Updated: Nov 26, 2020
A man I’d never met called last month and asked for an appointment about an urgent matter. So we did.
“My son is dating a Catholic girl and my wife and I are sick about it! What should we do?”
As they say, this isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve been asked this question dozens of times over the years, so I’ve learned to ask this question;
“What kind of Catholic is she (or he)?”
Invariably the reaction is always the same. “What do you mean by that? She’s Catholic. How many kinds of Catholics are there?” Here’s how I answered. “There are as many kinds of Catholics as there are Protestants! There are Catholics who are flat out in love with Jesus and living out the gospel. And there are Catholics who attend mass and are going through the motions, but who demonstrate no real passion for God, and there are Catholics who identify as Catholic because their family is Catholics, but they have little interest in religion at all. Your son could easily have fallen in love with a Protestant who fits any one of these categories.”
“If your son’s girlfriend believes with conviction that Jesus is the son of God, died for her sins and intends to live out his commands, you’re a fortunate man. Yes, Catholics also believe many things Protestants don’t. But none that will disqualify her for salvation if she truly understands salvation by grace alone through Jesus Christ. So find out what kind of Catholic she is before you judge her a danger to your son’s faith. I have a number of born-again Catholic friends, who are more in love with Jesus than many Protestants I know.”
My recommendation Here are five recommendations for any parent whose son or daughter is seriously dating a Catholic or non-Protestant Christian;
Get to know your child’s potential spouse better. Many parents whose son or daughter is dating a Catholic just avoid getting to know them, hoping the relationship will die out. They fear if they are friendly and kind to a Catholic girlfriend it will only encourage the relationship that they are desperately praying will end quickly.Please do not use the times you are together to interrogate them about their beliefs. Use your times together to let them see how followers of Jesus live. Let them see the smile on your face when you talk about your love for Jesus, as you pray before meals and as you talk about how your faith and life intersect. A lukewarm Catholic (or a lukewarm Protestant) will either be repulsed by the outward display of “religion” or be attracted to it. In either case, for sure, it will be a topic of discussion between your child and their friend that may raise some red flags for both.
Educate yourself and your child. I keep copies of a book, Catholic for a Reason, by Scott Hahn that I give out regularly. Scott is a Catholic priest who was a Presbyterian pastor. In this little paperback book he does a masterful job of helping Protestants understand why Catholics believe some of the things they do. The book is also helpful for Catholics. I’m shocked sometimes how little Catholics know about what their church actually believes, and why.So, purchase a copy for yourself, your son and his friend. Urge your son to read and discuss it with their girlfriend to determine what kind of Catholic she really is. Let the Holy Spirit teach and convict your son whether he’s serious about a truly born-again girl (Catholic or Orthodox) or a lukewarm religious person.
Consider doing a Bible study together. I’ve had parents who simply took a few months to study the Book of Luke with their child and their friend. It often changes everything! In one case the girl got freaked out with the “religious parents.” In other cases, it was the first time they’ve ever studied a book of the Bible and were drawn to Jesus because of it. But please don’t use that study to point out the difference between Catholics and Protestants. Let the Holy Spirit do that.
Have regular thoughtful discussions with your child about the implications of them marrying a Catholic. How will their children be raised? How do her parents feel about you? Does she truly love God and want to live for him? Marrying a non-believer, and I consider a lukewarm religious person, Catholic or otherwise, a non-believer, is the real issue.
Don’t worry about frivolous things. I’ve met with evangelical parents who were freaked out about their son getting married in a Catholic church by a priest. Do you really think God cares whether your child is married in a Catholic church by a priest? Generally, the real problem is that parents are embarrassed over having to explain that to their evangelical friends. I’m confident where one gets married is unimportant to God. Who you marry is not.A warning if you strongly resist your child’s choice of a future spouse, without at least trying to do what I’ve suggested. There’s a good chance your child will reject you, and their faith as well.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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