On Being a Missionary to Your Extended Family

by | Oct 5, 2015 | Catholic Living, Mailbag, Travel With Kids | 10 comments

Mailbag time! Here’s one about how we maintain our family’s religious practices on vacations with friends or family members who aren’t living their faith the same was we do.


Hi, Kendra!

My question for you has to do with traveling. We
currently travel a couple times a year, mostly to visit my family who
live a few states away. I’m wondering if you could offer some insight
into how your family preserves your own unique way of practicing your
faith while away from home, specifically if you are staying with
friends/family who may not understand your way of practicing

When we visit my family, we stay with them, since hotels in their are
expensive and their feelings would be hurt if we didn’t. They are
Catholic but don’t necessarily fully practice or take their faith very
seriously. I would never want to make them feel that we are in any way
critiquing their choices, but I do feel the need to preserve our own
family traditions of faith while we are with them. We still say our
family prayers while we are visiting, before meals, morning offerings,
and bedtime. We still go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation.
There are many challenges, though. I find Fridays to be difficult, as
abstaining from meat is not an option while we are here. Their parish is
much different from ours (homilies and liturgical hymns are
generally . . . less than ideal, at best, and sometimes heretical, at
worst). There isn’t much choice as far as parishes go, since they live
in the country. My concern is that for these few weeks, my littles are
sent mixed messages about the Faith. I want to be charitable towards my
family (who are so generous and excited to host my husband, myself, and
our 4-under-6 crew!) and be a good witness to them, but I also don’t
want to let our kids get confused while they’re here.

I know that in the end, a few weeks won’t compare to the weeks
throughout he year of a daily, full embrace of the Faith in its true
beauty. I just can’t shake how very conflicted I feel! How do I spend
time with my family, and let them enjoy their grandkids, while also
keeping our family’s faith intact? What do you think?



Hey Jen,

Thanks for your kind words.

I think the best way to look at it, is that during those times you guys are missionaries. If you brought your family to the African jungle or back in time to pagan Ireland like St. Patrick, you’d expect the people there to be doing things their own way. And you’d do the best you could under the circumstances to be a light to the people around you. You’d try to appreciate the good in their culture and traditions, while not losing yours. You’d stand firm where you must, and give where you can.

And that’s what we do on vacations.

For things like meat-free Fridays, we try to live by the St. Josemaria quip that we should “choose mortifications that don’t mortify others.” Abstaining from meat on Friday is a Best Practice, but we are allowed by the bishops to substitute another sacrifice, so what better time to do so than when it would mean not inconveniencing our hosts? Our kids understand that we are doing it out of charity, not laziness. And we have fun trying to find another sneaky sacrifice to make during the day.

As for the Mass. I totally feel you. Once you’ve found a church that feels like home, it’s shocking to go back out there and find terrible music and homilies. But it’s a good chance to help our kids understand that while uplifting and edifying music and homilies and surroundings are a huge blessing, and, again, a Best Practice . . . they’re not The Mass. The Mass is still there underneath beautiful or ugly trappings. We don’t go to Mass to be personally uplifted (although that’s often a lovely side effect), we go to Mass because God said he wished it of us. The “point” of the Mass isn’t community or inspiration. The four ends of the Mass are Adoration, Atonement, Thanksgiving, and Petition. We can look past the music and the homily and still give those four things.

We have been party to a handful of heretical homilies, and I think they’ve been a good opportunity to have a discussion with our older kids. For little ones, they usually haven’t noticed. But for our older kids, we talk about it. We’re respectful of the priest’s station, but he’s a man, and we just talk about how he got this wrong, and why. I think it’s a mistake faithful Catholic families sometimes make to put priests on a pedestal. They deserve to be spoken of with respect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ever disagree with them.

There are opportunities for growth in understanding and charity AND faith in all of these experiences if we approach them right.

I think the main thing to remember is what you said . . . if your home is a place of solid formation, your kids will absolutely be able to handle outlier-type experiences. And maintaining close, loving relationships with family members who aren’t practicing their faith is a really important goal. It gives us a chance to love them and perhaps also to evangelize them. Maybe the next generation of the family will remember the love and joy that our little branch of the family tree seemed to have. It’s not always possible. Many people have had to make the difficult decision to limit or avoid contact with certain friends or family members. But if you can figure out a way to do it, I think it’s really a blessing for all involved.

Good Luck!

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.)
If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching,
please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an
expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of
experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in
marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you’ve got a question, please send it along to helpdesk@catholicallyear.com . Please let me
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  1. Anonymous

    This is a great post! I have a lot of non-Catholic family members and I've used these strategies too; I talked about it in more detail on my blog.

  2. AnneMarie

    This is a great post! I totally agree with all of this. Having a strong foundation in your home is very important to hold onto when you visit relatives who don't share the Faith (or when you're travelling and the Mass you wind up at is less-than-ideal). I feel like those kinds of experiences also encourage gratitude in the traditions and beloved parishes that we do have! As you said, too, it is so important to build those bridges with family members. For example, most of my husband's extended family is non-Catholic, but one of his relatives and I bond over Pope Francis whenever we see each other. 🙂

  3. Nancy Shuman

    Wow! "During those times you guys are missionaries.." What an excellent way of looking at it!

  4. mel

    Great answer. We have struggled mainly with the meatless thing, lol. Going out to eat is a HUGE deal in my husband's family, and I *know* insisting on meatless options (like sharing a pizza, or going out to a BBQ place) will cause friction. When possible to casually make a meatless choice (like buffets or Applebee's type places) those old enough to be bound by Friday sacrificing know to tactfully do this. But when it is not an option, out of charity to family, we just go along and say a chaplet in the car afterwards, lol.

  5. Erin

    Seeing all the different family dynamics around us, my husband and I try to remain true to our faith but scale back certain practices so that we remain more approachable to our other family members. It is so easy to make others feel that we are "holier than thou" though that isn't at all our intention. If we make our faith seem completely out of reach to our non practicing family members, what good are we doing? Jesus wants is all to be in communion with Him so my husband and I try to examine all our practices and how they will be taken by each family member we will be with. We definitely have non-negotiables like attending Sunday Mass, but other things – maybe ask yourself if you feel you have the relationship with the other family member to have your practice be seen as inviting and an opportunity to be a missionary, or do you not have the relationship foundation or is that family member not open? In the latter case, I believe Jesus would ask us to follow a path which is most inviting and loving to our family member. I'm not perfect at this; it looks different at different times of life and with different family members. But think of yourself as Christ's extension: he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He loved them where they were and He invited them to follow Him. So, with any family visit, think of your end goal: your family member growing closer to Christ. Then act according to what will further that goal. Jesus will be more pleased with us winning souls for Him than for being strict about meatless Fridays, etc. In that scenario, your sacrifice is NOT going meatless, though you want to – your sacrifice is showing charity and an inviting hand to your family members.

    • Ali

      What a wonderful post script to Kendra's fantastic post!

  6. Karyn

    I always feel like we're missionaries, living in the deep south as we do, lol. No one in our family is practicing but they already know we're "that weird Catholic family". So we continue to do what we do even with family, while trying to not make a big deal about it. It's my fervent prayer that seeing us, some of them may want to return to the Church.

  7. Ali

    I am a Catholic convert and the only person practicing any type of Christian faith in my close family, other than my step grandmother. When traveling we try to find a balance between practicing our faith and accommodating our host – typically my atheist and agnostic parents. Traveling during Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter has been the biggest test. My extended family's focus during these times is radically different than my immediate family. I don't (yet!) have the confidence to pray (other than grace before meals) or talk openly about God to my children in front of my family. Whenever we spend Easter or Christmas with them I feel like I am compromising my faith and setting a terrible precedent by talking about Jesus primarily at bedtime or in the car when it is just our family. It has led to choices about how we spend our holidays and I do try to make sure we spend either Christmas or Easter at home every year. It isn't ideal.

    On a side note, the missionary approach in your post applies to families in our own parishes too! In my parish there are families who appear to take their faith less seriously than we do (who am I to judge!) and there are families who appear to have a much stronger faith, integrated into their daily lives in a way I only dream about.
    One thing I have noticed from all of these deeply faithful families (& I think you do the same thing beautifully on this blog Kendra!) is that they do not isolate themselves from other families in the parish. They live their faith and invite those around them to join them. We have never been made to feel "less Catholic" than these beautifully devout families and my questions about all kind of Catholic practices have been answered with honesty and love. Because of the opportunity to socialize and worship with these families we have made wonderful friendships and we have a stronger family faith.


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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