I have added a 7th rule – Be patient.

Six Rules for Dealing with Non-Catholic Family and Friends (especially over the holidays)

“I can’t believe you are thinking about being Catholic. Have you lost your mind? Why in the world would you leave biblical Christianity to follow a religion based on men’s tradition? How in the world did you fall for a religion like that?”

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“Listen, Mom and Dad, I appreciate the education you gave me at Catholic school, but I just don’t believe it anymore. I have found Jesus now, and I don’t need your religion anymore. I’ve learned so much since joining the Bible church, and they are much friendlier than the Catholics at Mass.”

*  *   *

Then the arguments begin, the hostilities and the senses of betrayal and loss arise. One grabs a Bible and begins quoting newly discovered verses out of context while the other tries to recall why he believes Catholic teaching but, alas, discovers he believes but doesn’t know why. It goes from bad to worse, and the lines of communication and trust collapse.

With multiple variations, this scenario plays itself out in families across America. Sometimes it is an Evangelical Protestant wife who finds out her husband has been studying in secret and is now deciding to join the dreaded Catholic Church. In another home it is heartbroken parents who’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on their children’s Catholic education only to have tears well up in their eyes when they watch their children leave the faith for secularism, a Baptist church, or another religion.

Not peace but a sword

There is no question that many families are split over religion. My wife and I know this from own experience. We were ostracized by our families and friends when we converted to the Catholic Church. Family refused to talk to us or visit our home for almost a year, and we lost all of our Evangelical friends—which were the only kind we had at the time—in less than a month.

 Religious arguments and split families are as old as time. The New Testament is full of conflict as Jews discovered the Messiah and were “divorced” by their Jewish families and communities.

Jesus knew the gospel would bring strife and division in families and warned of these ruptures: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:34–36).

Of course, for those who heard him, the immediate conflict was between Jews—those who rejected Jesus as Messiah and those who followed him. But similar conflicts continue to rip through families even to this day. It is especially common among Christians of different denominations, but most pronounced with conversions to the Catholic Church and those who fall away or choose another religion.

The religious division and pain within families is especially highlighted for me as I travel across the country and around the world speaking at conferences and parishes and leading pilgrimages. Of all the questions I am asked, there is no question more frequent than: “What should I do about my son or daughter who has left the Catholic Faith? It is tearing us apart. What can I do to get them back? What is the No. 1 argument to get them to listen and return?”

At this point, whether family members have left, or a coworker is relentless in his attacks on the Faith, or a wife is unable to get his husband to understand her newfound love for Catholicism, people look for a silver bullet. Unhappily, there is no silver bullet or special Bible verse that will turn back the clock, convert the heart, change the mind, convince the opponent, or drag back the child. What is done is done; we have to accept the situation as it is and take a long-term approach.

Anger and pain

Our first inclination, when confronted by an anti-Catholic or a fallen-away Catholic, is to argue or withdraw, often displaying our anger and pain. If it is a family member or friend at work, we are inclined to think it is our job to quickly retrieve them from their error. With good intentions, we press the issue by confronting them and using emotionally charged comments such as “I can’t believe this!” or “You’d do this even though you know how much it hurts us?”

The result is often the opposite of the intention. The loved one is usually pushed further away and more deeply entrenched in his resolve to resist. Bridges are burned, and discussion shuts down. After a few heated confrontations or silent treatments, the doors to conversation close shut. It is usually too late when we realize we’ve only made matters worse.

It is a rare and a blessed family that does not experience the personal grief of these problems and trials. Learned through the fires of my own experience and with a desire to help so many hurting brothers and sister in Christ, I came up with my Six Rules for Dealing with Non-Catholics. Watching people practice them over the years has proved to me that these rules work.

They do not always bring the wanderer back into the fold or convert the entrenched Protestant. But they help repair damaged relations and set the stage for future reconciliation and peace—even a full acceptance of the Catholic Faith.

The rules are not in any necessary order, although I do think the last one is revolutionary.

Rule No 1: Don’t argue….

For all the 6 Rules, click here.