Even those who aren’t pursuing consecrated life often find themselves at odds with friends and family.
Those who renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom knowingly embrace a life of sacrifice. For many, this sacrifice is compounded by the opposition of their friends and family, opposition ranging from well-intentioned dismay to disdain to emotional abuse and threats of physical harm.
Even those who aren’t pursuing consecrated life often find themselves at odds with friends and family over their Catholic faith or the specific way they’ve chosen to live their lives in imitation of Christ. Though the suffering of being misunderstood and rejected by loved ones is difficult to bear, those who experience this opposition can find companionship in the many saints who had similar struggles.
St. Eugenia of Rome (183-258) was an Egyptian noblewoman who fled an arranged marriage after her conversion. Unable to live independently as a woman, she disguised herself as a man and began living as a monk; her wisdom and evident holiness led to her to be made abbot (before such a position was reserved to priests). Accused of fathering a child, Eugenia refused to defend herself. When she was brought to court to answer for her alleged crime, the judge was her father. He recognized his daughter and his joy at their reunion led him and her mother to conversion. Eugenia was ultimately martyred.
Blessed Godfrey of Cappenberg (1097-1127) was a fairly unremarkable married nobleman before a conversion of heart convinced him that he needed to turn his German castle into a Norbertine Monastery and enter it (his wife Jutta notwithstanding). Both his wife and his brother tried to dissuade him, but his father-in-law, Frederick, organized a force to attack the castle to attempt to seize it by force. Besieging the castle, Frederick threatened to hang Godfrey from its walls; ultimately, he abandoned his efforts and Godfrey became a monk, while Jutta became a nun.
St. Magdalene Yi Yong-hui (1809-1839) came from a family of saints: her mother, sister, and niece have all been canonized. But her father was a traditional Korean man who hated Catholicism, so his wife and daughters practiced their faith secretly. This secrecy proved problematic when the time came for the girls to marry. Magdalene’s sisterSt. Barbara Yi Chong-hui pretended to be sick and refused to get out of bed for three years until none of the non-Christian men would have her. Magdalene, on the other hand, faked her own death rather than marry when she knew she was called to celibacy. Leaving behind torn clothes marked with her own blood, Magdalene fled to the home of a Catholic aunt. Upon learning (some months later) that his daughter was still living, Magdalene’s father rejoiced and offered her the chance to live undisturbed as a consecrated woman; she was later martyred.
St. Maria Chiara Nanetti (1872-1900) was an impulsive, high-spirited girl who didn’t seem to be fit for religious life. When she sought to enter and her parents pointed this out, she was furious. When they refused to grant her permission to become a religious, she struggled against bitterness, despair, and hatred. Mercifully, her vocation survived this time of great temptation, and when she prevailed upon her parents, she became a Franciscan Sister, a missionary to China, and a martyr in the Boxer Revolution.
Blessed María Guggiari Echeverría (1925-1959) made a personal vow of poverty when she was 18, much to the dismay of her parents. Still, she was active and happy, serving children, the elderly, and the sick, so her family resigned themselves to her vocation. When she decided to become a Carmelite, however, they were less easily convinced. Maria was so vivacious; she hated silence and loved her work of service. Her family simply couldn’t see how a cloistered vocation could make her happy. The priests of Paraguay agreed, insisting that one as talented and fruitful as Maria had no business shutting herself away in a cloister. But while Maria knew they loved her, she had to follow the One who loved her more. She died only a few years later, a radiantly joyful bride of Christ in Carmel.
Servant of God Maurice Michael Otunga (1923-2003) was the son of a tribal chief in Kenya. His father had dozens of wives, but had chosen Otunga to be his successor as chief. When Otunga wanted to be baptized at 12, his father refused for a time, but ultimately relented. When the boy wanted to enter seminary, his father was silent for a full 24 hours, then dismissively said that he might go but would surely drop out. Though the chief spent the next years trying to persuade Otunga to abandon his vocation and return home to rule the tribe, Otunga was ordained a priest, then made bishop at only 33. Nearly 30 years after Otunga’s conversion, his parents were also baptized, now finally proud of their son’s vocation. Otunga was a powerful social justice and pro-life activist and worked with local Islamic leaders to oppose the use of contraception. He became the fist Kenyan cardinal.