What Would Your Family Say…If You Became Catholic? (Part 3 on Becoming Catholic)

Jan 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

For the last two daily posts, I’ve shared personal aspects of becoming Catholic. Today I move to one of the most difficult parts of that decision, the judgment of your family. For most people, this is the largest obstacle to becoming Catholic.

For others the most difficult part of Catholicism is losing their job or their career if they are employed by a Protestant congregation. I’ve been there, too. Perhaps I’ll share some personal thoughts on that in the days to come. Today, I want to focus on family. I get emails and phone calls from Protestants considering conversion. I’d say that most of them experience difficulties with their families and usually with their spouses.

I’ve also noticed that some people have difficulty with how their parents will perceive them if they are Catholics. Cradle Catholics (those raised as Catholics from the cradle) might find this odd. What they do not understand is that Protestant denominations have their own customs and expectations when it comes to holidays, meals, and important life events like marriage…and the Catholic Church has her own customs.

Let me give just ten examples that will likely come up. If you have others, please share them in the comments:

  1. At Christmas and other holidays, you will have to go Holy Mass with your family. This creates problems with scheduling wider family events on Christmas.
  2. When you pray at meals, your family and children will make the sign of the cross. This will startle your extended family.
  3. When the grandparents pray with your children, your children will at some point innocently and rightly start praying to Mary or to some saints. That might cause grandma to go into a conniption.
  4. You won’t contracept. This means you’ll start having lots of babies. This means your family will constantly say things like, “Aren’t you finished?” or hurtful things to your wife, “Don’t you want to do something more important than have children and pack lunches?”
  5. You will have a crucifix in your house which will draw comments.
  6. Marriages will be Catholic and Catholic only. That means no weddings at the family’s favorite chapel.
  7. You won’t be able to attend a family wedding if Catholics are getting married in Protestant chapels and in sometimes in difficult situations where there is divorce.
  8. If you’re practicing, you’ll be praying the Rosary daily. I invite Protestant family to join us, but that may not be comfortable for everyone.
  9. On Fridays, especially on Fridays during Lent you’ll have to ask questions about dinner before accepting an invitation, because you cannot eat flesh meat (beef, pork, chicken, etc.)
  10. You’ll have one family member who is very aggressive and challenging. They’ll be playing Johnny Apologetics every time you gather as a family. There will the be uncomfortable debates about sola fide, sola scriptura, Mary, the Pope, Catholic history, and more.
And there’s more. So why be Catholic? Well, it’s the true Church of Jesus Christ and it is a cross to be a member of Christ’s visible and historic body: “And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, D-R).
Many Catholics have even had to abandon their family altogether – even wives and children – for the sake of Christ. Saints Felicity and Perpetua come to mind. Saint Peter is another:

Then Peter said: Behold, we have left all things and have followed thee. Who said to them: Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left home or parents or brethren or wife or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. (Luke 18:28–30, D-R)

Hard words, I know. Yet when we consider the gift of the beatific vision of God’s essence and our union with Him for ever, all created happiness and goods fail to compare. Everything is worth it. Catholicism is the pearl of great price. Also, think of it this way. Early Catholics struggled with becoming martyrs. When they were martyred they offered their deaths for the conversion of their accusers and enemies (St Stephen martyrdom and St Paul’s conversion is an example).

Today we do not worry about martyrdom (yet), but we do worry about the disgrace we will experience from our families. That is a small price when you think of it. Moreover, whenever your family ridicules your mocks your for being a Catholic, you can offer that pain for their conversion. It might be the trigger that releases graces upon their souls.

To read the two previous posts about becoming Catholic, click here.

ad Jesum per Mariam,

Taylor Marshall

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15 comments
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  1. When I announced my intention to become Catholic, my parents assumed it was because I was unsatisfied with Protestantism, or had been hurt or offended by someone or something in the Reformed Church.

    In one of the greatest ironies he ever uttered my father objected, “David, you don’t have to leave a church just because it has problems.”

    You never spoke a truer word, Dad.

    -David

  2. Taylor,

    Thank you for sharing. As a fellow convert (in 2000), I enjoy learning more about your conversion. I would also add today’s Gospel reading from the Lectionary is on-topic (Mark 3:20-21)

    Jesus came with his disciples into the house.
    Again the crowd gathered,
    making it impossible for them even to eat.
    When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
    for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

    I think the author of the Gospel of Mark included this narrative because of what you illustrated. It is difficult becoming a Catholic. I did not face the same difficulties as you did for a few reasons. First, I was not a priest. Second, half of my family is Catholic (my Mom was and my Dad was Protestant) and third, faith was not a priority in my parent’s household – they could not reconcile their differences and so their three children received little catechesis.

    Unfortunately, my Dad passed 3 years before I converted. I think he and I would have had more than a few arguments about my conversion.

  3. It is difficult. This one made me laugh out loud, because it’s so true:

    “When you pray at meals, your family and children will make the sign of the cross. This will startle your extended family.”

    But they notice, and they admire the devotion to the cross, that saving cross.

    How about:

    11. You go to a different church when staying with the extended family over the holidays [extra awkward when staying at the parsonage and your dad’s the pastor].

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  4. How set in stone is #6 on that list? My wife’s side is all Protestant and her cousins are all either young adults or approaching adulthood. Eventually, they will get married (likely in a Protestant manner) and invite us. I was also married in a Protestant church with a Protestant liturgy. Many Catholics (not just relatives) attended. Were they in contravention of a particular doctrine or discipline?

  5. As a Catholic trying to figure out my own beliefs about religion I have a question. How does refusing to attend weddings as described in #7 show the love of Christ? I do understand you do not want to appear to condone these unions, but I don’t feel like I should shun friends and family when their beliefs don’t line up with mine.

  6. Dear Andre and Katie,

    I can’t speak for Taylor and I’m not a canon lawyer, but I think I can help you out. I’m pretty sure #6 and #7 were a reference to Catholic marriages, not Catholics attending other people’s weddings. The canonical norm for Catholic weddings is that they occur at the parties’ parish (i.e., inside their Catholic church building). For Catholics to attend two Protestants’ wedding, assuming there aren’t moral-law problems involved, is not (in my understanding) problematic. In fact, refusal to attend a family member’s wedding simply because that person is Protestant could create scandal.

    As for showing the love of Christ, Katie, you have it right when you say you don’t want to condone what may be illicit. It would not show the love of Christ if one appeared to condone what was morally illicit, possibly even mortal for the other person’s soul. You love your relatives, so want what is best for them, and want your own actions to lead to what is best for them.

    In that way, your concern of condoning what is wrong does not need to conflict with your other concern: “I don’t feel like I should shun friends and family when their beliefs don’t line up with mine.” To take an example, if they believe homosexual marriage is licit, and a Catholic believes it is illicit (and ineffectual, sacramentally speaking), the Catholic should not think in terms of beliefs-not-lining-up. This would be a relativistic way of looking at things — like, ‘you have your beliefs, I have mine, and the truth is relative to each of us.’ Truth is not, of course, relative. The Catholic cannot contribute to, support, or affirm what she believes is morally illicit. This rule is not about shunning, but about loving others and loving truth.

    For divorced friends or relatives who marry, the matter is complex. Non-attendance is not strictly mandatory, and can in some circumstances be harmful. It would be an excellent occasion for the Catholic to consult with her pastor for guidance.

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom B.

  7. Taylor,

    The wording of this list (If you are a Catholic, you will….you will…etc.) is confusing to me in some places. Is this mean to reflect norms for all Catholics or your personal understanding of devotion?

    For example, I didn’t think being a practicing Catholic meant you necessarily pray the rosary every day [#8].

    #2 gave me the same feeling. My wife and I don’t make the sign of the cross when we pray with our Protestant family because “ritualism” freaks them out and it seems like unnecessary ritualism will not help our relationship, which is currently strained when it comes to matters of religion. Are we actually obligated to make the sign of the cross at all times of prayer, even outside of public (Catholic) liturgical celebrations? If so, then that’s one thing, but we have been under the assumption that that’s not the case, and are trying to be aware of their current sensitivities as we find the best way to share our faith with them.

    With #4, not every Catholic family starts having bunches of babies immediately and it doesn’t mean they’re using contraception.

    As for #9, shouldn’t it just read “On Fridays during Lent,” instead of “On Fridays, especially on Fridays during Lent”? I was under the impression that meatless Fridays, at this point in time, are a recommended Friday penance, but that other penances can be substituted. That being the case, the solution for us when eating dinner on Fridays with non-Catholic relatives has been simply to make use of another penance rather than ask people to make special plans on our account.

    Thanks,
    David

  8. David in number 7 in reference to #2 you made a comment about not making the sign of the cross at dinner, two thoughts.

    1. I grew up in a small town of about 8000 souls in north Louisiana. This was not Catholic country. I would guess there were about 200 catholics in the whole town. Most of the town was Baptist with a goodly amount of Methodist and an Episcopalian or two. This was the 1970s and the prejudices against Catholics much greater then, and I think most people grew tired of being asked the same old questions and dealing with the same old accusations. We didn’t make the sign of the cross in public ever. I can’t ever remember doing so even during the prayer before a football game. I remember combing my bangs down in front of my face to cover the ashes. It all translated into one thing, being embarrassed of my faith. It wasn’t until my mid twenties and living in another part of the country that I had a friend who was not only Catholic but public about it. I can’t tell you what an effect it had on me. Assuming your Protestant family knows your Catholic, they also know that Catholics make the sign of the cross. Ask yourself what kind of witness are you giving.

    2. Why is making the sign of the cross controversial? We all use the Cross as a symbol to identify ourselves as Christians, so why shouldn’t all Christians be doing same simple hand gesture? Also what kind of wacky Protestant theology would teach that beginning prayer with the words “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is wrong? This really comes down to saying, it’s Catholic therefore it is wrong, without really examining what is being done or said.

  9. Andy, I think I can answer.

    Jesus asks us to pray to God in his name since it is only by Jesus that we have access to the Father. So to pray directly to God the Father is trying to get by Jesus.

    From my understanding this theology is actually correct, but it’s not what “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” means. Praxis determines context. If you look at most Catholic prayers, including the “Glory Be” you see they are usually of the form “Almighty God, ….through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever”. So when you invoke the Trinity, you’re not attempting to bypass Jesus, you’re reinforcing the fact that all prayer involves the entire Trinity. In more Protestant parlance “We ask this to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit”.

    I think the physicality of the sign of the cross is also startling and looks a lot like the hocus pocus gestures magicians use. Of course, that’s not what Catholics mean at all. In a very real sense, when we make the sign of the cross over ourselves we are asking God (the Trinity) to cover us with the cross and it is no coincidence that they are tied together.

    There is a whole lot of theology in the sign of the cross. To me, this simple act is a wonderful evangelization tool and a wonderful way to summarize the Nicene Creed once we take the way we hold our fingers during the sign into account.

  10. David, Andy and Anil,

    First, I understand where David is coming from. My family is all “low church”. The sign of the cross might as well be some kind of ancient religious voo-doo. But, we all know that is ignorance.

    When we first became Catholic, we thought we would go the “don’t do it around them” route. We figured, “Let’s show Christian charity and not scandalize them by fostering disdain in their hearts for the sign of the cross”. Then, we noticed that our children (all small) were naturally doing it at family events because we did it at home all of the time. We finally decided that we did not want our children thinking they had to “hide” their faith. Now, we do it no matter where we are. Now, I could care less who sees it (mostly—I can still feel my in-laws looks!).

    When people are at our house, we pray “Catholic”. However, when we are at someone else’s house, we allow them to lead the prayer. We simply make the sign of the cross at the end of the prayer. At my parent’s house, they let our kids lead the prayer at dinner and my father will join in to show solidarity with his grandkids. If you have little children, let them practice their faith around people. It is a good evangelizing tool since adults won’t give them the snide looks they will give you. That little bit of grace can open them up to the truth of the faith.

    To add just one last thing, the martyrs in the first centuries of the Church died making the sign of the cross. That’s a good reason to not act ashamed of it! I like to tell this story when someone looks at me like I’m awkward or questions the act. ALL Christians in my extended family revere the Cross and believe in the Trinity. So, it’s a great time to educate them about the act and not allow their ignorance to persist. For those that don’t care to learn, they can grin and bear it. It does their soul good. : )

    Ave Maria!

  11. Brent,

    Good call about martyrs for the sign of the cross!

    Yes, we have had the exact same experience with our children. So we go all out and just do the Catholic piety with the extended family. They now even know the “Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts,” prayer and join in. One family member is a lapsed Catholic and she even makes the sign of the cross with us now!

    We should remember also, that the sacrament of confirmation makes a Catholic Christian ontologically more priestly and kingly than all other Protestants. This means that in the order of grace, you bring something to the table that it is unseen and mystical.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,
    Taylor

  12. My question was based on Paul’s admonition not to offend weaker brothers by doing things that are okay for us, but cause others to stumble. It’s not necessary for me to eat food sacrificed to idols or make the sign of the cross, so on that particular point I was wondering if it would do more harm than good in the presence of our weaker (Protestant) brothers and sisters.

  13. David,

    Eek… “weaker”? I’m sure you meant no harm in using that term, but I think that would scandalize our Protestant brethern more than the sign of the cross. I’m pretty much with Brent on this. When I’m with my Protestant family members, I let them lead in prayer. Even when I was Protestant, I never really was a big fan of leading in open-ended prayer. My Protestant relatives are very sincere when they pray, but, as a Protestant, I often came across the awkward situation where a self-styled prayer expert would always try and one-up others in prayer execution. This wasn’t (and isn’t) something imaginary as my Protestant family members and friends know exactly what I’m talking about and experience it in their circles all of the time.

    Most Catholic prayers are very lofty and very poetic. When I pray open-endedly, I end with “in the Name of Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Sprit, forever and ever. Amen.” which is a bit more liturgical than most are used to. Because I am fully aware of the prayer ability competitions that often occur in Protestant circles, I, like Brent, never lead prayer when I’m with my Protestant family members. I don’t want them to think that I’m grandstanding or trying to “prove” how much more awesome Catholicism is. Plus, as I said, they’re very good and sincere at open prayer. I always sign myself with the cross and this never scandalizes my Protestant family members. They are curious for a second, but I think they are smart enough to realize that it would be a contradiction to be scandalized at anyone making a symbol of the most Holy Cross when they have crosses hanging up all over their walls. I don’t think that any Protestant would be scandalized by this (only anti-Catholics who just hate anything remotely Catholic in appearance… like the KKK).

  14. Joseph,

    Eek? I just used the term that I found in my Bible.

    I always sign myself with the cross and this never scandalizes my Protestant family members.

    That’s fine for you, but it brings me back to my whole point in posting from the very beginning, which was that it seemed certain practices were being described as “What you will do and not do if you are a Catholic” when some of them seemed like one person’s decisions based on their personal experience.

    I don’t think that any Protestant would be scandalized by this (only anti-Catholics who just hate anything remotely Catholic…

    Exactly. Again, I’d advise not generalizing your own experience too much.

  15. No. 8 is not required, but it’s something to be comfortable with — the phrasing is probably right.

    No. 9, on Fridays outside Lent, may be easily bypassed if the charity of anyone is offered freely. In such situations, offering up something else works instead, and the bishops in America have specifically allowed this.

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