinthians 1:5-6) Christ did not die on the Cross so that we would not suffer for other people’s salvation; he died so that we, in union with his Passion, could help pay that wage at the end of the workday for souls. Part of that suffering that overflows to us is seeing our loved ones fall away from the Catholic Faith. But he has given us the means to help remedy that.
The same Apostle who proclaimed the saving work of Christ saw himself as a sacrificial victim for others. He said, “I am already being poured out like a libation…” (II Timothy 4:6) And elsewhere he wrote, “But even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.” (Philippians 2:17) Terms like “overflowing” and being “poured out” is liturgical lingo for redemptive suffering. No doubt, prayers, acts of self-denial, penance and even patiently waiting on the Lord for our son’s or daughter’s conversion is pleasing aroma to God. As such, we should have great confidence that his Mercy will make itself felt on those souls we love so much. It will certainly pay off, as St. Monica can attest.