On Being a Missionary to Your Extended Family

Mailbag time! Here's one about how we maintain our family's religious practices on vacations with friends or family members who aren't living their faith the same was we do.


Hi, Kendra! My question for you has to do with traveling. We currently travel a couple times a year, mostly to visit my family who live a few states away. I'm wondering if you could offer some insight into how your family preserves your own unique way of practicing your faith while away from home, specifically if you are staying with friends/family who may not understand your way of practicing Catholicism. When we visit my family, we stay with them, since hotels in their are expensive and their feelings would be hurt if we didn't. They are Catholic but don't necessarily fully practice or take their faith very seriously. I would never want to make them feel that we are in any way critiquing their choices, but I do feel the need to preserve our own family traditions of faith while we are with them. We still say our family prayers while we are visiting, before meals, morning offerings, and bedtime. We still go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. There are many challenges, though. I find Fridays to be difficult, as abstaining from meat is not an option while we are here. Their parish is much different from ours (homilies and liturgical hymns are generally . . . less than ideal, at best, and sometimes heretical, at worst). There isn't much choice as far as parishes go, since they live in the country. My concern is that for these few weeks, my littles are sent mixed messages about the Faith. I want to be charitable towards my family (who are so generous and excited to host my husband, myself, and our 4-under-6 crew!) and be a good witness to them, but I also don't want to let our kids get confused while they're here. I know that in the end, a few weeks won't compare to the weeks throughout he year of a daily, full embrace of the Faith in its true beauty. I just can't shake how very conflicted I feel! How do I spend time with my family, and let them enjoy their grandkids, while also keeping our family's faith intact? What do you think? Thanks, Jen


Hey Jen, Thanks for your kind words. I think the best way to look at it, is that during those times you guys are missionaries. If you brought your family to the African jungle or back in time to pagan Ireland like St. Patrick, you'd expect the people there to be doing things their own way. And you'd do the best you could under the circumstances to be a light to the people around you. You'd try to appreciate the good in their culture and traditions, while not losing yours. You'd stand firm where you must, and give where you can. And that's what we do on vacations. For things like meat-free Fridays, we try to live by the St. Josemaria quip that we should "choose mortifications that don't mortify others." Abstaining from meat on Friday is a Best Practice, but we are allowed by the bishops to substitute another sacrifice, so what better time to do so than when it would mean not inconveniencing our hosts? Our kids understand that we are doing it out of charity, not laziness. And we have fun trying to find another sneaky sacrifice to make during the day. As for the Mass. I totally feel you. Once you've found a church that feels like home, it's shocking to go back out there and find terrible music and homilies. But it's a good chance to help our kids understand that while uplifting and edifying music and homilies and surroundings are a huge blessing, and, again, a Best Practice . . . they're not The Mass. The Mass is still there underneath beautiful or ugly trappings. We don't go to Mass to be personally uplifted (although that's often a lovely side effect), we go to Mass because God said he wished it of us. The "point" of the Mass isn't community or inspiration. The four ends of the Mass are Adoration, Atonement, Thanksgiving, and Petition. We can look past the music and the homily and still give those four things. We have been party to a handful of heretical homilies, and I think they've been a good opportunity to have a discussion with our older kids. For little ones, they usually haven't noticed. But for our older kids, we talk about it. We're respectful of the priest's station, but he's a man, and we just talk about how he got this wrong, and why. I think it's a mistake faithful Catholic families sometimes make to put priests on a pedestal. They deserve to be spoken of with respect, but that doesn't mean we can't ever disagree with them. There are opportunities for growth in understanding and charity AND faith in all of these experiences if we approach them right. I think the main thing to remember is what you said . . . if your home is a place of solid formation, your kids will absolutely be able to handle outlier-type experiences. And maintaining close, loving relationships with family members who aren't practicing their faith is a really important goal. It gives us a chance to love them and perhaps also to evangelize them. Maybe the next generation of the family will remember the love and joy that our little branch of the family tree seemed to have. It's not always possible. Many people have had to make the difficult decision to limit or avoid contact with certain friends or family members. But if you can figure out a way to do it, I think it's really a blessing for all involved. Good Luck! Kendra
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