Faith that wounds
I’m waxing personal and reflective this month. A few more installments in the series…this is number 11.
When you have a strong faith, and you also have children, your greatest desire for them is that they follow in the faith that has convicted you. This is what I want for my children, and it’s what my parents wanted for me and my nine siblings. So my rejection of the Catholic faith was heartbreaking for them. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective), I wasn’t the first of their beloved children to fly the Catholic coop and I wouldn’t be the last. One of my sisters had already defected; others would follow. She found a new relationship with Jesus in her break with the Catholic Church as had I; our younger siblings did not. They attended our parents’ anniversary Mass; my sister and I did not.
Completely independently, she and I had come to the same conclusion that we could not in good conscience participate in a ritual that we believed dishonored the Savior we loved. When I made my decision I wanted to be able to fully express my reasons and knew I couldn’t do it face-to-face because of my own insecurities, my father’s powerful persona, and the expectation of how it would hurt him and Mom. So I wrote and sent a 4 1/2 page, single-spaced, typewritten explanation that must have read like a “Dear John” letter to them.
Quoting Catholic resources and contrasting the doctrines expressed there with Scripture, I made my case for the failure of Rome to accurately represent the truth of Christianity. Me, barely a year and a half into my faith, schooling my very smart parents on the Church they had invested so much of themselves in for over 50 years. It was a bit audacious of me. That they were taken aback by it is surely an understatement.
I believe the reason I covered so much doctrinal ground in my letter is that I naively thought they must not have ever considered these obvious errors and once they saw how “anti-biblical” (as I described it) the Roman Catholic Church is they would forsake her for the sake of Jesus as I and my sister had. I envisioned a glorious day of redemption when my precious mother and father, having seen the light, would gratefully receive the assurance of salvation through faith alone and reject all of Rome’s blasphemies. They would together shed tears of joy for the knowledge they now had that heaven was theirs, purgatory was a myth, and they could live the rest of their lives unenslaved by the fear of death.
Well, there were tears alright. And anger…confusion…disappointment…grief. And I’m sure many prayers for MY redemption and rescue from the evil one who was influencing me. Sometime after their anniversary I received a handwritten letter from Mom that she began with, “Tearful thoughts from a heartbroken mother.“ Expressing her and Dad’s continued love for my sister and me, she defended the Church and poured out her anguished perplexity about how we had become so deceived, supposing perhaps it was a result of some unconfessed sin and unresolved guilt. And she assured us that they, and the Church, were waiting to welcome us back.
I’ve since been to Mass for a wedding or two and for multiple funerals, including theirs. They never abandoned their devotion and dedication to the Catholic Church as I had hoped, but their love for me and for all their wayward children continued unabated by our obstinacy. We had some discussions about our conflicting beliefs that were at times heated, but love always won out. When the priest sex scandal was so much in the news I wrote a letter to the editor of our local major newspaper and sent it to my folks ahead of when it was due to be published so they wouldn’t be blindsided, as it was critical of the Church, and written by their daughter. I knew Dad would be angry but I didn’t expect to hear that though he’d never been ashamed of any of his children, he was ashamed of me. The following day, however, a single rose was delivered to my home with a card that read, “I love you. Dad”
I hated disappointing my folks and causing them grief, and though I’m sure I could have been more gracious and tactful, I was, and remain, so convinced of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church that I could not be silent about them, much less return to her. I believe when I see Mom and Dad again, they will have an entirely different attitude about it.