Monday, August 20, 2012

When our children become atheists

One very common lament among Catholics is that their children have given up their faith in the course of time.  Often, these Catholic parents are themselves people who have been practicing their faith with fervent regularity, and are even people who have been active members of the church.  When they talk about their own children who have lapsed in their faith, what I am faced with are parents who hold within them a mixture of pain, anxiety, fear, anger, embarrassment, confusion and exasperation.  Coming to a priest to reveal this about their children, many hope to find an instant cure-all solution to the problem, and sometimes, it does seem as if their greatest wish was that a one-hour chat session or quick question-and-answer which they hope the priest will give to their unbelieving children will somehow automatically solve this problem and set things aright.  While I do believe in miracles, I am not sure even if a tête-à-tête with the Pope at this point in time would make for any significant changes.

When this happens, we are confronted with a discord at different levels, and among different people.  Within the parent, the discord or dissonance is strikingly clear.  When the parent is a firm believer of God, the unspoken question is usually one that is asking God why this gift of faith is not given in the same vein as was given to the parent.  Why is this inability or refusal to believe in God and his love so prevalent in one’s child when the parent has nary a shred of doubt and has faith like the rock of Gibraltar?  Of course, it would be even more upsetting if the parent concerned did do his or her Christian duty in being the first catechist to the child in his formative years, and faced such a stark refusal to believe in God after being dedicated and diligent.  Church catechists themselves also face a certain level of angst and disappointment too, because it may cause them to think that their work and efforts have somehow come undone.  There could be a sense of failure and an overall despondency when they see just how few post-Confirmation Catholic teens actually own their faith and live the mature Christian life that they should be living after receiving the Sacrament.
Is the general outlook of the faith-life of our youth and young adults simply one that is dismal and dreary?  It certainly looks that way in many countries.  The evil of relativism seems to be winning many over, and the demand for God to prove himself does not even seem to be rude or unreasonable. 

It would be naïve to think that one blog reflection or post would solve anything as complex and deep as this.  But I can offer to the parents who are suffering from such anxieties an assurance of my understanding and compassion.  Sometimes, there are no quick answers and solutions to these issues of life.  Often, it is precisely because these problems did not arise overnight that there is no overnight or quick solution.  Perhaps because it took such a long unfolding of time for the person to come to this point in his life to say that he does not now believe in God and his love and his existence, that it may take an equally long unfolding of time for God to be re-let into his heart once more.  What we as parents and caregivers can and must do is to put indignance at bay and stay steadfast in our prayers for God’s mercy. 

A different perspective of a familiar story
"Father, is prayer the only thing left do to?" is something that is asked in resignation at times like these.  My answer is that prayer is not the "only" thing, but rather, the "best" thing that one can do.  This is because staying firm in prayer attests to your firm belief in God's presence and power despite the circumstances that seem to prevail.  To say that prayer is the 'only' thing to do is to say that prayer is a last resort, and a bit like a fall-back plan in life, which it should never be.  Sometimes, our word choices reveal just how deep or meagre our faith is.

Have you ever noticed that when your eyes are accustomed to a darkened room or place for a long period of time, that any small light becomes immediately noticeable?  Its presence cannot seem to be ignored.  In an analogical way, this could be the same for our children who are living in darkness out of choice.  Our prayers and our staying in the faith become for them that small speck of light that they will not be able to switch off or ignore.  It may be that ours is that faint hope of God’s love that they need to see so that they will one day be inquisitive enough to go to that source to let in more and more of that light, lifting the darkness that surrounds their lives.  Moreover, some of us need to hit rock bottom in life before we realize that God is the rock at the bottom of life.


  1. Dear Fr Luke

    A big big Thank You for this blog reflection.

    As a parent, this is one of my greatest 'fear', however, I also firmly believe in God's Grace. Your last sentence "some of us need to hit rock bottom in life before we realise that God is the rock at the bottom of life" is very true for me. I have come to this realisation n that praying for God's mercy must never be the 'only' thing to do at trying circumstances but 'THE BEST' thing to do.


  2. Thank you, Fr. Luke. Yes, as a Catholic parent this is by far my biggest concern. As much as we try to catechize our children (hopefully through leading by good example), we cannot force them to believe. Even after doing all we can to "bring Jesus" to our children there are no guarantees. Following Jesus is an act of the will; and even in this God will not force our hand - or theirs. Perhaps we should look to the example of St. Monica, who prayed unceasingly for her son, St. Augustine. Having been through all the years of heartbreak as she did, surely she could identify with those beleaguered parents and would intercede for us if we asked her to. God bless,

  3. “My answer is that prayer is not the "only" thing, but rather, the "best" thing that one can do. This is because staying firm in prayer attests to your firm belief in God's presence and power despite the circumstances that seem to prevail.”
    I like this coz it puts me in mind of a story about how St Therese of Lisieux sees salvation .... (though this anecdote was not in her autobiography) : -

    Throughout her life, Therese sees herself as a little girl and her heavenly Father as standing at the top of the great staircase, always beckoning to her to come up to him. God watches her lifting her little foot, as again and again she tries to climb up to him - noting her desire to reach him. Then in one moment (we call grace), God rushes down the staircase, picks her up and takes her. Looking back, she shared that God has done it from beginning to end but it was important for her to keep lifting up her foot.........

    So, too for us - especially when we are interceding for our loved ones who have gone astray – our deep desire is seen in our struggle to be consistent and faithful in prayer. Prayer, in spite of and even despite God’s absolute silence, is very necessary and significant- for it becomes our ‘’yes’’ to his we await the ‘rush of grace down the great staircase.’ Indeed, prayer is the ‘’best’’ thing that one can do !

    God bless you, Fr.

  4. When I was young, mom used to say she will bring me to the "policeman" if I misbehaved. When I had young children of my own, I threatened them with a "visit to the Father"...

    Fortunately, I stopped making this threat years ago - after hearing one of your homilies. The Church and the priests should be images of love, solace and shelter. They should not be a place nor people to loathe by mischievous children. It will be a disservice done by us parents if we make our children grow up thinking the Church and her shepherds are voices for reason and correction. However, as mentioned in your blog, this seems to be the case. And the way I see it, young adults will be combative and unyielding when talking to their priests in such cases. The fact that they are asked by their parents to "go reason/talk with the priest" is already a lost cause.

    (Here is where I am reminded of your homily) Instead of telling my misbehaving children to "see the priest", I am revealing to them my loving relationship with God and how this is translated into prayer, the love for Church and her community, and the grace God has showered upon our family. Hopefully, as they grow into young adults and are lost, I need not tell a priest to go reason with them (or vice versa)but that they will eventually find the Church on their own.

    1. Well put, "policeman".
      I too, used to be rather afraid of priests as a young lad. That all changed after 6 years of being an altar-boy. I came to appreciate and admire the sheer sacrifice and dedication of those priests that I served with. God bless them!
      And yes, I never tire of telling my children just how blessed we are, as a family. How God loves us in spite of ourselves. And how our faith is not just a set of rules and regulations, but about loving Jesus.

      And yes, I definitely WILL tell my children to "go talk to the priest".... when it's time for them to get married !