What takes precedence: family or church community?

I always thought that the order of priorities for our lives go as follows:

  1. God
  2. Family (Spouse + family)
  3. Work
  4. Friends/ social activities (church community functions, social groups)

Is this correct? I need help understanding my cousin who seems to put his church activities above his family. He serves at church and has allowed the clergy and other parishioners to see that he is always available to them to the point that he does not want to let them down. He was at a dinner with family but left early to go to a church group meeting because he said that they relied on him to start all the electronics for the group. He has been constantly putting the church first for the past years of his life.

I told him that he should spend more time with his family especially since they are not practicing Catholics. Also, his parents are getting older, and none of them are attending mass regularly and I want to help him bring his family closer to the faith. But it just seems to me that he would rather be close to the church and its parishioners than his own blood. He did mention that they had put him down in the past for being so active at church. But I told him we can’t be affected by their opinions but to love them anyway and bring Christ to them.

For my own understanding, doesn’t God want us to be an example to our families by encouraging them to know and love Him? Isn’t our family more of an obligation than the church community? What is the true model of priorities in God’s eyes? Any scripture or reading to supplement your answer would greatly be appreciated.

Thank you.

~Romans 8:28~

I don’t think there is a Church teaching on this subject. Obviously, your own spouse and children are your vocation, so your obligation to them is pretty high. I don’t know that your parents and extended family are meant to be served prior to friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. Would you consider it bad form if he said he had to leave early to work his shift at the soup kitchen or to pick a friend up from the airport? Frankly, this complaint seems a little bit disingenuous to me. It sounds like you just don’t think his church group is very important or resent him being part of it. I actually have a cousin and his wife who are constantly being accused of spending too much of their time and money at their church and I tell other relatives the same thing. It’s their time and money and there’s no use resenting them for it because you don’t value the same thing. If you feel neglected, offer to spend time together at a time that works better for them.

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Of course the domestic Church is important. A husband or Father should not put Church activity over one’s family. But leaving a cousin early to attend a Church event? Sounds perfectly fine to me. Perhaps His vocation is with the Church… You should understand that in love and respect!

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Personally I think that is between him and those effected.

For me personally it would depend on frequency.

If I need to leave a weekly family dinner to help out at a once off/rare church event I would go. If it’s a birthday party/etc then the party takes precedence. If there are people there I don’t see often I would prioritize the party. If both are frequent I would split 50/50 or whatever I felt reasonable.

But that doesn’t seem to be what he wants. Be kind to his family, when he isn’t.

If he is double-booking himself, let him know that is a problem. Not OK to accept a family dinner invitation and then just get up in the middle of it to go to something else (regardless of what it is). He should say, “I would love to come, but I will only be able to stay until 7 because I have another commitment”. If he isn’t doing that, you may have a chat with him about his manners. Discussing his priorities with him, however, (in my opinion) would be out of line.

Other people

I agree with your ranking of 1, 2, 3 and 4.

However, your cousin’s life is his life, not yours. People can and do prioritize differently, and if your cousin’s spouse is okay with that and on the same page with him (as in, doesn’t have a big problem with him spending time at church) and the kids are not suffering (I’m not seeing any indication that they are), your cousin’s choices can be perfectly fine.

As someone else said, “family” for purposes of prioritizing family generally means spouse and kids, and would only include parents if the cousin was somehow responsible for their care, like they were elderly and living in his home or perhaps in a nursing home. “Family” does not include every aunt, uncle, cousin or non-dependent parent.

If his family and extended family are all non-Catholics and your cousin is a strong Catholic, it makes sense why he wants to hang out at church a lot. He needs people who share his faith and interests.

His spouse and parents are all adults and if they wish to start practicing their Catholicism, they know where to go to do that. They also can see your cousin’s example. I don’t think him hanging around them and somehow trying to convince them to practice their faith or go to Mass is going to have much effect. Plus, if they are putting him down for being active in the Church, I can see why he wouldn’t want to spend time around them.

In short: Your cousin’s choices seem reasonable, even if you yourself would choose to do something different. He is setting a good example while getting the encouragement and interaction in the faith that he likely needs. He doesn’t seem to be hurting anybody by doing this.
You need to butt out of your cousin’s life.

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