Losing our Children to the World by Deborah Beebe

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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

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9 Comments

  1. Deborah, I wanted to thank you for sharing your writing on CatholicMom.com! Hope we will be able to hear from you again in the future. It was a pleasure meeting you and your children in Alabama. You live in a beautiful area!

  2. How you can hold your daughter to faith decisions that were made for her (baptism, catechesis) or by her (confirmation) as a child is beyond my comprehension.
    Disapproving of her shacking up outside of marriage I understand, but I can’t see holding her to the standards of the faith she was raised in as a child when it comes to who she marries and where her wedding takes place. Shunning her marriage may only serve to drive her further from the Church.

  3. Thank you for sharing what is clearly a heartbreaking situation. My children are still young, but this situation has come up with both mine and my husband’s side of the family a few times. We came to the same conclusion as you. The strife it caused lingered for some time, but I still cannot have made a different decision. May God’s blessings be with your family as you go through this difficult time.

  4. I’m afraid I have to agree with Katharine. We all may strive for perfection in our lives, but we all fall short. Your daughter, if she is over 18 as you have said she is, if she is no longer living under your roof and ‘by your rules’… is her own person now, she (and her behavior) is no longer your responsibility. What she does or doesn’t do in her life is now between her and God, with no one standing in between.

    You have to decide if you are going to continue the authoritarian role in her life, with all of your very hard and fast rules that do not allow for any grace or mercy… or if you are going to take your proper role, by her side, as ‘fellow pilgrim’ on this path of life… loving and encouraging her but at the same time allowing her to make the decisions that are hers to make now.

    If you want to have a relationship with her, you should be there, at her wedding, to celebrate with her and to be part of a very important day in her life. Just because she is marrying someone who is non-Catholic does not mean she’s going to hell now. Her relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is in her heart and lives between her and God, has absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic church and all of it’s religious trappings. If I were your daughter, and you chose not to be there on this very important day, it would be very difficult for me to not feel unloved by you, to feel as though all of your rules and regulations and legalism are more important to you than your own child. Think about that day. Think about where she is going to be and what she is going to be doing… and where you are going to be and what you are going to doing… can you really live with yourself if you choose NOT to be there for your little girl???

  5. Note to Robin and Katharine… this is not about the daughter, it is about the parents. They are Roman Catholics and as such believe the tenets set forth by our Catechism, Canon Law, and Tradition. They are not sitting in judgement of their children. They are sitting in judgement of themselves and doing what they feel they must do to keep themselves from committing or supporting sin. They are not forcing the children to ‘conform’. They are striving to live their own lives in accordance with their Church beliefs.

    I have seen a similar situation in my own family (twice) and in my husband’s family, in both cases the parents taking the stance they needed to take although it broke their hearts. And all parties came out of it the stronger. Respect and love were still nurtured (and eventually bloomed like never before) even though differences of ‘faith questions’ and ‘relative morality’ arose.

    I bet Deborah will give St. Monica a run for her money as she is praying for the conversion of her children!

  6. It is obvious by reading the article that Deborah and her husband struggled with this decision; consulting *many* sources for information and insight on how to handle this situation. I am sure that they were searching for any way that they could participate and still remain clear in their consciences that they were doing the right thing. I do not believe that they stand in judgment of their daughter. As Shirley said ,“they are sitting in judgement of themselves and doing what they feel they must do to keep themselves from committing or supporting sin“. They will stand before God one day and be judged; I believe they are simply acting in accordance with their consciences which have been rightly formed in accordance with what they believe to be God’s will and revelation as taught, understood and promulgated through the church’s Magisterium.

    As to those who disagree with Deborah’s decision, I would say that I’m sure this decision has brought Deborah and her husband much pain and heartache. It is clear that they did not make this choice lightly. In addition, I’m sure she realizes that she cannot control her grown children’s actions. But although she cannot control what her daughter does she need not endorse her actions either. If she were to do nothing or say nothing she would implicitly be stating that what her daughter is doing is okay. Two of the spiritual works of mercy include: instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner. So yes, Deborah is being merciful. Our modern world has confused mercy with permissiveness to the detriment of society. I believe that if their daughter has any wisdom or any respect for her parents she will in time see this as an act of love. Deborah and her husband are showing that the church and her teachings are important and that it is not enough to just say that we believe, we must *live* our faith. Even, and I would emphasize, most especially, when it is hard to do so.

    To Deborah, I cannot imagine your heartache. My husband and I only have two small children (with the hopes of more in the future) and we talk about this topic often. How do we instill a love of Christ and his church in our children? What will we do if one or some of our children decide to leave the church? I like what you said that, “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“. My husband and I ask God daily for the grace to do His will and that He will give our children the gift of faith.

  7. Deborah and her husbamd made one of the hardest decisions parents can make. They were faced with the decision to follow God’s laws of love or their daughter’s rebellion against God’s laws of love. My wife and I are very sympathetic to Deborah and her husband. Years ago we were faced with a very similar decision. Their decision just as our decision was extremely emotional and difficult. Just as they have done we too have done. It wasn’t about lack of love for our daughter or support of her as they too are undergoing. This is a matter of belief. Belief in the church that Jesus Christ established on earth upon the Apostles with Peter as it’s earthly head. Belief that the Holy Spirit of God guilds the church in all matters of faith and morals. Deborah and her husband just as my wife and I chose God and his bride the Catholic Church over a daughter’s emotional rebellion against God and His bride. Now their daughter is not rebelling out of spite nor contempt for God , but out of a blindness that sometimes comes with loving another person over God. Jesus said in Matt: 20, 29-30. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will recieve a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. Deborah and her husband will not become alienated from their daughter. Instead they just as my wife and I will still love their daughter and communicate often. To show true love will mean taking this moral stand and holding it. Over time their daughter will see the love they have shown in this current action.

  8. An adult woman’s decision to have a relationship with her heavenly father and her savior Jesus Christ, outside of the ‘Catholic Church’, is not rebellion. It is a faith decision and rightfully hers to make. I seriously doubt God or Jesus have a problem with that… only you. Similarly, her decision to marry a man who shares her faith, and to have that marriage take place somewhere other than a ‘Catholic’ church, is not rebellion. They are doing what God has called them to do, and doing it in His name. They are taking a wrong and making it right. Be happy and quit looking for manmade contrived reasons to give yourselves ulcers. I seriously doubt God is worrying about it nearly as much as you are.

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