“Ask a Priest: What If Young Grandkids Say They Are Atheist?”

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Q: I am a grandmother with three grandchildren from my adopted daughter, whom we adopted as an infant and raised Catholic. She attended church every Sunday and had a Catholic education. When she married my son-in-law he was supposedly Jewish. He only goes to his synagogue twice a year. It’s sad that my grandkids don’t experience all the Catholic traditions other than celebrating Christmas. Now they are 10, 13 and 14. When they were over I just asked if they ever went to church. The oldest said no, because they were atheists. My heart sank and I am deeply troubled. I know I need to pray for them and not judge, but what am I to do? Everything that I hold so important in my heart was crushed with that one word. How should I bring this up to my daughter, or do I? – B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It must be heartbreaking to hear your grandchildren describe themselves as atheists.

But don’t despair. Deep in the human heart is a desire for something transcendent. Perhaps this tendency will come to the surface sooner or later.

There are no simple solutions at this point. The best thing you can do is pray intensely for this family. Offer up your Masses and rosaries. And look for opportunities to share your faith with them.

It might be good to keep plenty of signs of your faith around the house — crucifixes, statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy water font near the front door, perhaps.

You might leave Catholic books sitting around the house, especially books of the saints. Ignatius Press has a series of books written for young people, which you could find through the website.

Also helpful would the Compendium of the Catechism with its question-and-answer format, as well as the Youth Catechism — the YouCat.

All these items might stimulate questions in the children and give you a chance to share your faith. My guess is that their mom is a harder person to convert right now. She certainly knows what the Church teaches and requires. So, to press her might be counterproductive for now. But you can certainly keep praying for her, and remember that God loves her even more than you do.

In short, this is the time to be a witness. Again, don’t give up hope for your loved ones. The grace of God can work wonders.

What is important is that the children especially see you happy. Later on they might wonder what the source of Grandma’s happiness is.

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