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The Challenges of a Non-Catholic Family

My husband and I decided to hold off on telling our families that we were becoming Catholic until we were 100% sure it was something we wanted to do. We wanted to make sure that nothing anyone would say to us would sway our decision, and that if anyone had an argument against the faith we were fully prepared to defend it. My family was supportive (but still not very understanding) of our decision, as they always are, but my husband’s family was a slightly different story.

His dad doesn’t know much about Catholicism at all so he didn’t have much to say. My mother in law had a little more on her mind though. She told us she was, “worried for the souls of our children.” She also said that she was confused about why her son would turn to Catholicism because he was, “raised better.” She had (and still has) all of the misconceptions about the faith that most people do. Even my husband and I had these misconceptions before we did some investigating! My mother in law believes that Catholics worship the saints and Mary (which just isn’t true) and she came at us with the quote, “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” For a Protestant, of course this translates to Catholics worshiping saints and the Blessed Mother- and when the concept of intercession is explained, it almost confuses them even further! Although it’s completely understandable that she has these concerns it is still frustrating to have family members who aren’t totally supportive.

This Christmas season was especially difficult for us as far as our faith journey is concerned. Some of our family members treat Christmas as if it is just a time for gifts and drinking. There are still certain people who we haven’t told that we are becoming Catholic. We had to have some private (and almost secretive) worship time with just my husband, our two small children and myself since we were visiting family for the holidays. I started to feel guilty for, “hiding” our faith in a sense. I didn’t know why it was so difficult for me to be openly Catholic around my family! There are other decisions I make that my family doesn’t agree with which I’ve never had a problem being open about, but for some reason our faith was a different story.

I did some reflecting and praying until I was finally able to figure out why it was so difficult to be open with people. My family is full of extremely intelligent people, who are very research and science based. If you can’t touch it, it probably doesn’t exist. My parents believe in a, “higher power” but not in, “The God of the Christians” in their words. If I get in a discussion with my parents about a controversial topic like breastfeeding, or circumcision – I always go in having at least one piece of hard evidence that the decision I’m making is the right one based on scientific research. When it comes to our decision to enter the Church though – all I have is faith. I think it’s almost embarrassing to me in a sense that I believe so strongly in something I cannot see or feel. When Catholics receive the Eucharist, he or she is able to feel the physical presence of Christ; but even the idea of the Real Presence is something that takes faith.

I began searching for Scripture that referenced what I had been struggling with. Some of what I read was a bitter pill to swallow, but I definitely found what I needed.

 

“If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you.

If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.”

~ John 15:18-20

 

I found this passage from John to be comforting- I meditated on it for a while before moving on. What I read next was from the Gospel of Matthew, and these words were a little tougher to understand.

 

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

~ Matthew 10:34-39

 

After the first read, this passage doesn’t come across so great. It sounds like Jesus is saying He only came to Earth to purposely divide families. Upon further meditation, I realized that it’s actually a very comforting thing to know. Jesus is telling us, once again, to live in the world and not of the world. He is giving us comfort in knowing that following Him will grant us eternal salvation no matter how hard it may get. Jesus knew that those who chose to follow Him would have to fight extremely tough battles. He prepares us for the battles that we all have to fight against non-believers, and some of us against our families. He reminds us to love Him above anything we can find in this world, including our fleshly parents and siblings.

While it was hard for me to think about always putting Jesus before people I live with here on Earth, I feel that these pieces of Scripture have definitely given me the strength I need to be openly Catholic – even if it means enduring harsh battles with family and friends. God will always be there and I know that He, as well as the Church, will guide me in all aspects of my life and ultimately help me get to heaven.

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About Hannah M.

Hannah is a stay-at-home mom to Emma, (12-09-08) and Silas, (03-07-12). She lives in Central Texas, but both her and her husband consider the Central Coast of California to be their true home. In the little amount of spare time she has, Hannah loves to knit, sew (poorly) and try new recipes. However, her favorite pastimes are playing with her children and spending time with her husband. Her family is currently on their journey to join the Catholic Church, and they love learning more about the faith every day.

January 11, 2013 - 6:54 am

Katie - This is a wonderful post. I’ve been going through this as well.. a year ago I began researching Catholicism and shortly after I made the decision to become Catholic. I was raised non-denominational and my entire family is some form of Protestant. I definitely struggle with being open about my faith with my parents (whom I live with), and it’s been tough. I’m slowly starting to be more open about it, but I still have a hard time.. God grant me the courage!
Katie
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January 11, 2013 - 12:45 pm

Bernadine - Thank you for sharing your story, Hannah. While I was raised Catholic and cannot identify with what you’re going through personally, I have many friends who are or have been in your shoes, especially when it comes to whether or not they are allowed to attend a non-Catholic family member’s wedding (many times the answer is no). One of my best friends is a Protestant, and she has never tried to argue a point of faith with me, but also has the same misconceptions about the Catholic Faith that most Protestants have. I have explained some things to her but it seems to fall on deaf ears. One thing you mentioned about the misconception of worshiping Mary and the Saints made me think of how I explained to her how intercession is important to Catholics. I told her that Mary and the Saints are God’s closest friends, and they should be our closest friends too, in a sense. We ask our friends to pray for us, just as Protestants do, so why not ask those closest to God to pray for us as well?! It’s not like we’re leaving God out of the equation, or saying he’s lesser. As St. Alphonsus Ligouri put it (not word for word), Mary will take our petitions and adorn them with a beauty we could never give them, presenting them to God in such a way that we never could. The Saints do the same, though perhaps not able to adorn them QUITE as much as Mary can… they still have sway.
God bless you as you enter the Catholic Church, and welcome!

January 11, 2013 - 1:49 pm

Jenna@CallHerHappy - Awesome! Prayers from MN. You know, I don’t think you should feel guilty about “hiding” you faith as you say. I think right now, it might be a good decision to nurture it with prayer and then proclaim it loudly when God says it is time. Just a thought :)

Also, I never understood how intercession was such a hard concept to grasp. Maybe I need to learn better ways to explain it to people :)

January 12, 2013 - 7:32 am

Tricia - Thank you for sharing Hannah. I joined the Catholic Church last Easter and have struggled through many of the same issues (and still am!)

My family hasn’t openly opposed me, but I can tell are just baffled by me and my decison. For the most part they don’t say much or ask anything, which is almost worse because I wish I could try to explain my reasons to them. Now it just mostly feels like there’s an elephant in the room.

A couple of things we haven’t faced yet, but I know are coming, are the first time we are staying with them over a weekend and will need to seek out a Catholic church for Mass (they’ll probably think we don’t think their church is “good enough”), or if we are at a Protestant church and can’t participate in communion. I hope I have the grace to handle these situations well.

I love my family dearly, and it is painful for me to feel this distance between us, but I know my love for God and following his call for me has to come first.

God Bless your journey. As I said before, this journey has brought struggles, but also so much joy and peace and I am so grateful to God for it!

January 12, 2013 - 12:48 pm

Today is the Feast Day of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys | Big Pulpit - [...] The Challenges of a Non-Catholic Family – Hannah M., Catholic Sistas [...]

January 12, 2013 - 10:45 pm

Allison - Oh boy, we’re in the same family boat, except that we live 5000 miles away from New England now (Alaska. Yup.) and don’t really have the whole holiday / visiting church thing. I think they don’t visit because they’re so, so angry.

Love and prayers for you all.
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January 14, 2013 - 9:51 am

Matt - When my mother returned to the Church my sister and I came as well. When we did my father’s family who is either Episcopalian or Baptist said some really nasty things to us about Catholics and we were just kids. I have the joy to tell you that my grandmother after years or prayer and watching EWTN converted a month before she passed away and was fully received in the Church by her local priest. Still working on the other. You may be just begining your journery into the Faith but GOd has a plan for more than just you and that could be the return of your family to the Church. Truly, all things are possible thru pray.

January 14, 2013 - 1:43 pm

CHRIS - We took a similar approach. My wife and I didn’t even discuss it much with our children, and we did not attend mass with them until we had studied enough to make a firm decision with no going back. We announced our decision to the children and switched to attending Mass “cold turkey”. It took a lot of teaching and explanation, but five years later all of our kids have been confirmed in the Catholic church and are very happy about it.

My family is conservative evangelical protestant/fundamentalist, and very anti-catholic. We live far away from everyone else in our family, and when we converted our parents were already in nursing homes and nearing death, so we kept our conversion pretty quiet for a while, not wanting to make our few visits into family fights. Now that they have passed on, we are more open about our church activities in our Christmas letters, etc. There have been a few questions, but nothing harsh. We explain our conversion and offer to discuss any specifics, but so far nobody has asked follow-up questions. I’m sure it would have been a MUCH more serious conflict if my parents had been younger and fully aware of what we had done (leading their grandchildren to hell, etc.).

God bless,
Chris

January 14, 2013 - 2:08 pm

RSVS - Catholic converts always inspire me. Thank you for your story and journey; it’s beautiful.

January 14, 2013 - 2:12 pm

RSVS - Catholic converts always inspire me. Thank you for your story and journey; it’s beautiful.

January 14, 2013 - 2:57 pm

Kerri Gallion - Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I are both in RCIA right now, working on having previous marriages annulled and we both come from homes with Protestant ministers as fathers. Needless to say we have endured much this past year.
They are neither behind us at all. There is an underlying tension when we are with them and when we finally told them we were entering RCIA things did not go well.
So thank you again. I really needed to read those scriptures today as yesterday was a very hard day.
God bless you.

January 14, 2013 - 4:44 pm

Gregory Elder - Whoh! I understand that bit about telling the family and secret worship at Christmas visits. When my wife decided to convert, saying “we’re going to Mass” was like telling the family “we’re going out to burn money and harm small defenseless animals.” Some of them would have been honestly happier, I kid thee not, if we had said, “we’re going out for excessive drinking” instead of going to Church. When I converted a few years later, my wife said, “your about to find out who your friends really are.” But I regret it not for a moment. God bless you, hang in there, and give God the glory.

January 14, 2013 - 6:30 pm

Virginia - Hi Hannah,
God bless you on your journey. 9 years ago I also made the same journey into the Catholic Church. I didn’t tell my parents or my brother and his family either until several months after. I also didn’t want to talk about my faith because I dreaded a knock down blowout. I was raised in a independent baptist denomination, my mother very devout whilst my dad was usually an Easter Christmas attendee, however considered himself “saved”. My husband, mom and brother were the most supportive even if they couldn’t quite understand, my dad thought I was brainwashed, which really hurt. What I have found out through the years, is even if you know your faith enough to comfortably answer questions, it’s how you live your life that can be the best witness to them. My folks have admitted they have seen a great change in me, and grudgingly admit for the better, and I think because of my love and devotion to Christ and obedience to His church, are now able to see that Catholics are Christians as well.

January 16, 2013 - 7:58 am

Heidi - I converted to Catholicism 14 years ago (at age 20) and have had a similar experience. My family is also very scientifically-oriented on their thinking, and are not religious. A lot of my extended family is Evangelical Protestant. I was told I was disgracing my ancestors, along with many other negative comments. When my husband left me with two very young children a few years later, my family said, “Good, now you don’t have to be Catholic anymore”. I told them, no, I WANT to be Catholic and LOVE to be Catholic. They didn’t understand why I was willing to never get married again if I was not granted an annulment, even though I was only 25. Now, they really don’t say anything anymore, I think they have given up on me.

Just wanted to let you know you are not alone!

May 4, 2013 - 11:14 pm

Emily - Thank you SO SO much. I’m glad I stumbled across this. I’m feeling called to convert to the Catholic church after being born and raised Protestant… And I’m still living at home. Neither of my parents agree with Catholic doctrine, so when I decide to tell them (ahem, through the really long letter I’m writing), things are going to get interesting. I’m currently learning more about the doctrine so I can better explain my position. I’m praying that they will give me their blessing, or at least permission. But even if they don’t… I have to follow God.

Thanks for showing me I’m not alone.

May 5, 2013 - 8:40 am

Hannah M. - Hey Emily! I wrote this post about 4 months ago now and I’m here to tell you that there IS hope! My family have me a little bit of grief at the end of January regarding the beliefs of the Church and were REALLY questioning our decision, but I was able to effectively explain my beliefs and now they just kind of leave us alone about it.
I even recently was comfortable enough to ask my family to attend Mass for me while I was going through a difficult time. They went!
Keep doing what you feel is right in your heart and God will bless you abundantly. Let me know if you start RCIA, too! If you have any questions you can feel free to ask me as well! I know how difficult it can be learning about the MANY (wonderful) aspects of the faith :)

May 5, 2013 - 11:34 am

Emily - Thanks, Hannah. I’m very thankful for people like you and my few Catholic friends who really encourage me. One of my friends is giving me a Rosary (today at an event we’re going to), and they both answer many of my questions. This morning, I watched mass on EWTN. It was lovely. God is showing me so much.

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