Unfortunately, most of us know at least one family that is struggling with the heartbreak of a child who has left the Church. Maybe they married out of the Church or lost their faith after marrying. And maybe, like a lot of us, your own family may have one or more children whose faith has grown cold, who question the Church’s teachings, and who may have subsequently left the Church. If so, then you know the pain is indescribable. You know too well the sleepless nights of continuous prayer, the tears that come as you ponder what has happened. You’ve asked yourself the endless soul-searching questions: Why is this happening? More importantly, what are we to do? What should our responses be?
As parents, most of us try very hard to raise our children the best we know how and to instill in them eternal truths and values that will help guide them through life. All too soon, though, our children become adults and find themselves immersed in the ways of the world. It happens so gradually, doesn’t it? They may start going to Mass less and less often, praying less and less. Pretty soon, they don’t go to Mass at all. Then they may begin to question God’s existence in the first place. The world tells them they don’t have to honor the faith of their parents. The world tells them that it is up to them to decide what to believe. Your truth is your truth, and my truth is my truth––it is all relative, and one truth is just as valid as another. They are even told their parents have violated their individual rights. That is Satan’s lie! He wants to make black and white into gray.
We women, as mother’s, have the great privilege to conceive and bear children as given us by God. I have been so grateful to be able to exercise that gift. My husband and I were blessed with two natural children––a son and a daughter—and we homeschooled them from early on. Taking very seriously the mandate from God to raise them in the Church in accordance with the Magisterium, we felt called to be a homeschooling family in order to teach them the complete Truth along with all the reasons and Traditions behind it all.
Nevertheless, my husband and I have experienced first hand what it feels like to have our children depart from their heritage. Our son claims himself to be an agnostic. And when our daughter was about 18, she started seeing a non-denominational young man whom she met at a nearby junior college. At first, she was only seeing him in group activities, as we required. Almost immediately, discussions took place regarding mixed-faith relationships and the difficulties involved. She seemed to understand the reasons for our concern and had discussions with him about this issue. Over the next few months, as she saw him more and more frequently, the discussions continued, but with no evident resolution in sight. She continued her relationship with her non-Catholic young man; and as I write this, she is preparing to marry him outside the Church.
The chain of events unfolded gradually, but the pain and negative feedback from family members began almost immediately. How could this be happening to our family? We find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster, but God has not let us down. He has given us the support of many faithful Catholics who lift us up when we experience negative feedback from our daughter and other family members.
Our daughter’s decision set in motion a complex course of events, spawning many questions and creating many quandaries. Are they going to marry in the Church? Is he going to convert? How are their decisions going to impact my husband and me and our involvement in their wedding? What ramifications do we need to consider?
Should we help support their wedding financially? Would we be implicitly or overtly showing approval of the marriage? Should we go to the wedding, but sit in the back and leave before the reception starts? As parents of the bride, how could we attend without the traditional participation expected of the bride’s family? Can my husband walk her down the aisle? How would it look if her dad didn’t walk her down the aisle? Would that cause her undue embarrassment? Should we not attend at all? How do we explain to her seven adopted brothers and sisters that they can’t go to their sister’s wedding? What would be the best way to avoid as much pain and scandal as possible? After all, we do love our daughter and care about how our decision will affect her and how it will impact our future relationship. How much support can we give this marriage without compromising our beliefs? Can we find a way to make a stand without causing undue stress? What does the Church teach about attending invalid weddings?
The Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament that confers grace on the recipients, and that there is a form and matter to be followed to be valid. The Church does not say explicitly what we should do about attending in cases where that form is not followed because the circumstances vary so much from one situation to another. Are you a parent or cousin? Are the intended baptized Catholics; and if so, where are they marrying? Is the couple cohabitating before marriage? What are the particulars of your situation?
So here is the list of specifics in this instance: We are parents of the bride, and she is a baptized and confirmed Catholic. She is marrying a non-Catholic who has not been baptized. They are cohabitating before marriage. They are planning a wedding outside the Church. They are not marrying in a Christian church of another denomination, but outdoors with a rented preacher.
You may ask then – what ARE we going to do about attending the wedding? My husband and I both did a lot of research and sought spiritual advice from priests, deacons, and faithful Catholic friends. The Holy Bible, Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law were our primary sources of information. We also sought articles from Catholic Answers in San Diego, CA, as well as documents and encyclicals on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website and EWTN website. There was a plethora of information on Marriage, yet few definite guidelines on attending invalid or illicit weddings.
The Church further teaches that marrying invalidly is a mortal sin. It also teaches that if we cooperate in any sin by participation––not hindering or supporting in any way––then we are liable for that sin as well. Check out Catechism on the Catholic Church numbers 1868, 2284, 2287 for a start. Ronald Lawler’s The Teaching of Christ is also a good place to read what the Church teaches about marriage.
My husband and I became convicted that we could not support such a wedding in any way. In order to avoid as much scandal as possible, we have decided we should not attend the wedding at all. How could we abandon our Faith just to keep from making things difficult? How could we decide to avoid taking the hard stand when our Lord died for us on the Cross?! This has been the toughest decision that we have ever had to make as parents, but we are at peace. We know that it is the right thing to do––to put God before our own considerations and stand up for His Church. For after all, we are united as the body of Christ and His body is the Church.
Why do we think so? Because we are called by God to spread the Gospel. We are also obligated to uphold the teachings of the Church. These are dire times. They require extreme action. We parents cannot sit by and say nothing. We have to take a stand. Yes, we may all have made some of the same mistakes. Does that justify our children’s wrong decisions? Does that mean we are not allowed to object when we see our children making mistakes? Doesn’t our personal knowledge rather give credibility to our objections, solid evidence to support our opinions? It gives us a perspective of experience upon which to form our reactions. Don’t we all wish someone had spoken to us back then––candidly, and with a caring compassion––in an effort to stop us before we made those serious mistakes? Honestly, where do we draw the line? When do we––and, if not us, who will––make the effort to see that the madness stops?
My husband and I discussed with our young couple their decision to live together before marrying and the sin of that lifestyle. Marrying as they have planned would not take away that sin. Furthermore, marrying outside of the Church makes that wedding invalid, as well as illicit, based on the fact that her fiancé is not baptized. But what does the world tell them? That they don’t have to accept their parents faith and values, that they are independent adults and have the right to make their own choices. Where have we heard that before? Perhaps in a garden somewhere, under a forbidden tree?
We all find ourselves questioning our parenting skills, don’t we? What did I do wrong? What I should do now? As parents, we can only give our children back to God––as His children––at their birth and recognize that we are simply caretakers. God uses us to raise these children, despite our lack of abilities. We have to believe that He will triumph in the end, for He is their Father forever.
So what do I think this trial of ours is all about? Is spiritual warfare what is going on? Is it just a phase our children are going through as they spread their wings and try out the world and what society says is good? If so, time will bear that out. My husband and I have tried to get a sense from our adult children of what is at the root of it all, but they don’t seem to be able to articulate to us what that is. I think that is a real source of frustration––not knowing what prompted them to leave the Church.
My husband and I have been convicted to take a hard stand concerning the wedding and uphold the teachings of our Holy Mother the Church, because at some point the Truth has to come to the forefront. It has to be facilitated by those of us who have the courage to act on what we are convinced is the Truth. Persecution may come. Jesus never said it would be easy. I ask you – where does the madness end? How do we stop it? By standing by and being passive? I don’t think so!
So for us––we will stand for the Truth in the Church’s teachings. We can not waver and still pray that our children will see the Truth one day and be led by our steadfastness back to the fullness of Truth in the Holy Catholic Church. Please God!
Deborah Beebe and her husband live and homeschool their family in Alabama.
Copyright 2009 Deborah Beebe