ASK FATHER: New adult convert son still with non-Catholic parents is pressured against the Faith

From a reader…


Fr. Z, my daughter’s boyfriend became Catholic last night; she was his sponsor. His parents are protestant and go to Church on TV. This morning they told him if he didn’t watch the preacher with them that they would throw him out. They told him they didn’t want a conflict in beliefs at their house.

He is in college and is living at home. They are threatening him with loss of a roof. He can’t afford a place of his own because of school.
What advice should I give him?

As a convert myself, to a new convert, I am compelled to mention a couple things, although I don’t know many details of his and their lives.

First, as an adult convert it is likely that he was confirmed when he was brought in at the Vigil. Confirmed! In the CATHOLIC Faith. That sacrament is precisely for moments like this: to provide graces and strength to be firm in the Faith when making hard choices.

Next, Luke 9: “Another said, I will follow thee, Lord; but let me first take my leave of them that are at my house. Jesus said to him: No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

This young man is already being challenged.

As Job said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

Faith is more important than either school or roof. He is an adult but he is young and, more than likely, strong and relatively energetic. He is capable of working hard. Really hard. He may not have a “good time” for a while, but life was not intended to be a sabbatical. The Sabbatical comes later!

It’s probably time to get going and get on with life as a Catholic.

Luke 9:57, 61

And it came to pass, as they walked in the way, that a certain man said to him: I will follow thee withersoever thou goest. …

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. APX says:

    It is possible to go to school and not live at home. I’ve done it for almost 8 years. He’ll probably have to live with roommates (which is a whole host of other issues in this day and age. One has to be very discerning.). Maybe he’ll have to go to school part time and work full time, take online classes part time if that’s available so he can do school around his work schedule.

    I would also speak to the priest who brought him into the Church and explain the situation given his new faith. Clergy (at least where I live) have the ability to act as a referral agent for low/below market housing, or maybe there’s a parishioner in the congregation who owns rental property and can give him a place to live a discounted rent. Failing that, the priest may know someone or some empty-nesters with a spare room who would be willing to take him in as a boarder or as a tenant, or the priest might be able to help him meet parishioners his age whom he may be able to be roomies with. If there’s one thing about joining a parish that I learned is that sometimes when you’re in need, people will band together to help on whatever way they can once they know there’s a need.

  2. maternalView says:

    I will pray for this young man. He is learning what it means to be Catholic! Family members often present the biggest challenges to our faith! He needs to pray for his parents as he begins to live life as a Catholic. He needs to immerse himself in his faith so he had the strength to endure this challenge.

  3. Malta says:

    I had the most unusual conversion story of any I’ve heard. I was an atheist and my Dad is a Deist who hates Christianity. But one day I was headed to class at the University of Michigan and I kept hearing Lourdes, Lourdes (but it didn’t sound like “Lords” so I didn’t know what the heck it was) I was trying to process what it was) I went up the hill to the University of Michigan Hospital and a car pulled right in front of me with a bumper sticker that said “Lourdes “, this was just minutes after I heard “Lourdes ” in my head. I had no idea at the time what that place even was, but of course I had to investigate it because to me the “coincidence” was bizarre beyond belief. Well, that’s how I became the first Catholic in my family tree which has been in America since the time of our Founding Fathers. I now know it was a miracle. I’ve written for the New Oxford Review and wrote a book on Catholic Mysticism. My protestant relatives think I’m a little crazy. But I was able to confirm my grandmother into the Church before she died. But getting back to the post I might be wrong, but to appease those I live with and support me I would watch those ridiculous preachers and tune them out–there are ways to pretend you are listening to something and not be listening to it.

  4. Baylor_convert says:

    Prayers for you, anonymous reader. I was there 11 years ago when I told my parents I was even considering becoming Catholic. Meeting with the financial aid department might help. Speaking to your own major department might help. Being aggressive about getting a job (or jobs) and seeking other living arrangements might help. I will say that living at home on breaks was very helpful for my family to see that I was still their daughter. I’ve mended things about 95% over time, despite becoming Catholic that year. My roommate wasn’t as fortunate and is still largely estranged from her family and had 2-4 jobs and a tight belt through college to get through. It’s hard, but the stakes are high. Keep Matthew 10:34-39 often in mind. I’ll be praying for you.

  5. Benedict Joseph says:

    You have given the correct advice, Father, and it is with hesitation that it must be noted that clergy, religious and members of the episcopate are loath to put their own practical welfare at risk within ecclesiastical life when similar fortitude is mandated – as it is continually at this juncture in the life of the Church.
    One might actually regard some bible thumping fundamentalist on television to be of far less danger than giving ear to the cacophony of mendacity, error, and sophomoric drivel holding pride of place in what are supposed to be the safest corners of Catholicism.

  6. thomistking says:

    I am not sure this response really answers the question. This is partially because of the ambiguity of the question: what exactly would it take for this young man to placate his parents? If all the want is for him to sit in front of the TV for an hour on Sunday mornings, and it won’t be threat to his faith (and he will be able to make it to mass), then it is hard to see how it could be prudent to simply refuse to do this. If they want him to deny the faith however . . . Obvious he cannot do that.

    I have a close friend who became Catholic a few years ago (now studying for a doctorate in theology at Catholic University), and after immense pressure from his parents they came to the tacit agreement that when he was home he would attend his parent’s Church in the morning and then go to the TLM nearby. This seems reasonable to me. Everyone at the Church knows he’s a Catholic, and see him leave early to go to Mass. This situation seem analogous.

  7. gheg says:

    His girlfriend was his sponsor? Doesn’t that create an impediment to marriage?

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    All RCIA programs should probably be making contingency plans to help new Catholics. This sort of thing does not always happen, but it happens often enough. Sometimes physical safety could be at stake, as well as livelihoods, marriages, and homes.

  9. Thorfinn says:

    Your correspondent may be heartened to remember that this is an old story, made new once again — converts have been placed in conflict with their parents and have had to make difficult decisions time and again, age after age.

    And it really is a difficult decision: exactly what approach to take. I would simply encourage the young man to consider that spiritual goods outweigh all others; choose his course based, first, on what is best for his own soul in accordance with God’s will, and secondarily, on what is best for the souls of his parents & others. But one’s own soul comes first; that will never lead you wrong, even if doing what is right looks like it may be causing a great deal of trouble for oneself and everyone else. Life is complex, family interactions are complex, and we can’t fathom all the good that comes from simple acts of obedience to the Lord’s will.

    School, work, money — all are helpful in this life, but there are lots of miserable people with degrees, good jobs, and lots of money. They are not the source of true happiness.

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    Perhaps here’s too little discrimination and persecution of Catholics nowadays. Back when our Catholic identity was strong (and conspicuous) enough to justify real prejudice against our Catholicism, it confirmed us and strengthened us in our pride and faith as Catholics, visibly and really different from the rest of the world.

  11. Carrie says:

    Sounds like there’s more dynamics at play in his relationships with his parents than just this. And, I hope his decision to become Catholic was for him and not to impress a girlfriend. If he is really committed to this new path and being Catholic, I agree with APX that his pastor and new community might be resources; and with Fr. Z, that Confirmation provides the grace and strength this young man needs to move forward. I pray that in time, his parents and he will open their hearts to one another and reconcile.

  12. Gripen says:

    His parents “go to church” by watching TV. Why can’t he just sit on the couch and look disinterestedly at the screen while the preacher man is on, as long as he also fulfills his Sunday obligation and lives as a Catholic?

    Honest question, I’d really like to understand. It seems like Father’s advice is, tough luck, you’re Catholic now so you’re gonna get kicked out.

  13. JustaSinner says:

    One thing we Catholics forget is how connected we are as a group. The person that wrote that email needs to put out the word that this young man is in somewhat of a dire situation and needs a place to stay/live. Considering the age of parishioners, I can’t help but think there are more than a few parishioners that would invite him in in exchange for mowing/shoveling snow/light upkeep.
    If we don’t ask, NO ONE WILL KNOW!

  14. Ave Crux says:

    This Post is a VERY interesting “coincidence” to a question I just received this very morning from a friend by email.

    This person was in religious life for almost 20 years following a conversion to the Catholic Faith. The individual recently found it necessary to leave the vocation for reasons of health and has had to take up residence with his parents due to lack of immediate employment prospects.

    One parent is Protestant and the other is a non-practicing Catholic. The Protestant parent has accompanied this individual to Catholic Mass on a number of occasions and most notably during this past Easter.

    That same parent has now asked this individual if he would acompany her to Presbyterian services in a kind of familial “reciprocity” of companionship, totally nonchallenging.

    This individual is very strong in his faith and would like to see this parent convert to Catholicism at some point, so he wondered what he should do in this circumstance to help maintain a good relationship and encourage the possibility of a future conversion, but does not want to offend God by what could potentially be unnecessary or inappropriate concessions.

    I would appreciate any input on this question to help this individual.

  15. @ gheg who asked “His girlfriend was his sponsor? Doesn’t that create an impediment to marriage?”

    The answer is “No” See Fr. Z

  16. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    In response to Ave Crux’s request for ideas / suggestions for the person in poor health who left religious life: I wonder whether the “valetudinarian” (person in delicate health) might keep up – to the extent that is possible – the strict horarium which his community adhered to. Perhaps he adopts the way of life of the Third Order of his former community (if they have one), and lives according to a strict daily schedule after the manner of Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Rose of Lima, and many other saints of the Middle Ages. Or perhaps he creatively adapts the horarium of his former community to a Christian way of life in the world, living with his mother and father.

    If he creates his own schedule, perhaps his time is carefully filled with a balanced selection of pursuits and activities: (i) set times for Mass attendance (hopefully daily) private prayer such as the Holy Rosary, Adoration and Holy hours; Scripture reading, and study; (ii) accomplishing the various chores, errands, and household tasks in and for the home, which make family life both attractive and dignified, but which may be burdensome to his parents who are getting on in years; (iii) attending to his own health – following a careful program of healthful meals, exercise, rest, and recreation, as well as faithfully keeping his appointments with his doctors, physical or occupational therapists, as applicable, as well as researching online the latest developments in treating his condition, and following up on them; (iv) continuing the search for gainful employment, even if only part-time, and working from home, stuffing envelopes, or some such work, until he’s able to find more suitable work, . . . and turning over to his parents a portion of his wages, as a grown man ought to do; (v) volunteering (if possible) with his parish and/or other charitable groups to assist those in need, including teaching CCD (?); (vi) maintaining friendships within his former community, where possible, and developing wholesome friendships with other Christians in his new neighborhood.

    If the valetudinarian takes up such a schedule, (demanding, but flexible, according to what is reasonably possible), and both parents see him living out such a schedule, then he may plausibly reply to his Protestant parent, that although he appreciates the desire for reciprocity, due to the time commitments he already has, to add further engagements (such as attending the Protestant services) would be to jeopardize his health.

  17. maternalView says:

    Ave Crux–
    I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that no matter how strong one may believe he is in his faith the possibility of a fall is real. There’s enough opportunities to become lax in the faith or to even sin so why add to that by attending a non-Catholic service regularly?

    It seems unlikely this parent will convert because the Catholic attends the Protestant service. The parent needs to be exposed to the Catholic Mass.

  18. Everyone, thank you for all the advice and prayers for this young man. In my question to Fr. Z, I said my “daughter” but she is my granddaughter. Typo. She is almost 20 and I have had her since she was born and she was homeschooled, “Seton”. So, she is very in line with the Church. She met this little fellow, 22, at work. When he decided to start RCIA they were just friends. As he got to know her at work he noticed she had a very high moral character, unlike most of the girls in our little town, and loved God very much. He decided, without saying anything to her, to go to the Catholic Church and ask how to join. He was already in RCIA two weeks before he told us. He said he wanted the spirituality that she had and he knew it came from her faith in God through the Catholic Church.

    The two would visit here at home and talk about God and the Church, just as friends. After a while they decided to date. As far as his parents, they are very controlling and have caused this young man a lot of grief. When he first told them he was joining the Church they said they were behind him as long as he was a Christian and believed Jesus was the Savior. I don’t think they thought he would go through with it and they were even at the Church Holy Saturday, but left after he was baptized. This kid was floating when it was all over and then the next morning his parents said to him what I said above.

    He came and spent the day with us after all that went down and when he left his parents told him not to come back. While he was here he and my granddaughter said a novena prayer to St. Joseph. Not too long after that his mom sent him a text and said he could go home. I made sure he was armed before he went; exorcised salt, Miraculous Medal and St. Benedict Medal. He already wears a brown scapular and my granddaughter bought a green scapular for him a few months ago so that was already in his home. I advised him to keep those things under wraps for now. Some protestants think Sacramentals are hokey pokey things, so he can make use of them privately.

    I called him today and asked how things were going and he said everything was good. Someone here mentioned that maybe he is only Catholic to impress my granddaughter, but that isn’t the case. Months ago they had the discussion; she asked him if they split up and went back to being just friends would he remain in the Church and he said that he was in this for the salvation of his soul and if they split that he would just ask God what he wanted him to do next.

    I thank all who prayed for this young man and his parents. God bless you!

  19. Fr_Andrew says:

    @ gheg :

    Not unless they are Eastern Catholics.

    Previous to, and in the 1917 Latin Canon Law on finds that cognatio spiritualis/i> a dirament impediment (Canon 1079). This was removed in the 1983 Canon Law.

    In the 1990 Eastern Code (CCEO) Canon 811.1 retains this impediment.

    In general it is a really, really, really bad idea, even if it is not an impediment to marriage. It take the spiritual relationship and adds a carnal and romantic one which disturbs the right order : Your “Godmother” is your girlfriend/wife. That should sound wrong, because it is. It mixes carnal concupiscence with spiritual matters.

    And beyond that there are other practical issues. Consider what might happen if they break up, for instance. Your feelings and heartbreak will be directed toward your “Godmother” who still has a duty before God toward you, but the emotions, bad blood and history will be baggage to always taint that relationship, if it can even exist.

    Simply put, while there’s no impediment, the Church, in Her wisdom used to prevent such things for a very, very good reason. Even if She does not do so by impediment now, it certainly is the mind of the Church to detest such things.

  20. Ben Kenobi says:

    Oh wow. So much I want to say here.

    First off, he must not comply with the request to leave mass and attend church with his parents. If they are willing to throw him out then he must give them that option. He must not ‘precipitate’ the crisis so to speak, but he must not comply. Does he have a vehicle? I was in an awful situation myself (and yes I did get kicked out), and had to live for many years on my own. I did not have a vehicle and was not within walking distance of mass. I had to request the use of the car until I found a friend willing to give me a ride to mass. My father was furious when he found out I was getting rides.

    The breach did not come later until I was finished my second to last semester of school, where I was kicked out and had to live on my own. I would advise that he continue ‘keeping his end of things’. Make sure you are going to school and working hard and doing well. If they do kick you out, you need to make it the most difficult decisions they can make.

    My advice from a practical standpoint – save up all your pennies. If you are in a relationship with a lady and planning on getting married in the *near* future, save everything that you can. If you have a car it is easier, but if you don’t you’re going to have to be obedient in every other matter.

    The goal here is two-fold – to finish school without an enormous debtload when you are done. Is it fair that this is all being dumped on you? No. But you have done nothing wrong, except do exactly what you should be doing.

    Be prepared for that day, if/when they kick you out. Talk to the parishioners now and make plans – roomates. You can usually rent a room without too much of a cost and live that way. I did that for years and years and got myself through. It wasn’t easy, and I resented not living with my family, but that was their choice and not mine. I did not leave them.

    As for your girlfriend/fiancee – pray. Pray together and pray apart. This is an incredibly difficult test of your faith and hers. She is going to struggle and have difficulties and say, “why is this so tough”, and “there must be an easier way.” Have patience with her too. It is not an easy life but… it is TEMPORARY. This is not going to last forever.

    I will pray for you and your girlfriend tonight. I wish that I could do more. You are most certainly not alone. Do NOT give in to going into mass.

  21. Ben Kenobi says:

    “I advised him to keep those things under wraps for now. ”

    Wise advice. Fundamentalist protestants are *not* receptive to scapulars. And private devotionals are not meant to be public anyways….

  22. Ben Kenobi says:


    “That same parent has now asked this individual if he would acompany her to Presbyterian services in a kind of familial “reciprocity” of companionship, totally nonchallenging.”

    This is a tough, tough conversation. There is the diplomatic approach and there is the truthful approach. I think that this is an occasion where the truthful approach would be best.

    Ask her if she believes that the presbyterian service and the Catholic service are the same? The point I am trying to draw out is that there is a reason why Presbyterians have open communion and Catholics do not. Presbyterians do not have an obligation to attend services as Catholics do. By her request for you to attend services with her you would be forgoing your obligation to attend mass.

    That being said, there is nothing stopping you from attending a ‘non-mass’ event hosted by her church. I would recommend attending that instead and that you bring up this suggestion to her. This way you can communicate that you respect her and respect her gestures of outreach without making inappropriate concessions.

    Be prepared that this may not go well, but the most important thing is to govern your reactions to her. She needs to see that you are not rejecting her, but suggesting a better alternative. Be gentle.

    As for the other suggestions, they have more to do with his filial obligations and not with his church attendence. Offering them up is a good thing, but it doesn’t address the heart of the issue. Conversion is not possible without truth, however harsh.

    I did this once for a Jehovah’s Witness lady who asked me to participate and I explained why I couldn’t. We worry about the responses when our first concern should be the truth.

  23. Imrahil says:

    And it really is a difficult decision: exactly what approach to take. I would simply encourage the young man to consider that spiritual goods outweigh all others; choose his course based, first, on what is best for his own soul in accordance with God’s will, and secondarily, on what is best for the souls of his parents & others. But one’s own soul comes first

    That is very wise advice.

    what exactly would it take for this young man to placate his parents? If all they want is for him to sit in front of the TV for an hour on Sunday mornings, and it won’t be threat to his faith (and he will be able to make it to mass), then it is hard to see how it could be prudent to simply refuse to do this. If they want him to deny the faith however . . . Obvious he cannot do that.

    This also is wise advice.

    Allow me a little degression.

    When St. Thomas More when he was held as an officer of state to swear an oath contrary to the Catholic Faith, he quit his job. The King accused him “you have committed high treason by denying the supremacy of the King in Church matters”. What was the Saint’s answer? Was it “Well, you do not have the supremacy in Church matters?” Obviously he could have said that, but obviously he did not (not at that instant) and still is a saint of the Catholic Church.

    What St. Thomas More did say was “I am innocent of the offence I am charged with; I have not spoken about the matter, and staying mute is not the ‘denial’ which the law declared treasonable”. He did not take the anti-Catholic oath which could have saved him, because he refused to sin against God and his conscience: that’s what made him a martyr. But all his Catholicity didn’t stop him to follow a rather convincing strategy of, well, weasling himself out of the situation, being prudent as a snake. That, perhaps, is the statesman in him. If the jury had stuck to the law and not abused their power to convict him on what was very probably a made-up false evidence, he would have been successful. – Only then when his head was off anyway, he spoke out in the open.

    End of the digression.

    We have to have a clear, casuistical (pace the Holy Father) standard of morality which is as strict as necessary and as lenient as possible; which does put on converts and other Catholics all burdens they have to bear as Catholics, while freeing them of any other burdens that might make the load too heavy. (That is not saying that even so, it may not some time be heavy.)

    It is perhaps not entirely wrong to suggest that uncounseled convert’s zeal is perhaps not the best judge in the matter.

    In this sense:

    There was (I guess) once a rule of not attending non-Catholic Church service. The rule, as such, has for good or ill been lifted; it is legal for the Catholic to attend a non-Catholic Church service. It is, sure, illegal under natural law to bring one’s faith into danger. But for all the need of being careful, this does not mean “it is in itself wrong to do anything that is wont to bring a lot of people in danger of faith, or has the reputation to do so among the faithful populace”. One might estimate that in a convinced and well-educated convert who is non-physically but very really forced there, the danger may be small. In which case, one might perhaps think twice about making a stand on the laudable but not quite necessary action “I refuse to watch this TV show”.

    (It goes without saying that anything of such a nature that causes all Catholic Sunday Masses to be missed is right out.)

  24. The Masked Chicken says:

    This is a tough situation and hardly, I think, resolved, although there may be peace, at the moment. Ultimately, the problem lies, it seems to me, with the poor theological understanding of the parents, for which they may or may not be culpable. Going to church on tv?? Are there no churches, nearby? Are they simply attached to this particular tv preacher? That would not the exercise of a religion that involves a personal involvement with Christ, but, possibly, a subtle form of idolatry.

    As strange as it might seem, this son has to reacquaint his parents with the notion of the Church as the Body of Christ, meaning that no one goes to Christ in isolation. He has to explain that the concept of the ecclesia involves, of necessity, other people. In other words, as strange as this might seem, he ought to offer to drive his parents to a church of their choosing. As long as their Christianity is a hidden one, a Christianity that has no public consequences, they are, in fact, being hypocritical in asking their son to stay home and be a party to their closeted church attendance.

    It could be that if he insisted that he will go with them to a real, physical “church” (Protestant eccelsia body as opposed to an actual church, which of necessity, must be Catholic), he would find that they would stop asking him to go to tv church. The problem, it seems to me, is that his parents want to be justified rather than challenged in their faith. Going to a physical church would involve dealing with Christianity in the flesh. It might involve being challenged.

    The son could simply remind his parents that the Resurrection was not a tv event and that people met together, cowered together, and, ultimately, rejoiced together. Even the Desert Fathers had to come back to be with other like-minded Christians, from time to time.

    The Chicken

  25. The Masked Chicken says:

    On the other hand, his parents might just be shy or insecure. I have to stop commenting on situations where I do not have all of the facts.

    The Chicken

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