I failed today- sorry, this is long

Hi everyone; I am not sure if this is in the right category, so please feel free to move this thread/tell me where I should be with this.

Today I talked w/my stepmother for the first time in many months. My father died almost 2 years ago and I’ve never been that close to his widow, mainly because they lived about 6 hours away from me and I never saw her that much while they were married. (They married long after I had grown up and moved out.) But today I felt the need to call her & just say ‘hi’, how are you doing?" so I called.

While they were married, they attended a Catholic church where they lived. I didn’t know much about my dad’s widow, so I just assumed she had always been Catholic or was a happy convert. When I called today one of the first things she said was that she had stopped attending their Catholic church now that my father was gone- she said she’d just been going “for him”- and that she had returned to the Baptist church as she had been raised in the Baptist faith. She went on to say that she didn’t think it made much difference, as long as you ‘felt comfortable’. Not wanting to immediately offend her, I said, "Well, as long as you are being fed (spiritually) and then I related how once I’d been very tempted to leave my Church and attend a (much closer) Episcopalian church nearby, but that in the end, I couldn’t get past the Anglican lack of belief in the transubstantiation of the Host, (and a few other differences I touched on with her), and that I believed in the Real Presence and felt I could not attend the Episcopalian church.

I then asked her how she reconciled herself to the Baptist church’s views on the Eucharist. (She knows the difference in the RCC’s teachings vs. Baptist views.) She assured me that she “still believed” in the Real Presence, but didn’t think it made a difference where she received communion and then she said that there were “many Catholic things” she still “kept” but that she was much happier at the Baptist church because a) she was raised Baptist, b) she and my father agreed while he was still alive that they did not care too much for their local Catholic church, but she went because that is where my father insisted on going, and c) her new Baptist church is much smaller and she felt “much more at home there” and “not lost in the crowd”. She went on to say how involved she is in this church now and that she never “knew anyone” back when she was Catholic. She complained that the Catholic parish she’d belonged to had built a new church, which she said was a “beautiful building” but not a church (meaning she didn’t like the architecture of the new church building.) She didn’t like that the money that had been spent on “a bunch of statues” that the parish was now trying to pay for. She also added that she resented the Catholic insistence on weekly attendance of Mass, and said that she didn’t think that “God kept an appointment book.” and that it was “terrible” that the RCC said you sinned by missing Mass (she also said she attends church services almost every week, but doesn’t feel any guilt about missing a service at her Baptist church if she can’t make it.) About my retaining my Catholic faith and NOT going to the Episcopalian church, she simply said, “Well, you are Catholic, so that is where you belong.”

I said “well, maybe all the Christian churches are many parts of one body, each contributing to a different need” - to which, she readily agreed and said again that she doesn’t think it 'matters much where you go to church, so long as you go."

The point of all this is that even while I was talking with her, I felt I blew it- I felt I was condoning her leaving the RCC, even when inside I felt that it was terrible that she had left. I simply didn’t know how to approach someone who was very familiar with the RCC, had been attending for years, and then left it because she felt “more comfortable” elsewhere. How do evangelize someone who should know better and what can I say to her if and when we talk again, without totally alienating her? I would like very much for her to return to the Catholic faith, but she seems to have her mind completely made up already. This is my dad’s widow and I feel like he would want me to keep in touch with her. I feel terrible about this and felt I should have handled it better.


Hi wildervine, and welcome to CAF. I don’t think you “failed” at all in your conversation with your stepmother. In fact, I think you handled it very well. It was good of you to call her on Mother’s Day, and that wouldn’t have been the time for a deep discussion about theology, anyway. It doesn’t sound as if she was ever truly convinced in her heart about the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church – if she had been, she would not have returned to the Baptists. And besides, being widowed, she probably craves the social support she is getting at her small Baptist church, which she was not getting in her Catholic parish. If you were to try to evangelize her, she would probably resent it, esp. because the two of you have not had a close relationship over the years. Given the physical and emotional distance between the two of you, I don’t see that there is much more you can do except to pray for her, and maybe tell her that if she ever wants to discuss her choice that you would be happy to talk with her. But I think you’ll have to leave the ball in her court on that one. You are not the one ultimately responsible for her choice; she is. But God bless you for caring!

I don’t think you failed
I think perhaps parishioners at her old Catholic parish failed in not being more welcoming, in getting she and her husband involved in parish life, and I suspect, in failing to offer any help, comfort or support when she lost her husband.

It doesn’t sound to me like you failed.

First, it’s not that your stepmother left the Catholic Church. She never joined it in the first place, did she? It sounds like she went to Mass with your father but never became Catholic.

Second, you’ve left the door open. You didn’t condemn her for going back to her roots but had a civil conversation about why you think it’s important to be Catholic. She knows that she can talk with you again.

Well, thanks everyone, for being so understanding and encouraging and thanks for the welcome. I do still wish I’d been better prepared and could have said something that may have led her to re-consider her decision. I’m having a hard time understanding how someone can know what the RCC teaches (especially about the Eucharist) and still return to a Protestant church. When it’s someone in your family, even someone distant, it grieves the heart to think they somehow missed all the riches Catholicism has to offer.

I am not sure whether my step-mother actually ever went through R.C.I.A. or whether she was just attending the church my father wanted to attend. But I agree that even if she had gone through RCIA, she never really converted in her heart.

We don’t talk very often, but if this ever comes up again, I think I’ll very gently try to address some of the ‘issues’ she had with Catholicism. I’m not an experienced evangelizer, but I believe my father would have liked her to remain with the RCC and I’m still kinda kicking myself for not effectively addressing the comments she made. She is not ‘angry’ at the RCC, just rather indifferent, so maybe there’s still hope.

Perhaps you could read a book like Matthew Kelly’s “Rediscovering Catholicism”, then, send it to her with a note “I found this book interesting. Let me know what you think of it?”

Maybe invite her to a Catholic event, to hear a speaker or to a conference.

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