I thought I had failed my kids spiritually—then I went to my daughter’s parish

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

Accustomed as I am to attending Mass alone, it was with great joy that I recently went to Mass at my daughter’s parish.

Let me pause and note: I have waited a long time to say anything like the phrase “my daughter’s parish.” Although my four daughters were raised in the Catholic Church—and in fact sometimes felt like they lived in the local parish office during the years their mother was the director of religious education—they have not embraced their Catholicism as adults. Catholic parents know the tiny knife to the heart when, even though their adult children have turned out to be kind and thoughtful people, they reject the institutional church. The stab is not fatal, but it hurts.

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I understand why my daughter has joined this particular parish. It is a forward-thinking parish in a forward-thinking diocese. There is outreach to young adults and to the L.G.B.T. community. A banner across the front of the church proclaims it to be a welcoming and inclusive place. When I saw that the sign on the restroom door said “all-gender,” I knew that my daughter had come home to a parish that was not her mother’s church.

The church that I came back to after my rebellious young adult years was not my mother’s church.

And that is for the good. Perhaps it is a rite of passage: The church that I came back to after my rebellious young adult years was not my mother’s church, either. In my mother’s church, there were no female altar servers. The women had to wear hats or veils, and everyone received communion on the tongue while kneeling at an altar rail with a tray thrust under your mouth as though you were apt to make a mess, and the distant priest said Mass in Latin. My mother was not crazy about the changes brought by the Second Vatican Council. But I was. When I came back, it was as a female Eucharistic minister and lector whose daughters could be altar servers if they so chose. I was all in. I loved the guitar music as much as the emphasis on social justice.

The parish I later worked in, however, was quite traditional. You would have thought the sky was falling when some of my students brought liturgical dance to the youth Mass. As my daughters grew up, they spent a lot of time at the parish—and took in some unpleasant lessons. They saw the backbiting and politics that can permeate any workplace. They witnessed their mother sometimes get in trouble for making certain decisions. They overheard discussions about my job between my husband and me that they probably should not have, and for which I still feel guilty.

My daughter’s church sees everyone as the beloved children of God.

Then came the widespread scandal of the priest molestations, wave after wave of revelations of horrific child abuse, challenging the faith of many of us to our souls. Then my second-born lesbian daughter came out, in a far less inclusive and loving time, and her three sisters reacted protectively and appropriately. I resigned from my paid position at the church in order to support my daughter publicly. My daughters all grew up, my husband became an Episcopalian and, suddenly, I was alone at Mass. I felt I had not been a successful Catholic mother.

But my oldest daughter has come back to a church that focuses more on mercy than judgment, more on caring for others than condemning them. I am so grateful that she sees the changes and embraces them, rather than holding onto old resentments stemming from her mother’s church. My daughter’s church sees everyone as the beloved children of God. Her church has open arms rather than wagging fingers. At the start of his homily, the deacon at her parish smiled and said that whether we were first-timers or regulars or estranged churchgoers, we were welcome. We were all home.

My daughter is newly active in her parish. She told me how moved she was to be chosen to have her feet washed on Holy Thursday. She volunteers to handle social media for the parish. The fact that this role exists is another indication that this is not her mother’s church. The church’s future is clearly in the hands of the young and tech-savvy, as it should be. Her parish is an active part of the real world, also as it should be.

I have never been the kind of Catholic mother who prays in public or wears religious jewelry or makes a big deal when my children visit and do not go to Mass or demands that they only date and marry other Catholics. I have often blamed myself: Maybe if I had been more like that, my children would not have left the church. There have been times when I have only held onto my Catholic faith by the smallest of fingernails. I am a doubter. I am a protester. I have sat in the pew and wept for my lack of faith-filled parenting, for the opportunities I missed to keep my children close to the church.

But I believe my husband and I gave our children strong spiritual roots, the ability to think critically while acting compassionately and a deep sense of God’s unwavering love. When I spend time with any of our children, I figure we did all right.

My daughter and I sang “Here I Am” together at her parish. It felt good, because—thanks be to God—here we were.

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Vince Killoran
3 weeks 1 day ago

I can relate to much in this article--especially the pangs of hurt when I head off to Mass by myself. My son is pretty much done with the Church--at least for now--but my college-age daughter, who is gay, is still drawn to her faith. She too is excited to find a welcoming parish near her campus. The rumblings of change that ushered in a post-Catholic ghetto church have not even settled 50-60 years later; our children have no memory of this so must create meaning in a more diverse church and country.

So much of this alienation was avoidable. The cultural warriors stormed through our parish and transformed it into a harsh and narrow place. It's comforting to know that their victory was not complete. For now, I sit in the very last pew (which sometimes results in being recruited to help the ushers take up the collection!) and find the ministries that still make some kind of sense.

Andrew Wolfe
2 weeks 3 days ago

Advocates of unchastity and homosexuality started the alienation and were the original culture warriors. Lacking any Divine direction nor any justification apart from the birth control pill, they personally harangue any priest who preaches about these thing.

Lisa Weber
3 weeks 1 day ago

Thank you for the reminders that the church does change.

Andrew Wolfe
2 weeks 3 days ago

If you think the Church changes, you fail to recognize the eternal Body of Christ.

Mike Theman
2 weeks 6 days ago

A more appropriate sign would be "Welcome All Sinners," as that is really the essence of Catholicism: recognition of and seeking forgiveness of sins. People who adopt same-sex attraction as their identity do not seek redemption for embracing their homosexual inclinations. This is the "Church of Nice" at work, which is not really the Church at all.

George Kraus
2 weeks 3 days ago

Sure Mike, why be "Nice" when we can condemn people for being who they are? Isn't that what the Church is all about?

MARGARET O'NEIL
2 weeks 3 days ago

According to scripture, Jesus taught that we should love God & follow the commandments. He also said the two most important commandments were to love God & love one another. He never taught to have the narrow, cramped, and mean-spirited attitude Mike espouses regardless of any human-derived insertions into these simple directions you think you can add to God’s words. Quite the contrary. He told us to love God and love one another. If you aren’t doing that. you are placing yourself and your prejudices above God

Andrew Wolfe
2 weeks 3 days ago

I'm trying to reconcile the stated intent of your comment, "love one another," against your litany of accusations: "narrow," "cramped," "mean-spirited," "human-derived," "prejudices."

Mike Theman
2 weeks 2 days ago

Margaret - Do you know what sin is? It's the failure in love of God and neighbor caused by perversion. Love does not mean "be nice," but that seems to be the only message that young Catholics are getting from Sunday school teachers these days. Homosexual acts are sinful, regardless of how well-intentioned one is in engaging in them. But it's ok; one just needs to sincerely resolve to not engage in those acts anymore and confess them.

Roy Van Brunt
2 weeks 3 days ago

A brilliant and relevant article that touches on the anguish of many parents. I had two thoughts while reading it. First for Karen - a wise Jesuit liturgist (actually he who wrote Here I Am, Lord"!) once explained for me and for a churchful of listeners that the opposite of Faith is not "Doubt". The opposite of Faith is Certainty. So do not be ashamed of doubt.

Second, the movement you describe through "Church" - your mom's, yours, and your daughter's - is one that all of us in our adult years have experienced. It'a a strong credit to your child- rearing that your daughter continued to search until she found a place (note, I use "place" and not "church") at which she has been and is being fed. The church is not a building. It's not even a hierarchy (although many priests and bishops believe and act like they are the church). The Church is all of us - assembled and worshiping wherever that finds us. You've taught the important skill that many parents forget to pass on - that if you'r e not being fed spiritually where you are, then you have the moral obligation to move on, search, and find where that feeding may be found.

Far too many Catholics act in a way that says "church" for them is the geographical parish they find themselves living within. They go; they sit and listen and receive Eucharist; and they go home. "I went to Mass - box checked." There are parishes that fulfill that box-checking and that serve those who need traditional and essentially non-participative liturgy. But there are also parishes, even in the more conservative-minded dioceses, that have the focus of your daughter's, and that provided the needed link of being able to see and serve God outside of Sunday worship. Thank God she found hers. Will it now become yours too?

Joan Sheridan
2 weeks 3 days ago

I would like to read an article from a parent whose adult children value the Faith and are raising the grandchildren in it. I would like to know what those parents did when they were raising their own children.

Andrew Wolfe
2 weeks 3 days ago

Large family, two kids so far raising grandchildren in the Faith. We never missed Mass, nor was it ever an option entertained by anyone. We prayed. Most of all we implored God to embrace our children and keep them despite our crappy parenting. There is no "formula" as far as I know, but our hearts are wrapped around their salvation all the time with worry but hope.

Joan Sheridan
2 weeks 3 days ago

Thank you Never missing Mass sounds like a good start

Colin Donovan
2 weeks 3 days ago

Every cliche about what it means to be an Anglican, relevant and progressive is in this article.

Jim Lein
2 weeks 3 days ago

"Go to church every Sunday or you are going to hell" is hardly welcoming. Once you are old enough to have a choice about belonging to such a congregation, why would you choose to belong?
Love, scripture says, is what the church is about. And also forgive and judge not. Yet we have all these subsequent man-made rules that muffle and contradict these Gospel messages. No wonder, the young when they are old enough to choose, opt out.

Mike Theman
2 weeks 2 days ago

Picking and interpreting your own scripture, eh? I'll stick with 2000 years of Catholicism based on those man-made rules over your feel-good, anything goes approach any time. The young opting out says much more about youth, parenting, and catechesis than it says about Church teaching.

Jim Lein
2 weeks 2 days ago

I went with the Gospel from last Saturday evening at Mass (John 15:9-17), particularly Jesus words to his disciples: "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you." Those are not easy words. There are other people we don't like or approve of. But we are called to love them as He loves us. We are not called to judge. Loving and judging not is hard and out of the ordinary, and we are called out of our ordinary ways, out of our inclinations.

Mike Theman
2 weeks ago

But God does judge; he judges our acts and what is in our hearts. Judge not, sure, but don't forget the rest: lest though be judged. The commandment to love one another is not clear on its face, and without those man-made laws, it can mean whatever anyone wants them to mean to suit their own bad behavior.

GONZALO PALACIOS
2 weeks 3 days ago

Sister Valerie, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on [Catholic] parenting in this secular age. The fear of failed parenthood characterizes the loving labor of all fathers and mothers worldwide, not just Catholics. The Mystical Body has suffered fatal blows in recent times (sexual perversion, financial corruption, and theological confusion), as painful and deadly as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Great Western Schism, to mention a few from the past. Many decide to "leave" the Church, apparently allowing the Serpent to promise them a better kingdom elsewhere. OR, it could be that the Holy Spirit is inspiring them - young And old - to nurture the growth of the Mystical Body of Christ, now healthy enough to include members previously unknown and considered "disordered". Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, Gonzalo T. Palacios, author of Mary the Unwed Mother of God, To Be Perfect is to have Changed Often, John Henry Newman .

GONZALO PALACIOS
2 weeks 3 days ago

Sister Valerie, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on [Catholic] parenting in this secular age. The fear of failed parenthood characterizes the loving labor of all fathers and mothers worldwide, not just Catholics. The Mystical Body has suffered fatal blows in recent times (sexual perversion, financial corruption, and theological confusion), as painful and deadly as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Great Western Schism, to mention a few from the past. Many decide to "leave" the Church, apparently allowing the Serpent to promise them a better kingdom elsewhere. OR, it could be that the Holy Spirit is inspiring them - young And old - to nurture the growth of the Mystical Body of Christ, now healthy enough to include members previously unknown and considered "disordered". Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, Gonzalo T. Palacios, author of Mary the Unwed Mother of God, To Be Perfect is to have Changed Often, John Henry Newman .

Henry George
2 weeks 3 days ago

Valerie Schultz,

When you say:

I understand why my daughter has joined this particular parish. It is a forward-thinking parish in a forward-thinking diocese.

What do you mean ?

Likewise when you say:

...and everyone received communion on the tongue while kneeling at an altar rail with a tray thrust under your mouth as though you were apt to make a mess...

[ Was it not a paten that was held under your chin, not a tray, and not so
much to prevent a "mess" but rather to help prevent the Blessed Sacrament from falling to the floor. ]

Would it not be better to say you:

'liked the guitar music plus the emphasis on social justice'

as one does not love things, but only persons.

When you say:

" The church’s future is clearly in the hands of the young and tech-savvy, as it should be. Her parish is an active part of the real world, also as it should be."

How else could the Church's future be in the hands of anyone else
but the young, as the rest of "old folks" will be dead. As for being
tech-savvy - perhaps I missed it but where is that phrase in
Holy Scripture ?
What parish is not playing an active part of the
real world ?

A rather personal essay where you used self-referential pronouns
58 times and yet you never mentioned Jesus.

As for:

"There have been times when I have only held onto my Catholic faith by the smallest of fingernails."

No mention of the Holy Spirit, which alone gives and sustains our
Faith.

Perhaps the numerous self-referential pronouns and the failure to give thanks to God the Father Son and Holy Spirit is indicative of the time
period you were formed in the Faith in what was called the
"Post Vatican II " Church and why continued reform of the mistakes brought on by experimental excesses based on very shallow theology -
is needed.

Joan Sheridan
2 weeks 3 days ago

Thank you Henry

Henry George
2 weeks 3 days ago

Joan,

Thank You.

Luis Gutierrez
2 weeks 3 days ago

Still missing: women priests. Young people intuit that religious patriarchy is a cultural tragedy that is becoming a doctrinal travesty and a pastoral disgrace. Apostolic succession is not contingent on masculinity. We need women priests and women bishops.

Tim Donovan
2 weeks 3 days ago

I agree that the Church should welcome all people. God is love, as the Second Reading (1 John 4: 7-10) makes clear today (May 6, 2018). However, the Gospel of John (John 15: 9-17) on the same day while clearly noting Jesus' words, "This I command you: love one another ," Christ also tells us in the same Gospel, " Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in His love. " Jesus certainly associated with many different people, including the outcasts of Jewish society of the time. Among others, these included lepers, the blind, the disabled ( "crippled"), Matthew, His apostle who was a tax collector, and a prostitute who w as going to be stoned. However, as a very imperfect Catholic, I think we should remember that while Jesus didn't condemn the prostitute, He did tell her to "Go and sin no more." I like the comment by the person who said every church should have a sign that says " Welcome All Sinners. " I am the first to admit that I am a sinner. I'm gay, and as I was growing up in the 1970's as a teen (I'm now 56, so I am a post-Vatican II Catholic) I was taunted by many who called me by a very vulgar and painful term, because although I hadn't revealed my orientation until I was in my early 30's, they correctly assumed that I was gay. I did many years ago have sex with men, but I regretted my behavior, and received forgiveness and consolation from compassionate priests. I'm not going to pretend that not having sex anymore is easy, but I do find that good reading, writing, television and movies, and assisting as I'm able my friends and others is a big help in making my life meaningful. I do have a gay friend, although as neither one of us drives anymore, we don't see each other, but we do have a good relationship and talk on the phone. I emphasize that I'm a very imperfect Catholic, but I do believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. However, as the Catholic Catechism teaches us, gay people must be treated with respect and compassion. Since like all of us (I assume) continue to sin, I am fortunate that I can go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation each month, as my caring pastor visits me in the nursing home/rehabilitation center where I live. As a n aside (I'm sorry to make a point about a relatively minor matter in a heartfelt, generally good article) there was a good and legitimate reason for an altarboy (yes, I do certainly agree that girls are perfectly good as altarservers) to place a patent under the chin of the person receiving Holy Communion many years ago. It wasn't because it was thought that someone would "make a mess." When the priest consecrates the Host, it becomes the Body of Christ . This is a miracle that I readily admit that I don't understand. However, Jesus said as He was blessing the bread at the Last Supper (Passover), "This is my body." So, while the bread retains the appearance of bread, it has miraculously become the Body of Christ. The paten was held under the communicant's chin to prevent the consecrated Host, Jesus' Body, from falling in the floor.

Henry George
2 weeks 3 days ago

Tim,
Thank you.

Wilfreda Gonzalez
2 weeks 1 day ago

Tim

Why must you post on every comment about your gay identity and rejection of current LGBT people?
You have told us dozens of times, and on your personal blog where you forbid opinions contrary to yours: you are a Courage afficionado and you beliebe practicing homosexuals are going to hell

They are not. Your pride will however put you at the front of the line before any LGBT who chooses to follow the Lord in the way they best can. Heterosexuals should follow their example.

You show us Tim how unhappy you are with your Courage gay life at the expense of being a millstone to others. You are a fraud.

Mike Theman
2 weeks ago

Tim is awesome.

Carol Cox
2 weeks 3 days ago

I go to Church to worship God, to enrich my faith, to make connections with others, to serve as a Eucharistic Minister and to be among the faithful. I have worked diligently not to be judgemental of others. It was a huge fault in my personality which I recognized needed attention. I do not know what strangers have experienced in their lives or how they responded to criticism and disappointments. I cannot judge others. As for ones sexuality, that is none of my business. I have been a life long heterosexual and no one EVER asked me, "What kind of sex do you have?" This is insanity! Who thinks that this kind of questioning of church members is appropriate? I do not! I only care that you are a good person who loves God, supports our parish and is kind to others. I will speak up to defend any parish member who is mocked or derided. I will offer them friendship and support. The gospels this week were about God and Jesus instructing us (1 John 4) to "love one another as I have loved you.".
Blessings, Carol Cox

Clubvet Veteriner
2 weeks 2 days ago

I've read through a couple of your articles so far and I've loved every one! The person who posted this (and thus exposed me to this blog) ended up starting up a decent Facebook debate (which, admittedly, I prolonged quite a bit). I know it has given strength to several mothers, my wife included. Since there's been some debate on here I figured I'd add in what I learned through the discussion. I learned that I apparently have the loud kids at Mass and I learned that a compromise might be stepping out after one minute of the child screaming inconsolably. I also learned that my 4 year old can say the Lord's Prayer without help (even if he doesn't know all the words). I'll take that trade off any day. Don't let anyone say that your kids aren't getting anything out of being there because they certainly are.
https://www.clubvet.com.tr

Nora Bolcon
1 week 5 days ago

I read articles like these and it always irks me because we are still pretending not to know that our misogyny which keeps women from being ordained priests the same as men (since there is no Gospel reason to strip all women of this sacrament) and our LGBT condemnation and judgment are our biggest sins and problems and reason women, especially, are leaving our church. It is not because we aren't hip enough to attract the youth. It is because we are abusing and have been abusing women's human dignity for centuries and now there are other choices outside of Catholicism where women are loved and respected the treated and ordained the same as men. Also, there are churches where LGBT are actually welcomed and made to feel as respected, loved and welcomed as heterosexual couples and families. We are the ones who need to change and become more Christian and not so much our secular children who have left Catholicism. Silence in the face of other's abuse is complicity with that abuse and is equally sinful to having done the abuse yourself. Too many of us watch women treated like witches and told to shut up when they state that they have been called to priesthood in our church, or they are told they are confused fools. They are not fools or confused. Also, We should have no permanent deacons, as this ministry only has ever supported sexism and clericalism when in many countries, lay women and men have done all the sacramental and other ministries deacons have done since none of those ministries can't be given to lay people with the bishop's permission in any diocese. So let the parishioners have one of their own lay people (male or female) trained instead of making any more permanent deacons to preach and lead Eucharistic Celebrations with previously consecrated hosts and officiate at weddings and funerals. This has been happening in South America and other poor countries, which can't afford deacons, for decades.

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