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“Ask a Priest: Do I Sin If I Don’t Speak Up About the Faults Around Me?”
Q: How do I live in peace and joy with family members who have different stances on moral issues that I don’t think are completely in line with what the Church teaches? They seem to follow Church teaching and rules with a loose interpretation, especially in regards to Church precepts, worthy reception of the sacraments, and rest on Sundays. What do I do if I see someone about to do or in the middle of doing something I believe might be sinful? Shouldn’t I say something? Or if I don’t, am I deliberately sinning? When I try to point these out to my family members, they get irritated and upset and don’t want to hear about “a bunch of rules.” I don’t want to be pushy, but I don’t want to commit sins of omission by not saying anything, especially if something is gravely sinful such as unnecessary shopping on Sunday or using the Lord’s name in vain. Also, I don’t always know if that person realizes it’s wrong. Sometimes I don’t think they do. If I don’t say anything, isn’t that on me? I just don’t know how I’m supposed to live as a good Catholic in the world or with my family. I am quite anxious about this. Your advice would mean so much to me. – R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Certainly, we should be concerned about our family and how they live the faith. We should try to help them get to heaven. This is part of our mission in life.
Sometimes that help will come in the form of fraternal correction. This is not always easy to do. It’s one thing to say the right thing. It’s another thing to say it in the right way at the right time to the right person.
If you make a point and get pushback from your family, it might not be wise to keep repeating yourself. This could end up irritating people and making them dig in their heels. They might even come to resent the constant lecturing and associate it with the Church and its “bunch of rules.”
So, you might want to consider a different approach.
First, remember that our faith is ultimately about our relationship with God. And like any relationship, the focus should be on love, not just on rules. Jesus came to redeem us because he loved us. Whatever rules he gave the Church authority to establish, he did so with an eye toward helping us reach salvation.
Now, if you see something amiss, and you feel compelled to say something, do it in a calm and charitable way. And once you make your point, it might be better to leave it in God’s hands after that.
And be careful not to rush to judgment. It’s not obvious that “unnecessary shopping” on Sunday is always gravely sinful.
This isn’t to defend the practice of unnecessary shopping on the Lord’s Day. But you shouldn’t assume that the shoppers are automatically committing grave sin.
They might not understand what the Sunday rest might entail. They might see shopping as a way to relax. They might think that the shopping is, in fact, necessary at the moment. In short, they might view things much differently than you do.
A better overall approach might be this:
First, try to live your faith as best you can. If you think shopping is inappropriate on Sunday, you should avoid that activity. If pressed for an explanation, you might calmly explain that it interferes with your Sunday rest and prayer.
Second, intensify your prayer and sacrifices for your family. This could help merit the graces they need for a deeper commitment to the faith.
Third, aim to live your life of charity perfectly. This includes helping around the house, speaking well of others, and always being patient and kind. Your example will speak louder than your words.
This emphasis on the positive – by witnessing the faith and being charitable – will help you in the long run, since the wider world is getting more secular. For it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
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