Why I support my daughters' initiation into the Lutheran Church

After the last post (on the difference between Lutheran and Catholic doctrines of absolution), in which I remarked that my daughter recently did her first confession with her Lutheran pastor, following preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation at her Catholic primary school, Eulogos left a significant comment which I thought I might address in a separate blog entry. Here are the comments and my replies:

This is a sensitive subject, I am sure, but if you had been a Catholic before you married someone not Catholic, you would have had to promise to do your best to raise your child as a Catholic. (in past days, the non Catholic spouse had to promise, which makes more sense to me, because just to ask the Catholic to promise to try might be an invitation to an ongoing battle…)

In fact, nothing has changed, and yes, I made the promise too at the time of my reception. But the promise for the Catholic party is and always has been to do everything their power to raise their children as Catholic Christians, and the non-Catholic spouse is asked (not required to promise or sign or anything) that they will not obstruct the Catholic partner’s resolve to do so. Now, given that my children were already baptised members of the Lutheran Church, I am not morally obliged to forcibly convert my children to the Catholic faith. To do so would be a gross violation of their religious freedom. So what do I see as my moral obligation to them?

1) to ensure that they are raised in the Christian faith in such a way that they will continue to be active Christians in their adult life
2) to ensure that they know, understand and love the Catholic Church and her teachings.

I remain quietly confident that there is a much greater chance of my children growing up to be faithful Catholics if I continue to support their full involvement in their Lutheran parish now. This is simply because the Lutherans have a much better track record (statistically proven in this country) of retaining their young people than the Catholic Church does. Put it down to the fact that Lutheran parishes do a much better job in catechising and including the young than Catholics do. By supporting my daughters’ inclusion in their initiation programs, I am (I believe) acting to strengthen her faith in the most effective way possible at this stage of her life.

I don’t know how it is with you and your wife and how she feels about this subject. But here is one case where it is clear that not being Catholic is depriving your child of something.

My oldest daughter did in fact ask at one point whether she could become Catholic, and I said to her that nothing would make me happier, but that for the moment it would be wiser if she continued in the life of her own parish. I am not “depriving” her, although I agree that all who are not in communion with the Catholic Church are “deprived”. Yet we each have our road to walk, and sometimes the best way of reaching a destination may not be the most direct one.

Because although I am sure God forgives whatever sins your child might have when she confesses to the Lutheran pastor, this is not sacramental confession to a priest.

Yes, I know that. But I encourage her to do it because:

1) It means she develops a practice is essential to the Christian life and which (I pray) she will continue if she becomes a Catholic when she is older (something few of her Catholic class mates are likely to do)
2) It integrates what she is learning about the Catholic faith at home and at school with her Lutheran parish life
3) It teaches her the value of repentance for specific sins and gives her the opportunity to hear a highly personalised proclamation of the gospel.

Yes, we can’t limit God, and I think He will be there in Anglican and Lutheran eucharists…and confessions, for those who expect him, (which is much more than many Catholics would say) but still, there isn’t that rock solid certainty about this that one can have as a Catholic in the sacraments. In a way I would say that in the sacraments God is there even more than we expect with graces that we didn’t even know how to ask for. As she gets older, how can you be content with less than that for your child?

Well, obviously I am not. But as with her practice of receiving holy communion (which she does in her Lutheran Parish), I am not about to tell her “Sorry darling, what you receive there is only bread and not Jesus’ body”. I want her to know and believe that in the Eucharist Christ is truly present. I am teaching her a Catholic Eucharistic faith, even if she is not receiving Catholic communion. Why? Because I believe this is the best way to strengthen her faith now and to prepare her for the greater reality which it is my prayer that she will come to know in the future.

I understand that an ongoing battle is worse for the child and if that is the only alternative I understand why you wouldn’t press the point.

It’s not a battle. Quite the contrary. There are difficulties, as in challenges, about integrating Catholic and Lutheran spirituality and prayer life, but this is not a battle, such that one or the other is a winner. If she grows up to be a faithful Lutheran and dies in that faith, well, thanks be to God! If she grows up to be a faithful Catholic and dies in that faith, even greater thanks! But the battle would only be lost if we allowed the evil one to find a chink in the armour of the Spirit by opposing Lutheran and Catholic faiths and playing them off one against the other.

Maybe you will get to that on the other blog. But the way you put it here it came across as something that wasn’t even an issue, which was startling. Maybe you discussed this at the earlier post you referred to, which I didn’t see. Please don’t take this the wrong way.

Well, you see now how we are handling it and why we are. Remember, I was the one who converted, and the best way I can “convert” my family is to be a good witness for the Catholic faith in what is, after all “the domestic Church” of the family. We may be divided at the altar of the Eucharistic table, but we are one at the table of prayer in our house (except for praying the Hail Mary, of course, which my wife doesn’t join in on!).

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10 Responses to Why I support my daughters' initiation into the Lutheran Church

  1. Christine says:

    David your family is handling this situation with much wisdom. Having grown up in a Lutheran/Catholic home I know only too well how problems can arise, which they often did back in the day.

    Although my Lutheran mother faithfully took my sister and me to services there was still enough of a Catholic “presence” in my home to lead me to make my own inquiry as I was growing up, eventually resulting in my conversion.

  2. eulogos says:

    You explain your thoughts well, and I appreciate the response, especially when you could easily have told me to mind my own business. I see that you have done a lot of thinking about what course will best lead your daughter to a life of faith.

    I know the Catholic church has fallen down on catechesis, dropping the Baltimore catechism type of instruction and really being unsure what to replace it with. I experienced this with my own children. I do hope that this will change, now that we have a catechism and a compendium of the catechism, to serve as a guide for what content should be included.
    Meanwhile I see that you have to put your daughter where you feel there is the most solid Christian content.
    (I actually once sent my kids to a Lutheran school, but that was because it was more flexible academically, to putting children where their abilites were rather than making them march along by grade level. But I was perfectly happy with their religious education there, at least at the K-2 level. )

    Thanks again for your answer and God bless you and your family .
    Susan Peterson

  3. Chris Burgwald says:

    David, I understood much of what you noted, with one exception: I’m surprised that you think it’s wiser for your eldest daughter to continue in her current parish rather than becoming Catholic *when she asked to become Catholic*. Although I do not live in your concrete ecclesial context, I certainly agree with the generally-Western problem today of poor catechesis, but I’m surprised by your judgment is that poor youth catechesis outweighs the full sacramental life of Catholicism. And in addition, I’ve found that the key to youth catechesis is the role of the parents, so (in my mind) your obvious involvement in the catechetical formation of your children would far outweigh whatever deficiencies there might in be your parish program of religious education.

    I hope these comments read with the same tone their written, i.e. gentleness and fraternal charity.

  4. Schütz says:

    You know, Chris, I think you have a fair point. I was thinking about this very thing this morning as I was watering the garden. I asked myself why I discouraged her from becoming Catholic at age 7. And here, I think, are the answers:

    1) Firstly, she is a member of her mother’s parish, and usually goes with her mother and her sister to worship on Sundays (they sometimes come to Mass with me, and sometimes I go with them as well as going to Mass). The girl’s grandmother worships there too. When she said she wanted to be Catholic, I pointed out that if she did she would have to attend Mass every Sunday with me. But she still wanted to go to her Lutheran parish where she has lots of friends and she didn’t particularly like the idea of having to go to Church twice on a Sunday. Upshot: she was not ready to assume the responsibilities of being Catholic.

    2) What if I died? What would happen then? Would her mother take her to Mass each Sunday, or would she have to revert to being Lutheran. Messy. Very messy.

  5. Anonymous says:

    David, in your opinion, how do Lutheran parishes do a better job at including the young than Catholic parishes?

    I frankly am at a loss as to how to encourage the young to commit to more than showing up at Mass on Sundays, although in these times that is to be thankful for. Do you have any suggestions?

    WYD will undoubtedly be a great evangelising event but the problem is to maintain the fire. I felt the same about Adore 2000.

  6. Schütz says:

    Just briefly, they give great attention to catechesis for a start. In fact, there is a de facto embrace of the “whole of life catechesis” approach.

    Sunday School is still a going concern, which is largely education in the scriptures. This leads naturally into the confirmation program. Their Confirmation program goes from about 14 to 15 years of age and usually lasts two years.

    Secondly, they have a very strong “youth group” history and culture. Youngsters are encouraged to take positions of responsibility in the parish fairly early.

    They have done reasonably well generally speaking in intergrating “modern” and “traditional” approaches within liturgical worship. In otherwords, the best of the old still accompanies the mediocrities of the new in most places.

    Finally, and I think this is essential, Lutherans (at least in this country) also have a larger participation rate of males in relation to females than other Christian communities (including the Catholic Church). I am convinced that this involvement of fathers as well as mothers is significant in keeping youngsters in the Church.

    Maybe all these reasons are also why they don’t have a ‘vocations crisis’ in the Lutheran Church. It has nothing to do with celibacy, but rather it has to do with retaining your youth so that you have candidates in the first place.

  7. Anonymous says:

    How would you suggest we get the men back into parish life?

    In my parish we no longer have the Holy Name Society, the St V de Paul Society is on its last legs, the Liturgy Committee is all women except when father turns up, most of the Extraordinary Ministers are women as are the readers, the Bereavement Group are all women, the sacristan is a woman, most of the altar servers are girls, etc etc Having said this it is the women who volunteer to do all of these things; the men don’t seem interested.

  8. Past Elder says:

    What a happy moment — I am able to post saying I find nothing whatever to object to in your decisions and course on this matter!

    But as to the “church”, well, speaking of ruptures and discontinuity, Pius XI in Divini illius Magistri upheld Pius IX, Leo XIII and others in affirming that a Catholic cannot send his children to other than Catholic schools without the permission of the local ordinary, which is formalised in canon 1374 of canon law. However, in the corresponding canon 798 of the 1983 Code of Heretical Law all such is removed! But of course if the RC church says so black is white and white is black.

    Actually, it is I rather than you who is wrong on this matter — as a baptised RC, I have had my children baptised, raised and religiously educated in an heretical sect, a grave sin for which I am to be denied Communion. Of course, the “church” cares nothing for closed Communion so I take care of it myself and don’t go on the occasions when being in an RC church us unavoidable. A curious continuity there — both as a Lutheran and a Catholic, I should not take Communion in an RC church, though the “Catholic Church” would allow it.

  9. Schütz says:

    Getting men back into parish life… That, I think, will be much harder job than better integrating our children into the Church–although if you can wait a generation, that is the place to start, and to make sure that young men are as connected to the Church as young women.

    I think it has something to do with offering them valid leadership roles in the parish. Yes, I know that the women are always going on about women needing leadership roles in the Church, but as John Allen has pointed out, the vast majority of local parish leaders already ARE women. Among the laity there is a shortage of male leaders.

    Also the culture has something to do with it. You may remember the term from the mid 20th Century English church “Masculine Christianity”. There was something in that.

  10. Jenny from Chicago says:

    I was raised a Missouri Synod Lutheran and converted to Catholicism after the birth of my second child. It’s been a remarkable journey on a path to a better relationship with God. I thoroughly appreciate you and your wife’s efforts to raise Christian children first and religious children second.

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