“Ask a Priest: What If I Attended Bizarre Weddings in the Past?”

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Q: My 30-something niece (let’s call her Susie) will be getting married. She went to Catholic school for 12 years and then college. She is now a radical feminist who is pro-abortion, pro-gay, pro-transgender, pro-contraception, anti-Church, maybe even anti-God. My sister (her mom) does not think Susie will even consider having a Church wedding. As a godmother, it falls to me to talk to her about this getting married outside the Church. What do I do/say? I have been praying for her ceaselessly. Here are my specific questions: Do I say I’m not going to the wedding if it’s not in a Catholic church? That’ll cause a lot of trouble, as five years ago I went to her brother’s wedding which took place in their barn with a pastor-cousin of the bride officiating. This was before I reverted completely back to my Catholic faith. And we have a history in our Catholic family of bizarre weddings that I’ve attended: one niece’s was in a botanical garden and no mention of God throughout the ceremony, which was officiated by my sister’s then husband, now ex-husband; three of my siblings were married in rented mansions, etc. So those would be brought up — I attended their weddings, why not hers? Also, if I don’t go to the wedding, do I still attend the reception? Do I give a gift? This will probably break off all ties to her family and maybe all my siblings and their families, too, as they will think I’m being extreme! Is that what God wants me to do? Also, years ago, when another sibling was married in a Lutheran church, a Catholic friend of my mom’s told my mom that she would not be able to attend the wedding because it wasn’t taking place in the Catholic Church. Of course, my mom cried and we all disliked this woman forever for doing that cruel thing to Mom. Only now, I see how much courage that took to stand by her faith and Jesus. Please help me. So many of my family/friends have lost their Catholic faith, and it’s mostly because we don’t know it, and once we do know it, we don’t stand up for it. – B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear about the family situation. Unfortunately it is all too common for these kinds of things to happen within ostensibly Catholic families.

Let me say first that the Church doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules in this case you describe. A Catholic who considers attending this kind of wedding will need to consider whether the benefit of showing family solidarity is outweighed by the scandal or potential scandal caused by attendance at the wedding.

This can be a tricky question, and it is ultimately up to each person to decide before God.

That said, it seems that you already have a sense that going with the flow only adds to the confusion among Catholics.

You can appreciate now that that woman who skipped the non-Catholic wedding was showing courage and standing up for her faith and for Jesus. Perhaps if more Catholics showed that same kind of courage, their loved ones would be encouraged to live their faith more fully.

It might help to remember that real love seeks the best for others. And that means defending the truth of the Gospels. Jesus established a Church in order to teach us and guide us and administer the sacraments — all with an eye to helping us get to heaven.

If you realize that you weren’t a good witness to the faith by going to those “bizarre weddings,” then just admit those mistakes.

If you decide not to attend this upcoming wedding, and family members challenge you about the other weddings you attended, you might consider saying, “I made a mistake.”

Also, if you decide not to attend the wedding, what kind of signal would you send if you show up at the reception? Receptions are for celebrating. What would you be celebrating? The same goes with sending a gift. Gifts are for festive occasions. Will this wedding be for you a festive event?

Perhaps the deeper question in all this is not so much what your niece is doing but rather what kind of Catholic you want to be.

It sounds as though you have had a conversion over the past few years. God’s grace has brought you back onto the right path. What is Our Lord asking of you now?

Recall the words of Scripture: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. … [A]nd one’s enemies will be those of his household” (see Matthew 10:34,36).

This isn’t to paint a good guys vs. bad guys scenario. Your e-mail implies that your niece’s parents are divorced, which could be at the root of some of her problems. She might still be suffering deeply from the divorce.

All of this is something you might want to take to prayer. Perhaps an e-mail or a phone call to your niece, gently broaching the topic, might be a way to start a dialogue with her.

This could be a providential opportunity. If you kindly and sincerely reach out to your niece, maybe inviting her to lunch or coffee, and take as much time as necessary to explain that you really do wish her all the happiness in the world, and that your desire for her to marry in the Church is an expression of that, this difficult situation could actually end up building bridges rather than burning them.

The important thing is to talk and to listen, sincerely and respectfully, and not be afraid to have differing opinions. You can’t determine her reaction, but you can determine your actions. In preparation for that kind of conversation, you might want to watch, read, or listen to our Retreat Guide on marriage, Three Hearts, which explains the Catholic understanding of this sacrament.

Whatever you do, continue to pray for your niece and all your family. A great grace of Our Lord is needed to heal hearts and souls here.

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