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My Adult Children Have Left the Church. What Should I Do?

World Youth Day, recently held in Portugal, showcases how the Church is alive with young adults celebrating their faith, but what about those who have fallen away? Father Dave welcomes friends and co-authors Patti Maguire Armstrong and Roxane Beauclair Salonen to discuss this topic and their book, “What Would Monica Do?

They explain how St. Monica is their “role model” for when a family member falls away from the Church, since she famously prayed many years for the conversion of her son, Saint Augustine. Roxane says, “She was a mother who loved her children. That’s the best thing we can say about St. Monica, because any of us parents that have children want the best for them, and we want them to get to heaven.” 

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As we see exciting images of crowds from World Youth Day, Father Dave notes that some parents of adult children may feel jealous or disappointed that their child has fallen away from the Catholic faith. Roxane responds, “We all have that little zing to the heart when things like that happen. We’re human, and there is a grief that we’re going through…we just have to listen, bite our tongue a lot, pray, fast, and hope.” Patti adds, “Even if it may rub salt into our wound, pray for those young people [attending World Youth Day], we want them to keep the faith. They are probably praying for our children, they’re praying for the other people in their generation to be back in the faith too.”

They address the guilt parents may feel when their child leaves the faith. “We can look at all the things we did wrong, and we should. We can go to confession, but then we have to move on,” Patti says. “One of the things we have to do is forgive ourselves and what went wrong. Adam and Eve had a perfect father and they didn’t listen to him. So we have to stop thinking we’re the end-all and be-all, and realize that we can do our best and we should do our best. Be sorry, confess the things that we have failed on. But in the end, we have to surrender our children to God. They have free will, and we can’t control the situation.”

“There are amazing priests whose parents didn’t even go to Mass, and then you have parents that went to Mass every day and their kids are atheists,” Patti continues. “This is an opportunity to surrender in a bigger way than we probably did beforehand. It’s a good position to be in, because it has humbled us, and we know that the road to sainthood begins with humility.”

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Both echo that the most important thing to do is pray for their loved one who is no longer religious. Roxane says, “Keep loving your children, keep inviting them into your home. Keep having feasts and celebrating life together, making room for conversation, and be interested in their life.” Patti recalls advice that Father Benedict Groeschel gave a caller on EWTN. “He told them, ‘God will administer the graces at which time they will do the greatest amount of good.’ And I thought, wow, that’s it. We don’t give God a deadline, we don’t decide.”

“We can celebrate all those young adults at World Youth Day, because who knows where some of them came from. They didn’t all just arrive as great Catholics; a lot of them have their own stories,” Patti continues. “We just have to just have to accept it’s an ongoing story and keep putting our trust in God.”