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Help! My Evangelical family won’t respect my Catholicism!

ROSARY;OLD TEXT

Jessica Lucia | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Katrina Fernandez - published on 09/07/17

The best way to reassure them that you haven’t gone full pagan is to let them see the fruits of your conversion.

Submit all questions to @askkatrina@aleteia.org

Dear Katrina,

I have a few members of my family who keep insisting that I don’t “know” Christ unless I have a “personal relationship” with him. I converted to Catholicism after college and since then they’ve taken it on as their personal mission to “save” me. They have the same arguments that most people ignorant of the Church have, such as thinking that confessing to a priest prevents me from confessing to God, and that praying to the saints prevents me from conversing directly with God. They also think all the Marian devotions detract from the attention and worship due to God, etc. etc. I respect their beliefs, I just wish they’d respect mine. How can I tactfully tell them to get off my back?

A from TN

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Dear A,

As a fellow convert, a convert in the Bible Belt of the US no less, I can totally relate to your question. It’s also something with which I have personal experience within my own family.

Yes, you are absolutely correct when you state that this attitude is based solely on ignorance of Catholicism. You can try to educate your family, but in my own experience this wasn’t as successful as finally telling them very bluntly that they need to respect my beliefs. Sometimes simple and direct is the best approach. It avoids prolonged drama that can cause resentment and sour relationships.

It may also help you to see the situation as a sincere (if misguided) outgrowth of love. They love you, and their attempts to “save” you are born from that love. When you decide to have that final conversation on the subject, thank them for their concern and acknowledge that love. Tell them you realize they love you and have your best interests in heart but that they need to trust and respect your decision for Catholicism.

Right now, they think you’ve abandoned God, or at least stopped giving him all your focus by expanding your devotional life to include Mary and the saints. They want to see you building that “personal relationship” with Christ that is so central to Evangelical Christianity.  

Telling your family that the only true way to a personal relationship with Christ is through reception of the sacraments (because what is more personal than consuming the Eucharist?) will be totally lost on them. For them to understand your meaning  would require a belief in the Eucharist, which they don’t posses. Yes, instructing the ignorant is a spiritual work of mercy, but there’s more than one way to educate someone. You can give a man a book on Catholic apologetics but you can’t force him to read it. You can talk until your face is blue but that doesn’t mean he’ll listen. They can read Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, but if they are convinced that Christ is speaking metaphorically there (and only there…), then they won’t get it.

So, I wouldn’t focus on trying to educate them or inviting them to Mass with you, at least not right now. They aren’t receptive to it yet, as evident by their blatant disregard for your decision, and their attempts to argue you out of it. Give them time to come around and get re-introduced to this new, Catholic you. It may take several years before they get comfortable with the Papist in their family, but — especially if you demonstrate the fruits of your conversion by taking a loving interest in their lives — they will eventually come around. At that time you can start introducing to them practices and beliefs of the Catholic Church. The witness of your very life is the key to opening their hearts and minds. St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Bernadette Soubirous both experienced people in their own religious communities — fellow nuns! — who snorted at their spiritual lives, until the patient goodness of these saints turned the hearts of the skeptics.  

A lot of Protestants don’t understand the level of discernment and commitment that is required to convert to Catholicism. For them just a simple profession of faith to a pastor or fellow Christian is all it takes to be “saved.” They don’t know about RCIA, or that the process can take a year or more — that you can’t just become a Catholic overnight, but must study and learn and pray and discern — and that decision was born of faith and reason. Assure them that your decision is not something that came on a whim but a life changing event that deserves to be respected.

Meanwhile, as I said, the best way to reassure them that you haven’t gone full pagan is to let them see the fruits of your conversion. Let your life be their “instruction” into the faith. Being the only Catholic in your family will probably be the first time they’ve ever had any significant encounter with Catholicism. Show them through your own actions, charity, and prayerfulness that you’re growing in Christ and drawing nearer to Him every day.

This, in time, will be the best route to “get them off your back” and correct their misconceptions. It may even evangelize the Evangelical!      

Related: Is A Personal Relationship With Jesus Christ A Catholic Concept

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