If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. (Ez 3:18)
I speak from limited personal experience, but it seems that few Catholics take these teachings seriously. Last year, when my Catholic niece got married in a civil ceremony on a mountainside, my wife and I were the only people from my fairly large, Catholic extended family who did not attend. Interestingly, before I even RSVP’d with my “regrets,” my sister (the girl’s mother) had already told me that she understood if I felt that I could not attend. My sister is a weekly Mass going, Mary-loving, traditional Catholic. I’m grateful that she was sensitive to my position, but she also obviously knew the problem. Who is better positioned to be a witness to a truth that could have eternal consequences to the child? A long-distance uncle you barely know skipping your “marriage,” or your parents refusing to be witnesses to this grave matter? No parent is not bound on pain of sin to skip such an invalid wedding. It does involve prudential judgment, and I don’t envy any parent thrust into this situation. However, would most Catholic parents even consider the painful option to not attend such a wedding? In my experience, no.
And what about the rest of my Catholic relatives? Any one of them could have refused to attend for any myriad of reasons without giving offense, but everyone went. After all, it was a big family gathering, a festive occasion, and a chance to clink glasses while wishing my niece a long and happy life of objective mortal sin. Lest you think that we would not make the hard decision with our own children, just ask them. They understand two things about our relationship very well. First is that their eternal salvation is our only primary concern. Every temporal issue, no matter how important, ranks behind. Second is that we will not risk our own eternal salvation to keep from “hurting their feelings” or to “keep peace in the family” (see Ezekiel 3:18 above). So go ahead and ask them whether mom or dad would come to their invalid, non-Catholic wedding, and wait for an eyeroll, a derisive snort and a “yeah, right.” We love them more than anyone but God. We love them too much to confirm them in serious sin, as they have been raised to know. Every parent, relative and friend is free to make their own choice on this issue – but the basis for the choice cannot be hurt feelings or what people will think. The basis needs to be truth in Christ.
In a variation on this theme, my wife just received a baby shower invitation. We are friends with both the pregnant girl’s parents and godparents, all church-going Catholics. Unfortunately the pregnant Catholic girl is living with her boyfriend with no plans to get married. Not only is her mother flying in from out of state to be at the shower, but it is being put on by….her godmother. The invitation was, in the vein of a traditional shower, all about celebrating the beauty and joy of the occasion. Although my wife would love to see the girl’s mother again, she has decided that to go would be to give witness that this situation is in fact a cause for celebration, when it really calls for repentance. I am not saying that parents should not help their children in these circumstances, or should not love their grandchildren as any grandparents would. But they should do so in truth, not a false façade of joy in sin.
I hope that this post does not sound self-congratulatory, or holier-than-thou. That is the last thing I want it to be. I have my own load of sin to account for at my particular judgment, and it is closer to the truth to say that I simply can’t afford any more straw on the camel’s back. But it hurts to see young people who are going down the wrong path being celebrated for their sins rather than corrected. We love our children best by leading them (and sometimes pushing, poking, prodding and dragging them) toward the narrow gate. Everything else is ultimately inconsequential. If we do not believe that and try to live that, then as Jesus said, we are not worthy of Him who is the way, the truth and the life. I love my family. And love means, as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross reminds us, that we “do not accept anything as love which lacks truth.”