Philippa Martyr: When children walk away from the Faith

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A young beautiful family walks in the autumn forest with two daughters. The concept of family values and relationships PHOTO: Pixabay

I know a lot of other people’s children, and I’ve been very blessed to see lots of young families grow to adulthood. I’ve seen firsthand the joys, but also the trials, of marriage and child raising. A few weeks ago, the Quigleys – a US-based family who I’ve never met – made a startling Facebook post, where the Quigley parents announced that they were leaving the Catholic Church.

Disengaged children can be a worry for many Catholic parents PHOTO: Pixabay

They listed the reasons why, and there was nothing very surprising. They’d been told that the abuse crisis was all just a plot against the Church, but they could no longer believe this. They saw their fellow Catholics fighting constantly on Facebook with each other about political issues. They also failed to see any signs of real spiritual growth and development in their fellow Catholics.

When you choose to follow your children out of the Church, no one wins

Leaving aside the fact that no one can generally see another person’s spiritual growth or lack thereof, there was one minor point on the list that grabbed me. Two of their adult children had become atheists.

Everyone knows – or is – a Catholic family who have lost children, sometimes all of them, to atheism, agnosticism, or just indifference. We know the pain and bewilderment this brings, sometimes for decades.

The Philippines has seen more public cases of sexual abuse against both minors and women in recent years than other Asian countries. Photo: CNS/Damir Sagolj
Praying mother in the Philippines. Photo: CNS/Damir Sagolj

I’m intimately acquainted with the dangers of making a relationship into an idol so that you hide everything and pretend that all is well – until it isn’t. But I realised that there was another sort of possible idolatry in a family, involving your children. Many Catholic parents pray fervently for their lapsed and wandering children, and meanwhile hold fast to their own beliefs. But others feel forced to choose between the two. In their eagerness to keep their children close, some parents end up watering down or denying essential elements of the Catholic faith.

Mother and son together PHOTO: pixabay.com

This is especially a temptation when the adult child is cohabiting, or is same sex attracted and sexually active, or is divorced and now remarried civilly. It’s too easy to find weak priests who will explain away these situations to the parents.

The parents desperately grasp these untruths, hoping that they can square the circle and keep both their faith and their children with no awkward conversations. And yet Jesus Himself told us – more than once – that this isn’t possible.

Everyone’s prayers matter – from the oldest to the youngest. A family prays during Mass in the Church of St Catherine in Bethlehem,Israel. Photo: CNS, Debbie Hill

When you choose to follow your children out of the Church, no one wins. When you choose to believe lies just so you can keep your kids close to you, no one wins. You can keep the lines of communication open with your lapsed children if you can – but not at the expense of sacrificing your own soul.

An icon of the Holy Family is seen at Pope Francis’ general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican last March. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring

When you choose to keep your Catholic faith and pray for your children, everyone wins. When you choose to believe the truth even when it’s painful, everyone wins. When you choose to keep Jesus and His Church in the picture, graces can flow where you least expect them. It’s a sign of true faith – and also of true love. And God is never outdone in generosity.

Dr Philippa Martyr is a Perth-based historian, lecturer and researcher. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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