In the Company of God … and Mary … and Mom

My parents were visiting with us this week. Dad put in the dog fence (thanks, Dad!) … and Mom roped me into one of “those” conversations. You know the kind: high in drama, low in resolution.

This time, the subject was Catholicism … my practice of it, to be precise. I’ve had six years of intensive formal faith formation … but because in her mind I’ve rejected everything she taught me, she can only conclude I’ve been “brainwashed.” She accused me of considering her a pagan going to hell because she’s not Catholic (where she got that, I have no idea). Yet clearly believes that the only reason I have any chance at heaven at all is because at one point in my childhood I prayed the “sinner’s prayer.” Not because I’m a Catholic Christian … but despite it.

*Sigh* “I never said you were a pagan, Mom. I never even thought it.”

“You say it all the time, with your actions! You wouldn’t even go to church with us at Easter!”

And there it was. For her, the fact that I won’t take my kids to their church when we visit them, or at the very least insist on finding a Catholic service that we can attend in addition to theirs, is proof positive to them that we consider ourselves better Christians than they are.

“It’s not that we’re better Christians, Mom. It’s that I need all the help I can get to stay spiritually strong … and the Catholic Church is the only place I can receive the Eucharist. It’s the only place I can be part of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Christ.”

She rolled her eyes. “By what you do, you are teaching your children that Grandma and Grandpa aren’t real Christians.”

“Actually … by not taking them to your church, especially when you have a communion service, I avoid having them asking questions about why you aren’t Catholic. They notice stuff, Mom. They see that you don’t make the sign of the cross when we say grace. They wonder why you aren’t as excited as we are about Christopher receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. They want to know why Jesus isn’t present in the tabernacle at your church, as He is at our church. They notice everything. I tell them that you are Christians, but not Catholic Christians, and we pray for the time when we can all go to church together … in the Catholic Church.”

“So you DO think you’re better Christians than your father and me.”

“Not better Christians … just Christians who have access to graces that right now you do not. I’d be so happy if one day you would look more into the history of the sacraments, and let yourself consider what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you.’ I know how much the sacraments have changed my life … and I think they would bless you, too.”

“I don’t need sacraments. I have my faith. I can read the Bible for myself. I didn’t raise you this way … and I’ll never understand why you felt the need to forsake your spiritual roots.”

A light hit. “Mom, how did Grandma feel when you decided to stop going to the church you were raised in?”

“It’s not the same. I didn’t have a personal relationship with God until I was in my thirties. I was baptized in Grandma’s church, but I didn’t know God.”

“I met God in a profoundly personal way in my thirties, too … through the Church. I came to know my brothers and sisters in faith — all the saints in heaven. I came to understand that I have a spiritual mother who loves me and prays for me in heaven, just as you do here on earth.” (I knew I was treading dangerous waters here, since Mom has told me how hurtful it is that I consider Mary my mother.) “And just like you, Mom … I’m trying to raise my children to love God and serve Him with everything they have. That, I got from you.”

She sniffed, considering this. “I do get a kick out of watching you lead VBS and doing all the arts and crafts I used to do when you were little.”

“You were a great Sunday school teacher. You understood how important it is to be consistent with kids, to keep things simple and straightforward until they get older and can handle more complex issues. You brought us to church every Sunday, because Sunday is God’s day.

“And that is what I’m doing with my kids, too. We go to church … to our church … because that is the faith we are practicing. We go to that church because, as Catholics, we are obligated to go … and, because I want to be there. It’s not that I don’t want to be with you during that hour. It’s that I have a higher responsibility, one that I take very seriously.

“Mom, I want you to know that I understand that you don’t feel entirely comfortable at Mass, and that if you decide to go to your old church when you’re visiting us, I won’t be at all offended. If it means that much to you, I’m even willing to go with you to your church, by myself, on a Sunday when your church isn’t serving communion … so long as you don’t give me a hard time about going to a second service to fulfill my obligation to God.”

This was how the conversation ended. It’s not ideal, when issues of faith divide families. God intended religion to unite people, to draw them closer together as they approach transcendent reality together, on their knees. And I suppose if we were all completely rational about it, and worked hard to understand each other’s sensitivities and needs, the differences wouldn’t hurt so much.

As it is, I could relate to what Moses said to God in today’s first reading:

Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own” (Exodus 34:8-9).

“Oh, Lord … come along in our company. Even when at times that company is divided. Even at times when we can’t understand each other. Even when at times we find it impossible to get past certain hurts, certain realities, certain conflicts. There comes a time when we have to make allowances whenever possible for the feelings of others … but we cannot allow those feelings to deter us from doing what is right. And so, today I’d like to offer this prayer for those of us who have family on the other side of the Tiber … close enough that we can see their tears through our own.

Lord of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
God of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel,
From the beginning You created family.
From the beginning You ARE family.

One and holy Triune God, unify with bonds of love.
Soothe angry hearts and enlighten blinded minds.
Make us forgiving, consoling, kind.
Render us family, just like You.

Mother Mary, Queen of Sorrows,
See our pain and pray for us.
We are waiting for a miracle …
Send out a miracle of love today.
This column may be reprinted with the following credit line: “Copyright 2008 Heidi Hess Saxton ( Used with permission. All rights reserved.”

10 thoughts on “In the Company of God … and Mary … and Mom

  1. While I can relate to your difficult conversation with your Mom, I don’t think I’ve ever handled my own, similar conversations nearly as well.I hope I can remember the points you’ve made in this post in the future when the topic undoubtedly comes up again.


  2. Heidi,I know that your mom, in her heart and when she is looking at things in perspective, has got to be incredibly proud of you and your family. To be able to put into words the beliefs our your faith is a true gift – one you definitely possess. Thanks for edifying and inspiring me today for my own faith journey this week. You’re the best!Lisa


  3. Thanks for this great post, Heidi. An issue in my family, too, as my mom is an Anglican–only very recently returning to church after decades away. We basically don’t talk about faith, which is keeping the peace so far. 🙂


  4. I don’t know what’s worse – having “that” conversation with one’s mother or getting the silent treatment for the rest of one’s life. In my family it is the unspeakable topic. The love to talk about all their “ministry” and church activities, but if I bring up ANYTHING Catholic, silence reigns. No response. Awkward pause. Sigh!


  5. I think a lot of people can relate to this. Thank you for the right to reprint. I have posted it on my blog.Best wishes,Patrice


  6. All of us converts have been through this … I have to remember that Protestants in order to be true to their consciences will say things like this. I cannot stop that and I shouldn’t stop that. I know they mean well but it hurts. It hurts more to comfort my crying six year old after someone tells him the Catholic Church is wrong or when the kids at school say that he is hell bound. I went through it when I was a kid. Its part of being Catholic. Of course over my life I left the faith. My years as a Protestant were good. I learned a lot of great things. That said, by the grace of God I am back in the Church and my children love the faith far more than I did at their age. I just hope the pain they experience from well intentioned Protestants who do not understand Catholicism is something that helps strengthen them rather than confuse them. These arguments happen because people love you. When I converted back the people that I respected the most were the ones that at least considered that there were SOME stakes involved in converting. It isn’t like switching from one church to another over slight nuances in doctrine or mere preferences. You are taking a stand swimming the Tiber. You are saying Jesus founded a Church and we can know which one it is and that the truths of the faith have been faithfully carried down to us over 20 centuries of a sometimes vibrant, sometimes scandalous history. The ones that invoked the relativist “whats good for you” line actually disturbed me more despite the fact that conversations with them were far more pleasant. Give me conviction over indifference any day … William Eunice


  7. I found my way over here thanks to Lisa Hendey and was indeed moved and edified by your post. These conversations are so difficult (understatement). You have been gift of communication, though. What a blessing!Meredith


  8. I’ve been Catholic for 20 years. I remember my fear of Catholicism.My daughter, raised Catholic made a strange remark…she called a huge non denominational church “that big scary church.” Wow. Full circle.Conversations like this post hopefully help create some understanding, less fear.


  9. I’ve never had to have such a conversation to defend my belief. I have had to explain why RCIA takes so long to my cradle catholic mother who hasn’t been to Mass since before Vatican II except for funerals and weddings. She’s more curious than upset I’m choosing to become Catholic. I’ve been working on convincing her to return to the church, but with no such luck….yet. I’m sorry your mother is so indifferent to the Church. It could just be that she has had her feelings hurt that you are living your own life that isn’t what she envisioned for you. Hopefully she’ll come around and see what you have so beautifully defended.


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