Frustrated by my nominal Catholic/practical Atheist family

I’ve been harboring a lot of frustrations which have been coming to a head and today reached a point that I left a family gathering. To give some background, I am a recent revert after having been an atheist for the past 14 years or so. Since coming back about a year and a half ago, I have thrown myself headlong into learning the theology, philosophy, history and doctrines of the Church. All of my other family members (except my dad, who converted from Presbyterianism when he married my mother) have been in the Church all their lives. They all believe in God, make a point of never missing mass on Sunday, have crucifixes and sacred art in the house, etc. yet for all this it would be impossible to discern a difference between the spiritual side of their everyday lives vs. that of a liberal atheist.

In addition to the total absence of any semblance of a spiritual life (which I know I cannot completely judge from the outside), what angers me more is that my whole family has the attitude of “I’m not so bad a person, and that’s all God expects of me.” The issue that arose tonight was that, while all the women of our family were playing a board game, my dad, brother in law and my niece’s boyfriend were all gathered around the computer. I went in to see what they were up to and my dad was showing them pictures his friend had taken of scantily clad models and talking about going to a restaurant called “Twin Peaks” (a restaurant much like Hooters, with an equally suggestive and disrespectful name). When my niece’s boyfriend said he was planning on going and asked me if I wanted to go, I just diverted the question and left the room, told everyone bye and left. It just infuriates me that my dad, who used to lecture me about respecting women when I was a teenager, doesn’t see how hypocritical this is and how blatantly sinful. I also now feel very resentful towards my niece’s boyfriend as I know she would be hurt if he knew he were in there talking like he was; not to mention that it makes me wonder just how much respect he really has for her. My brother in law, to his defense, seemed a bit uncomfortable with the whole conversation.

This was just the straw that broke my back though. My whole family uses contraception or sterilization, several dress TOTALLY immodestly, they spend almost all of their time watching TV (and usually programs that are very antagonistic to Christian values) or reading about celebrities than anything else. I know I’m not perfect (God knows I’m as big a sinner as anybody), and I don’t expect my family to be perfect. It just makes me angry that they live as though being Catholic is just a matter of going to church on Sunday and that they don’t need to expend any effort on developing themselves spiritually, which is what we are ALL here to do. I’ve even been teased and mocked by certain members of my family for being so “religious.” I really want to say something to them, but I don’t want to just erupt into an angry tirade. How can I tactfully tell them that the way they live is setting them up for Hell? Should I even? On the one hand, I fear for their souls but I also feel what I think is a bit-less-than-righteous and even selfish anger at their disregard for the faith I now hold so dear, which makes me think I shouldn’t say anything because my motives aren’t totally pure.

What should I do? I would love some outside perspective; my vision is too clouded by my own sinfulness and personal involvement.

Thank you for taking the time to share your story, clearly you love these people very much. I can see you are very concerned for their souls and your reversion to the faith has made you even more “on fire” for God! That is a wonderful thing!

If you can, try and take the anger and irritation that you are feeling and turn it into pity. People who attend Mass, yet contracept and view pornography are in a very sad state. They are victims of the culture and victims of satan’s lies. They need your sympathy as they are lost. When you feel anger in your heart thinking of their hypocracy, instead let your heart feel as if it were breaking, just as the heart of Jesus Christ is breaking.

It’s not as if you will never be annoyed by your family ever again, however if you are in the habit of feeling sympathy for them instead of ruminating on their bad qualities it will bring you a better sense of peace and, I beleive, closer to Christ.

I speak from experience, some people in my life were infuriating to me by their behaviors it made gatherings impossibly stressful for me. Praise be to Jesus Christ I was able (with His help) to shift perspective. Although gatherings can still be difficult I find them easier as I am praying nearly the entire time for them to be open to God’s love. Hope this helps a little bit. Please take care as best as you can.

I think it is easy when one comes back to faith or becomes on fire for God to become annoyed with others that don’t share in that reawakening. While you love your family and are concern for their souls, getting angry and frustrated at them won’t bring about the change that you now experience with coming back. The better thing is to try not to get into fights with them over faith and their lack of it but to channel your energy into praying for them which I am sure you already are doing. They should see you as much happier than before. They probably won’t respond to anything else but extreme kindness and love.
St. Francis said preach always but only use words if you have too.

I can understand that when there is something you hold dear and others don’t cherish it the same way you do, it’s hurtful or uncomfortable or perplexing.

But it does sound like even though they call themselves “Catholic” or “Christians”, your family has very different beliefs than you and therefore, they will live their lives differently than you.
You cannot expect them to be like you, just like they can’t expect you to be like them.
It sounds as though they are equally frustrated with your beliefs as you are with them.

Maybe you can ask them to refrain from certain talk or topics when you are around out of respect for your feelings and hopefully that will help keep the peace among you all.
But it’s more up to you that if a situation gets too uncomfortable for you to be around them, like the moment by the computer, just remove yourself as you did and they should understand if you have to do that.

I often feel the same way with my family, especially my parents. It is SO frustrating and I am sick and tired of people just talking not-so-behind my back that we’re just “religious” and that we’re stupid for using NFP. I say, kill 'em with kindness. Seriously, we are called to LOVE as Jesus loved. Mother Teresa often said that many people suffer from loneliness and being unloved and that it is often harder to love those in our own families than people like friends whom we can pick and choose. My husband always reminds me that when we live out life following Christ, other people just see that we are peaceful and are drawn to it and want it.

Example: After really struggling with anxiety and depression we were shocked (for the first time) to be expecting our 3rd baby. Even my soft spoken mom said “I hope not” when I told her the news and I was dreading telling my family so I just used Facebook. However, we did our best to always speak positively about the baby and trust in God despite a rough and painful start of the pregnancy. Nine months later we had a baby girl the day before my mom’s birthday and even though my mom has only gotten to see her twice, I know she is madly in love with this baby and this little girl is changing hearts. I know it drives my family nuts that we use NFP and that I’m not afraid to discuss it with the women every time another “who’s using what kind of contraception” discussion comes up. (I know NFP is not contraception and when used correctly, not as Catholic birth control, it brings a true change of heart where children are not seen as the enemy and something to be avoided permanently).

Hope this helps.

The more you study theology etc. the more you’ll be aware of these differences. I’ve been in similiar situations and have quietly wondered about people too. :confused: I don’t get it.

Recently, many of us have wondered about Catholics who voted for Obama. How anyone who calls himself a Catholic can vote for a pro-choice President who actively promotes a culture of death, is beyond me. On the other side, we have friends who would never vote for him but engage in activities which you described. And others who are totally active in the Church, never watch anything close to porn, never curse, but are the most selfish, self centered and hurtful people you’d ever meet.

Pray for a conversion of your families hearts.

Their relationship with God is immature. To them, He is someone who keeps them from doing are the bad things they like. They are practicing the Faith to give him lip service. They are keeping up appearances without truely loving God in an honest relationship with Him. It’s like a teenager sneaking around, smoking cigarettes behind his parent’s back and hoping he won’t get caught.

How do we guide a wayward adolecent to maturity? Mostly by showing good example our selves.

I have a whole family of total heathens. Most are becoming more set in their immoral, Godless ways as the years pass on. It’s hard to love them . It’s hard to be around them. So I pray and endure.
I remember that God loves them infinitely more than I do.

I’m think God placed you in that family to serve Him. It sounds like you are doing His will in the way you handle hard situations in your family.

Good post, but rather than pity, how about aiming for COMPASSION? I think it’s what Jesus would do!


You are so right, I sometimes struggle thinking of the right words. Compassion far better describes what I strive for rather then pity thank you and God bless!

I wouldn’t call the family’s faith immature. I’d call it superficial.

OTOH, I would call the OP’s faith immature. It has authenticity and is deepening and is filled with earnestness, but it has some distance to go. Now, I don’t want that taken the wrong way. What the OP is feeling is very much normal for the “newly returned”; a new baby is by definition immature, and so is a newfound faith no matter how earnest it is. I too returned to the faith after 22 years of what I call “fundamentalist atheism”. And I have been exactly where the OP has been with exactly the same frustrations at more or less exactly the same point in time.

Ultimately though, as we progress through many bumps and obstacles on the road, as we go through our dark night of the soul, we emerge on the other side with a profound transformation and a ability to realize the following:

  1. We are often no better than the people we criticize when it comes to our own faith life, we are all sinners who often fail to walk the talk; this is true no matter how much we try to fool ourselves that our faith is deep. At an early stage of the faith walk, it tends to be very much based on observance of rules rather than transformation and a fostering a direct and deep opening to Christ and to allowing His grace to infuse us, without which we are totally hopeless. No better, really, than those we criticize. We cannot earn our way into heaven. If we try, ultimately we will fail.

  2. When we are in the early phases, we can make a royal pain of ourselves. First of all trying to mask our faults in basic rule-following is superficial and really only makes the poison come out in other ways. Secondly, we can appear holier-than-thou and sanctimonious. as we see the faults in others but in ourselves, not so clearly. However those around us do.

  3. We start to realize that the only power of change we have is not over others, but, and this is key here, over ourselves. The only person you can change is the one staring at you in the mirror every morning. One has to learn to pick one’s battles wisely. Trying to change someone else’s behaviour will always end in a huge expenditure of energy, anger and frustration only to lead to an epic fail.

  4. Going through this process of self-awareness hurts like heck. It is truly an exercise in humility when we realize that those who saw our own faults that we cannot see, basically were right all along.

  5. Once we come out the other side though, our faith is much more mature (though still has some ways to go). We find a new-found serenity, and our ability to avoid caving in to our worse temptations diminishes; maybe not instantaneously, but over time. We learn to let go. We learn detachment. We realize that what’s important is not frustrating over the foibles of others; as we learn to laugh at our own foibles, we start to realize that the best way to deal with those around us who, we once thought, didn’t measure up, is simply to love them to pieces.

Every now and again someone will wonder where you find your serenity at that point. And that, is what evangelizing is. It isn’t exhortation, it isn’t proselytism. It’s magnetic attraction.

That’s some excellent advice OraLabora. Really well thought out and communicated. I’m sure the OP will appreciate it immensely.

I just have two bits of advice for him though.
*]Live your life with joy
*]Be joyful! Show others that despite your struggles, you are still filled with happiness knowing the love of God! People are more likely to want to become like you if you’re happy rather than sad.
*]Be a light for the world (and your family to see)
*]In combination with being joyful, show the entire world that joy and the strength of your love.

God bless you.

It is wonderful to hear of your conversion! I needed to hear that because last night my husband’s brother told him that he no longer believes in God. We were very sad to hear this and we tried to convince him of God’s love for him but I am afraid our attempt was fruitless. We can try and try but in the end it is the responsibility of each individual to reach out to God and to have a relationship with Him. It is a never ending process that bears much fruit if we allow Jesus into our lives. But God doesn’t force us so we can’t force anyone either. It is their choice to make even when it is hurtful to both us and God.

I think it is very merciful of you to be so concerned for your family and their spiritual poverty. Since you can only control your actions, be the best example of a Catholic man that you can be. Actions speak louder than words. And pray for them. I try to say the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day for my family and especially for the ones who are are so confused and even ignorant of God. You are very fortunate to understand what it means to be Catholic, to love God and to want to serve Him. Perhaps your mission is to set a good example for your family in a gentle way without chastisement but spoken with love and concern. Be patient because it may take many years but in the meantime you are planting very good seeds and some of it will sprout. Good luck, God bless and thank you for coming back to the faith!

Thank you so very much, Monicad. This is wonderful advice. I guess my concern is that I feel a responsibility to “admonish” my family, as Christ calls us to do for all who are persisting in sin, but at the same time I feel conflicted about saying anything because I myself have still been so mired in sin and am hardly a picture of Christian virtue. I don’t want to come across as trying to be holier-than-thou, because I hardly feel that I am. I’m just very disappointed that they show so little concern for or interest in their faith and spiritual growth. On the one hand, I feel like I’m committing a sin of omission and failing in my duty to my family when I don’t point out beliefs and practices of theirs that are contrary to Catholic teaching, but on the other I feel like I’ll just come across as a neurotic and annoying holy-roller if I say anything at all. :shrug: Anyway… just venting. Thanks again for your advice. I’ll take it to heart.

Thank you for your very thoughtful comments and sympathy. I don’t want to seem like I’m getting defensive, but I would just like to clarify something: I don’t consider myself any better than my family as far as living up to my Catholic faith. The only difference I see between me and them is that I am aware of what and why the Church teaches and they are seemingly not. So I feel that I have a responsibility to “teach and admonish”, as per Christ’s commands, but at the same time I feel exactly that I’m not mature enough in my faith to say anything. But at the same time, my family is quite possibly perishing. I just feel very conflicted as to whether or not I should try to educate them, to however small an extent, or just pray for them. Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to give such a thoughtful reply. I will definitely be reflecting deeply upon yours and several other answers I have received here; I think they will truly help me grow spiritually.

Hmmm… have you met ballet_dancer yet?

I don’t know . . . I know reverts who succumb to some of these pitfalls but I must say, I’m a cradle Catholic who - though I’ve gone through the “sins of my youth” phases years ago - still, I can totally empathize with the OP because I have had a ringside seat to my own family’s spiritual “unraveling” in the decades I’ve been alive. Some more than others, the younger generations especially growing up with less and less guidance from Catholic values (if they are even baptized/taken to church at all) - but the elder generations seem sort of depressed and demoralized as well. I don’t go to gatherings very often due to travel issues, but I see what some of them post on Facebook or hear about what’s going on via phone, etc.

I guess what I’m saying is I do give credence to his observations and don’t think they are just products of where the OP is at in his own spiritual walk. I feel the ache of his isolation because I’ve been there, too. And the not knowing what to say or do.

It is important, true, to trust in God - and recently I did have to put some of my dismay over my family more deliberately in His hands. But don’t be too quick, I suggest, to judge the OP’s motivations or sincerity or spiritual progress, okay? :wink: I realize the intentions were good so I will leave it at that.

@ the OP - you might read Patrick Madrid’s book Search and Rescue which deals with these issues of how to bring your family back to the Church. Or the Healing the Culture website may also be helpful. And pray - we must pray for our families and for guidance in how to help them and how God wants us to approach situations like what you describe. :blessyou:

Well, I think that suggesting someone is going to hell is something the Church frowns upon and I don’t think that works terribly well in this era.

I think it may be best to talk this over with a priest for some guidance on how you can approach setting an example or evangelizing family members. I have a couple of more things to say:

My Grandmother had concerns about this with some of her kids and apparently the priest told her all you can do is raise them until they are 18 and then a lot of it is up to them.

I do want to point out that you shouldn’t worry about how pure your motives are when saying something. Don’t worry about being too perfect in all your communication.

Well, there’s certainly some shaky ground here, insofar as you’re returning to the faith so you’re not likely to make any waves by pronouncing judgements on people (or giving the appearance of putting yourself in a position to judge). That fourteen years is a cross you’re going to have to carry for some time when it comes to taking spiritual leadership in your family.

So given that that boat has sailed, you’re going to have to swim instead… and by swim, I mean you’re going to need to eat some humble pie and lead in a different way. Instead of getting angry and judgemental, then leaving (which didn’t really do anything to help the family members did it?), you could have pulled your dad aside later and told him *"You know, I’ve just returned to the church, and I’ve struggled over the last fourteen years with the morals that you taught me about respecting women. I really need your good example of that behavior right now, and I don’t feel like I’m getting it when you’re showing the guys those pictures or planning trips to places like Twin Peaks. Dad, I **need *you to be my role model for how to show catholic respect to women."

For the behavior of those watching disrespectful shows you can simply ask if you could change the channel when you’re around because you find the shows disrespect women/bodily integrity/catholic values in X way (insert the valid reasons) and you don’t want to be tempted to fall back into old habits of viewing people that way.

The bottom line is this: come from the position of the humble one who needs help from his family to stay on the right path. You’d be amazed at how people will respond when they think their morality helps another person to do better (rather than feeling judged about their own moral worth). But getting huffy and leaving certainly isn’t helping your family…

For the behavior of those watching disrespectful shows you can simply ask if you could change the channel when you’re around because you find the shows disrespect women/bodily integrity/catholic values in X way (insert the valid reasons) and you don’t want to be tempted to fall back into old habits of viewing people that way.

The bottom line is this: come from the position of the humble one who needs help from his family to stay on the right path. You’d be amazed at how people will respond when they think their morality helps another person to do better (rather than feeling judged about their own moral worth). But getting huffy and leaving certainly isn’t helping your family…

My OP was worded pretty poorly. It was written very hastily when I was still in a bit of a mood. I didn’t “get huffy” when I left. I actually kept pretty well composed and told everyone I had to be at work early the next morning (which I did) and that I needed to get to bed. I just felt like if I stayed around too much longer I was gonna say something I would regret, so I removed myself from the situation.

Anyway, this is also very insightful and you make some very good points. Thank you.

Thanks for your sympathy and advice; I’m glad to know that others understand where I’m coming from. Thanks for the book recommendation as well; I will definitely check that out!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit