“Ask a Priest: Should I Fear for Loved Ones Who Left the Church?”

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Q: I have family members who have left the Catholic Church. They now belong to the Assemblies of God church. Should I be concerned about their souls? (One cousin states that all Catholics are going to hell!) Thank you for your time. -L.V.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It can be painful to see loved ones leave the Church. While they are cutting themselves off from a full sacramental life, we can’t judge the state of their souls. God alone knows that.

I can say with certainty, though, that your cousin’s assertion that all Catholics are doomed is way out of line. Yet, that assertion is telling: It might indicate some deep personal wounds triggered by something or someone within the Church. For that reason, the best thing you might be able to do for now is to pray for your relatives and let them know you love them. Be a good listener when they share something about their newfound denomination — perhaps that will give you clues as to why they left the Church.

Something that will help in hidden but powerful ways is increasing your own personal pursuit of holiness. Each one of us is called to be a saint. And the further we move along that path, the more sensitive we are to inspirations of and guidance by the Holy Spirit — who is even more interested than you are in bringing your family members home to the Church that Jesus started.

The most important element in your search for holiness is growing in your prayer life. As a concrete step, you might consider reading my friend and colleague’s book on Christian, Christ-centered meditation: The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer, by Father John Bartunek, L.C.

Meanwhile, look for opportunities to share something of your faith with your family members. The Catholic faith has deeper roots than these relatively new communities, and it has more answers. But for now, it might not be productive to try to argue doctrinal points. Rather, try to keep the dialogue open with your relatives. If they sense your ongoing love for them, that might be the preparation for a return to the faith in the future (even if that seems like a long shot).

You might want to research the Assemblies of God and learn about their views. This could equip you for dialogue. Let me know if you find a doctrinal point in this denomination that particularly strikes you and that you need help refuting. I hope this helps. You will be remembered at Mass.

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