Talking to my mom about family history in the Catholic faith


#1

Hi everyone,
I just wanted to follow up a bit on my earlier post about considering converting from Methodism, the faith in which I was raised, to Catholicism, now that I am married to a cradle Catholic:
Some of you might recall my earlier post when I mentioned my mom’s relatives, some generations back (early 1900s) belonged to the Catholic Church until a baby was born into the family and died before it was baptized, and was thus buried in a part of a cemetery called “hell’s corner.” My great-great-grandfather (I think-or maybe it was just a “great-grandfather”) was just a young boy when this happened, but was so affected by it that he decided then and there he was not going to be a part of the Catholic Church. So, as an adult, he broke with the Church and joined a Methodist Church instead. Meanwhile, one of my great-aunts married a staunch Catholic, which offended her father due to this break with the Church (meanwhile, my great-aunt and her husband had 15 kids!!).
Well, I told my mom the other day that the teaching of “limbo” had never been an official church docterine. She didn’t seem too responsive to this, only to say, “Well, a whole generation of my family was alienated” by this particular issue, docterine or no. She said she didn’t know much about that side of the family in any case, because there weren’t many records kept (they believed family history was “gossip.”). She doesn’t know many details about the incident. So, sensing she still has bad feelings about Catholicism, I didn’t pursue the conversation further.
I’m wondering if and when (and how) to proceed further. I think my mom would understand me at least exploring my husband’s church, since if we have children, it would be nice to raise them in the same faith experience instead of shuttling between two churches all of the time. Yet, I know my mom has strong positive feelings about the church in which I grew up, and her youngest daughter left that church to join a Lutheran church, which upset my mom a lot 6 years ago when it happened (she felt the Methodist church was “too liberal.”). Since my mom and I have always been especially close, however, I think for me to join the Catholic church would be even harder for her, since I would seem to not only be rejecting the faith of my childhood but also reminding her of her own family’s long-ago split with the Church. The more reading I have done about the Catholic Church, however, the more comfortable I am feeling as I progress (despite some thorny Protestant ideas that I don’t always realize I have until confronted with the way Catholics see things, not to mention my secular feminist leanings that seem counter-intuitive to the way women are generally perceived in the Catholic Church!). Anyway, I just want to be careful to not hurt her feelings, and yet there is a richness I am discovering to the Catholic tradition that I feel, frankly, she has lost out on, and because of this past issue she has with the Church, she isn’t even interested in learning more…that’s just the feeling I have right now.
Any thoughts/advice?
Thanks,
Sara


#2

I think you should continue to read up on the Church, and try to find all the doctrines and dogmas we are supposed to believe.
Maybe you could even teach your mom about purgatory…
I think you need to deal with your mom with patience, but you shouldnt not become Catholic because of the fear your mom instils in you. Maybe you are supposed to become Catholic to convert your mother!!


#3

Have you thought of contacting a local historical society about the cemetery or even the Church? It is very possible there was another reason for the name of particular spot in the cemetery. There are plenty of genealogy sources that can be accessed for free…


#4

Hi all,
I just posted a reply but am not sure where it went. I’ll try again

As to my mom converting: I doubt this will ever happen. To the extent that she thinks about Catholicism (which I don’t think she does very much, unless she thinks about me in relation to my husband, who is Catholic) -she only thinks of it in terms of the story of her family’s past and leaving the church. She is very happy in the Methodist Church to which she belongs. She is active in choir and has taught Sunday school for over 25 years. I don’t see her ever giving up, as she puts it, her “church family.”

As for my family’s history in the Catholic Church, I really don’t know where to begin, because we don’t know what state this whole burial thing took place in, nor do we know what year, the name of the church or cemetery…this side of the family didn’t really keep records. What little they did keep I am fairly certain one of my mother’s cousins knows so maybe I will start by contacting her. I am interested in this side of my family’s history…I think I heard they originated in Belgium and ended up in Quebec before moving to the United States…
I’ll keep reading and learning more about Catholicism in the meantime, though!
Sara


#5

Hi Sara

I remember your earlier post, but I don’t think I responded. Anyway, welcome to the forums, and prayers for you as you consider joining the Catholic Church. Here are my reactions to the issues with your mom and your considering conversion:

  1. This is not primarily about doctrine, this is about emotions and feelings. A lot of people here at CAF are very cerebral in their faith and they dismiss anything that is based on feeling or emotion. But these things are very real, and they have to be worked through.

Regardless of the Church’s actual teaching on the fate of unbaptized children, at some point during a period of profound crisis it appears that your family was treated in a very unkind and unpastoral way by a representatuve of the Church who left them feeling despair, rather than hope, as to the fate of an unbaptized infant who had died. Sadly, this was not the first time and it will not be the last time that someone in a position of authority acted in a way that was not Christ-like towards someone in need. In this case, it contributed to several generations of your family being separated from the Catholic Church.

I am reminded of Bishop Zubick in Pittsburgh, who earlier this year offered a special Mass in a “Service of Apology” asking for forgiveness from all of those who had been harmed by the church in anyway. The context, of course, is the recent abuse scandal. But more broadly, this was about seeking forgiveness and reconcilliation with those who had been harmed by the church at any time and in any way. This inlcudes your family. You may find the link below to an article about this service informative:

americancatholic.org/news/report.aspx?id=962

  1. I think you may be overthinking or overanalyzing the “blow” that it would be to your mother if you joined the Catholic Church. It doesn’t seem as though she has a problem with your husband’s Catholicism. While she seems to still have some lingering bad feelings about what happened with your family long ago, she does not seem very knowledgeable of the details or interested in digging them up. This does not seem like something that dominates her thinking.

She seems to have made her peace with your sister’s decision to join the Lutheran Church, although she was upset by it. It also seems that her decision was specifically framed as a rejection of what your sister perceived as shortcomings in the Methodist Church. If you decide to join the Catholic Church, perhaps you can frame the decision more positively, in terms of your reason for joining, rather than your reasons for leaving. In any event, hopefully your mom would recognize and respect that you are a “big girl” and can make your own decisions.

Do you currently attend the same church she does? If so, I imagine her biggest adjustment would be not having you at Church with her most Sundays.

  1. Where do you go from here? Does your husband’s parish have an RCIA program? Joining that to learn more about the Catholic faith would probably be helpful, whether you end up deciding to join the Church or not. At very least you would gain a better understanding of your husband’s faith.

If you decide to take that step, mention to your mother that you are taking these classes to learn more about Catholicism, and take it from there, one step at a time.

Good luck!


#6

I appreciate your thoughtful and insightful post. Yes, I do think my mother’s primary issue with either of her two children deciding to leave the church in which we were raised to join another church is primarily emotional. She intellectually understands my sister’s reason for leaving the Methodist Church (because my sister married a very conservative man, who, incidentally, also grew up in our same hometown church). The reason they chose to leave the Methodist Church was in part because of a guest preacher who gave a sermon one Sunday. He was from the African-American tradition where the delivery of the sermon was more emotional than what we stuffy Scandinavian-Americans (think Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon” stories as to an apt description of our general small-town populace) – are used to. My sister and her husband actually walked out of the church in the middle of the sermon, as did her husband’s parents–the only two families to do such a thing (and in my opinion, highly disrespectful). In any event, they postponed the impending baptism of their first child in light of this, and contacted our pastor afterwards to talk to her about what it would in fact mean to have their child baptized in the Methodist Church-this is where they were concerned the social issues mentioned by the guest preacher (who was very leftist politically) -represented the whole of Methodist teaching. Our pastor reassured them that, like most denominations, there are extremes of thinking at either end of the spectrum and then a “broad middle ground,” which is where she tries to approach things. They did decide to baptize the baby at the Methodist church, but only a couple of weeks later joined the Lutheran church across the street, where they have worshiped, along with my sister’s husband’s parents, for the past 6 years.
My mother was partly upset by this because that meant she wouldn’t have her nephews in her kindergarten Sunday school class. More broadly, she felt that her daughter was rejecting something she (my mom) felt especially close to: the church family (more than a specific denomination). So you’re right in that it was perceived by my mother as a negative thing (and, for good measure, my sister’s church, which my mom deems “large and impersonal,” just drove out a new pastor they didn’t like based on lots of rumours and, according to one parishoner, because he wasn’t friendly enough to people, even though he’d only been there less than a year. People were even leaving 'you better watch your back" phone calls on his phone, poor guy!).
As for me, I’m hoping she would look at my exploring Catholicism as natural considering that my husband is Catholic, and that going to the same church and applying the same religious focus in our lives would be appropriate for any children we were to have. I don’t feel so much that I am “rejecting” the faith of my childhood so much as “expanding” my faith to incorporate much that is new to me, such as Catholicism’s focus on a long history and how it pulls elements of so many different Christian influences (Mary, the Saints, the Rosary, the mystics, the contemplatives, social justice, the Sacraments, and so on and so forth)…in addition to the Bible, which was the focus of my faith growing up. This, I think, could be made into a positive, though I would doubtless have to counter the mistaken notions of Catholics “worshipping Mary” or “praying to Saints instead of directly to Jesus” or “praying to statues” and so on. (Does anyone have good counter-points to these notions??).
As for not attending my home church, I actually haven’t been going for a few months now-I live in a nearby town (20 miles away) and usually go to Mass with my husband. So, I think my parents are used to my not being there, though it would be a huge step if I were to join the Catholic Church.
I’ll look into taking classes, too, as well as keeping on reading.
Sara


#7

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