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Every Day Catholic - August 2009

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Will My Grandbabies See Heaven?
Adult Children and Church

By: Gloria Hutchinson

An anguished woman sent her question to “Ask a Franciscan,” a monthly feature in St. Anthony Messenger magazine. She had three grandsons living with women who were not their wives but were the mothers of their children. These parents had not had the little ones baptized. “I have several friends who share the same heartache,” she wrote. “They tell me they have sprinkled each baby and baptized them. Can I do this?” the grandmother inquired.

Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., understood her good intentions. Yet, he advised against baptizing her grandchildren without their parents’ consent. The parents must be willing to raise their children as Catholics. He affirmed the Church’s teaching that the unbaptized can be saved.

“Please do not underestimate the power of your good example,” Father Pat advised. “Children are sometimes more influenced by the faith of their grand-parents (or great-grandparents) than by the apparent lack of faith of their parents.”

If we have never walked in that grandmother’s shoes, we might smile indulgently at the prospect of a wild-eyed elder in orthopedic shoes sneaking off with an infant for a baptismal rite over the kitchen sink or at the neighborhood Laundromat. However, if we too have unbaptized grandchildren, our hearts will accommodate her sorrow.

Like many older Catholics today, this great-grandmother was probably unaware of recent refinements to the Church’s teachings on the salvation of the unbaptized. She was still operating with the theory of limbo, “a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin” (The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, opening paragraphs).

New insights on salvation

I well remember when our granddaughter was born. Her parents did not seem intent on having her baptized. As young adults, our son and his wife had not so much left the Church as drifted off to its fringes. I was torn between a compulsion to nag them into baptizing their baby and a less willful desire to pray them fondly toward the font.

I, like the anguished woman, had been raised with the theory that unbaptized infants who died went to limbo. As a grandmother, however, I couldn’t take this “teaching” to heart. Could God be less merciful than grandparents tempted to baptize without consent? Those innocents had come “trailing clouds of glory” from their heavenly home (“Ode: Intima-tions of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” William Wordsworth). Surely they would return there.

Within a few months, our family did celebrate our granddaughter’s Baptism. The grace of the sacrament splashed elation over my head as Kirsten Ann sailed through “the gateway to life in the Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1213).

For parents (and grandparents) of grown children who have yet to choose Baptism for their children, there is strong consolation in the April 2007 findings of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. Their conclusion, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, is that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision” (The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, #102).

While stopping short of calling the findings “sure knowledge,” the Commission noted that the teaching reflects its confident faith in the “universality of the saving will of God” (#46). The theologians agreed that limbo reflects “an unduly restrictive view of salvation” (#2).

If there were an International Grandparents’ Award for Theologians Who Are on the Right Track, we would surely present it to the Pontifical Commission posthaste.

Encouraging words for grandparents

• Entrust grandchildren to God’s mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (see #1261) reminds us of Jesus’ tenderness toward children of whom he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them” (Matthew 19:14). Relying on the example of Jesus and on God’s maternal heart, we persevere in praying for the salvation of our unbaptized little ones.

• Maintain a loving relationship. The U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter Follow the Way of Love observes that there are no perfect families. It asks us, “What if your adult child leaves the Church or makes other choices that cause you pain? Is it still possible to maintain a loving relationship without approving the child’s behavior?” Like the forgiving father of the prodigal son, we eagerly embrace the child without demanding that he or she first fulfills religious obligations.

• Give a powerful example. Remember how Grandma prayed her way to the super-market on the rosary’s Joyful Mysteries? how Grandpa set up tables at the parish suppers? how Mass was always Sunday’s main event? Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim assures us, “The question for the child is not, ‘Do I want to be good?’ but ‘Whom do I want to be like?’”

• Share Spirit-fed stories. Few activities bind us more closely to our grandchildren than sharing family stories and reading aloud intergenerational tales. Our granddaughter loves to hear about how, when I was a girl, my family got all bundled up in parkas and felt-lined boots and trudged four blocks through a Christmas Eve blizzard that blew us straight through St. Peter’s Church doors into our reserved seats for midnight Mass. When Kirsten was small, we explored the Catholic childhood stories of Tomie de Paola whose two Nanas (grand and great-grand) plus Grampa Bob were indispensable in the family circle. Those simple stories knit us together.

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Finally, can we humbly admit that we are not responsible for our grandchildren’s salvation? Our vocation requires us to be loving, merciful and faithful examples of the difference Baptism has made in our lives. When we get the itch to become stealth baptizers, we can smile at the baby pictures on the refrigerator door and repeat three times the advice of St. John Vianney, “God commands you to pray, but he forbids you to worry.”

Permission to Publish received for this article, “Will My Grandbabies See Heaven? Adult Children and Church,” by Gloria Hutchinson, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 12-9-2008.

Making Connections

■ Who among your family or friends has left the practice of the Catholic faith? What reasons did they give for leaving? Do you judge their reasons as valid?

■ What should the Church do to invite them back into the Church community?

■ What will you do to invite loved ones back to Church?

Movie Moments

Fiddler on the Roof
By: Frank Frost

The distress parents may feel when their children abandon their faith brings to mind the 1971 musical Fiddler on the Roof. In this movie, tradition is everything. A story of rural Russian Jews in 1905, it leads us to rejoice in the goodness of honest, hardworking and poor Tevye (Topol) whose impulse is always generous and whose philosophy is always positive. But the long-held traditions that guide Tevye are challenged by a new generation and new times, echoed by political changes that will eventually sweep them from their village in a pogrom.

Among the challenges Tevye faces is the need to find husbands for his five daughters, who can bring no dowry to a marriage. When the eldest refuses to accept her father’s choice for a husband, he relents. When his second daughter doesn’t seek his permission, only his blessing, he accedes. He can accept that much change. But when his third daughter, Chava, falls in love with a gentile, it is a step too far. “Can I deny everything I believe in?” he asks himself. “On the other hand, can I deny my own daughter?” He concludes that “if I bend that far I will break.” He forbids the marriage. When the couple elopes, Tevye disowns her. The emotional climax comes when Tevye’s family is forced to flee their village, leaving the sum of their lives behind, and Chava arrives to say goodbye. Tevye will not look at or speak to her, and her mother and sisters remain silent in his presence. But in the end he mutters, “God go with you.” Parents determined to stay connected to children who reject their faith tradition will certainly relate to this scene.

Next time you watch Fiddler on the Roof, ASK YOURSELF:

■ This story celebrates both tradition and love. How does the film maintain sympathy with tradition while celebrating love and family?

■ The husband of Tevye’s third daughter says at the end, “Some are driven away by edicts, others by silence.” Do I allow my silence to drive away loved ones?

Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Donna EricksonCouch
By: Joan McKamey

When parents or grandparents express concern over loved ones who don’t practice their faith, I ask what troubles them most about the situation. Frequently I find out that they’re worried about salvation—that their child or grandchild might not make it to heaven. That opens the door for an adult exploration of Church teaching about Baptism and life after death,” says Donna Couch, director of faith formation at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Dana Point, California.

Donna continues, “Embedded in their consciousness is fear and guilt that they’ve somehow failed as good role models and teachers of the faith. Some feel shame about their own tepid practice. Some feel that time is running out. When they stand by and watch their sons or daughters not having their beloved grandchildren baptized, there’s even more cause for consternation.”

What does Donna offer these concerned parents and grandparents? She says, “I explore images of God with them and invite them into an ongoing dialogue about their own journeys of faith. We talk about the difference between religion and spirituality. Somewhere along the way, I tell them that they need to stop worrying. God calls everyone to the spiritual journey—an interior and solitary endeavor that’s often different from the one they’ve experienced.”

Donna has served in her parish position for over 20 years. This wife, mother and grandmother is also a spiritual director, retreat guide, master catechist, college professor and writer. She notes some trends that both cause her concern and bring her hope. She tells Every Day Catholic, “The cycle of leaving and returning is a central issue in the Church today. ‘Fallen- away’ Catholics often never knew the richness of their own faith. We must have experiences to invite them into when they return.

“People are hungry for spirituality and for something foundational. There’s a big transformation going on through spiritual direction. People are meeting one-on-one and in groups within their communities. Connecting faith to life—that’s the key to the future!

“We need to continue to find new ways of connecting with the young adults of today’s world, asking those ages 20-45 what they want and need. A lot of good has emerged from technology, yet the potentially dehumanizing effects are very real.”

And what does she say to parents—some active Catholics, others on the fringes of Church participation—presenting their children for Baptism? Donna says, “I approach all the sacraments as community experiences of faith. I tell them it takes a lifetime to grow into the understanding, the fullness of sanctifying grace that each sacrament promises.

“The good news is that this growth hinges on relationships. We aren’t expected to go it alone, to figure out everything ourselves. We need a community of believers to keep us on track, to help us not feel so alone, to have a place to share the significant events of our lives. Faith has to become a priority or else it fades like anything else. Staying involved is the best way to keep the faith alive.”

Passing On the Faith

Keeping the Connection
By: Jeanne Hunt


Carson and Genevieve stopped going to church during graduate school. They finished college, married and agreed that religion had no part in their lives. They told Carson’s parents, “We’re spiritual; we’re just not religious.” Carson’s parents still struggle with what they consider their failure in passing on the faith.    
A response

As adult children walk away from Church participation, parents often feel guilt and regret. Parents must step back and admit that they did the best they could and that these feelings aren’t helpful.

What was neglected in their children’s faith formation? Why the sudden alienation from organized religion? Is it possible to repair the damage? These questions haunt the parents of inactive adult Catholics. The answers are not easy or clear-cut.

What is helpful is when parents remain a source of faith in the lives of adult children. Continue to celebrate religious holidays as family events. Make sure to include a simple table prayer. Invite them and their children to join you at church. If you get a “no,” gently try again.

Offer spiritual comments in conversations about death, hardships or news events. These little connections may spark recognition that God has a place in human lives. Give the Holy Spirit the lead in these faith moments. Trust God to put spiritual opportunities in your path.

An important aspect of loving an inactive Catholic is prayer. Never underestimate what God can do with your heartfelt intercessions. St. Monica prayed her son into sainthood. St. Augustine is proof that God hears parents’ pleas. Before family gatherings, pray that each event offers some moment of grace that will strengthen the family’s faith.

A crisis often rekindles faith. Death, loss of employment, divorce or illness can shock the apathetic into searching for God. When hard times come we must have the courage to offer our faith as a comfort and guide. Hospital elevators, funeral homes and even the local bar can be places of evangelization.

It was just such a moment that brought Genevieve and Carson back to Church. Their daughter, Betsy, was injured in a car accident. Long hours at her bedside gave Carson a second chance at faith. Now, eight years later, Betsy is healthy and joins her parents, brother and grandparents every Sunday at Holy Spirit Parish. Thankful for many things, Carson’s parents realize that the healing they prayed for went far beyond Betsy. God softened a few hard hearts through that dark night of the soul.


In God’s Hands
By: Jeanne Hunt

(for praying alone or with others)

Preparation: Arrange paper cutouts of hands, pens, a candle, a bowl of water, a white cloth and an open Bible on a prayer table.


“Like a Shepherd” or similar song


O Divine Shepherd, gather the sheep into your fold: the lost, alienated, apathetic, confused—souls that we love so much. How we yearn for them to be a part of the faith we profess. Yet, only you, the Divine Keeper, can gather them in your arms and return them to this circle of faith. Go out into the brambles and thorns of their world and rescue them. Hold them close to your heart and bring them home. Amen.


Isaiah 49:15-16a


I invite you to take a paper hand and write on it the names of those whom you would like to see return to the faith or be baptized—your sons, daughters, spouse, grandchildren, relatives, neighbors, friends—anyone who is missing from Church. (Pause while people write.)

I invite you to come forward and place your paper hands around the bowl of water. As you place your paper hand on the table proclaim, “I will never forget you!”


Let us close with our family prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us:
Our Father….

Peter of Alcantara: Peter was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He served as confessor to St. Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. His death came one year before the Council of Trent ended. 
<p>Born into a noble family (his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain), Peter studied law at Salamanca University and, at 16, joined the so-called Observant Franciscans (also known as the discalced, or barefoot, friars). While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was named the superior of a new house even before his ordination as a priest; at the age of 39, he was elected provincial; he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.</p><p>Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself. His patience was so great that a proverb arose: "To bear such an insult one must have the patience of Peter of Alcantara."</p><p>In 1554, Peter, having received permission, formed a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor.</p><p>As spiritual director to St. Teresa, Peter encouraged her in promoting the Carmelite reform. His preaching brought many people to religious life, especially to the Secular Franciscan Order, the friars and the Poor Clares.</p><p>He was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Remember the widow’s mite. She threw into the treasury of the temple only two small coins, but with them, all her great love…. It is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself. —Pope John Paul II

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