In any profession, or even anything we do, there are routines, things that come up so often that you don’t have to give it a lot of thought. Routines by their nature are repetitive and so often seemed diminished in importance.
My life as a pastor has lots of routines. Even certain conversations and subjects can become so commonplace that we priests can think of them as routine, even though for the person talking to us, it is anything but.
A medical analogy might be in order here. Due to my family genes, I have unfortunately had three colonoscopies at my tender age. Let me tell you, I dread them, and they are the last thing in the world I would call routine. But for the doctor? Easy-peasy, routine, hardly has to give any thought to it, though as the patient I certainly hope he does.
Now to the point: There are certain worries and concerns that people bring to their pastor’s attention that are so common that we priests might call them routine questions, but to the person asking our advice it is far from routine. Here is one of the more common examples of this, and any priest reading this is sure to concur.
It is extraordinarily common for parents of adult children to approach us in these or similar words, “Father I am so stressed over my adult children who have quit going to church or abandoned the faith altogether! When my son/daughter was young they had such a beautiful faith, and we always taught them how important it was to go to Mass and stay close to Jesus, but now nothing. Where did we go wrong?”
That is a super common stressor for parents of adult children. We might even call it routine.
Here is the deal. If you are a good, faithful Catholic parent, very likely you did nothing wrong. Showing your children while they were growing up how important church is, and how important having a strong relationship with Jesus is, is exactly what good Catholic Christian parents should do.
Once children are no longer children, they become their own person in all ways, and that can often have an impact on how they express their faith, as well. As parents, you have sown the seeds of faith in your kids. It can become stressful when you do not see the growth of those seeds the way you expect or the way you hope, but it is no longer your responsibility in the same way as it was when they were young. You are still Mom or Dad, but your role changes as they grow. You cannot take responsibility or blame yourself if your adult children no longer practice the faith. Now that responsibility shifts from you, as parents, to them as adults.
There is a great scripture passage that addresses this in an amazingly direct way, and it should give some solace to those readers who have this reality in their families. It comes from the Acts of the Apostles, where Paul calls a meeting in the city of Miletus. Miletus was a neighboring city to Ephesus, where Paul had spent much time, teaching and forming the infant Christian community. At the end of his time in Ephesus, Paul calls the church leadership of that city together for a meeting that we might call a sad going away party. Paul is leaving, and he realizes that he will no longer be with the Ephesians to help them in their faith journey; in a fairly long speech, he encourages them in the faith and to stay true to all that he had taught them while they were together. In his parting words Paul says, “But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the Kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God” (Acts 20:26-27).
If you are a parent of adult children who no longer practice the faith you brought them up in, you can make Paul’s words your own. There comes a time in every person’s life when they have to take what they have learned and make it their own responsibility. That includes faith. And while it is perfectly normal to be stressed about your non-practicing adult children, you cannot blame yourself after raising them in the faith.
As parents I would suggest you continue to raise the topic with your adult children when it seems fitting. It is okay to let them know you are saddened or disappointed, but do not do it so often that you strain the relationship. They very likely know how you feel, so continue to lead by example and pray for them, but do not beat yourself up over their not practicing.