How do you deal with a close family member who has “tunnel vision” when it comes to any Catholic topic?
Your question is interesting because it could go both ways. Is this relative close-minded when it comes to Catholics and their beliefs and practices, or is this relative adamant about a Catholic perspective in all things?
I will choose the former case for the sake of answering the question, but my suggestions could apply in either case. You didn’t indicate gender, so I will use feminine pronouns for ease in writing my response.
At the heart of this “tunnel vision” is an intolerance of another’s viewpoint and religious practice. When people view their world through the lens of “us” and “them,” it causes barriers in our relationships. When you are with her, don’t be shy about your Catholicism, but don’t fall into a defensive trap that has you arguing or proselytizing.
The song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Being a disciple of Christ makes a difference in the way you live. Treat your relative as Jesus would. Be present to her and listen to her story. Oftentimes when a person stereotypes a whole group, there is a personal experience attached to her viewpoint. Why does she dislike Catholics so much? As a Protestant child was she not allowed to play with the Catholic neighborhood kids? As a former or non-practicing Catholic, does she feel she was mistreated by the church regarding her exclusion from the Eucharist when she remarried without having had her first marriage annulled, or was there an incident with her child in a Catholic school?
Did a tired, overworked priest say something not particularly charitable in the confessional? Listen to her story; don’t try to talk her out of her feelings. A compassionate response might be: “I’m sorry that happened to you. It must have been very difficult.”
But you are Catholic and she is in relationship with you. Let her know you are praying the rosary and making a holy hour for her adult son who is out of work. When going on your annual retreat, ask if she has particular intentions for which she would like you to pray. If she has a religious tradition of her own, ask her respectful questions to learn more about it, and when appropriate, point out the similar values in your two traditions.
Invite her to your parish’s Epiphany concert or summer festival. Let her find out that Catholics are fun-loving people who enjoy a beer and a brat just like everybody else.
Take her on a tour of a Catholic church that is architecturally and artistically significant (the basilica would be a great choice) and informally explain some of your Catholic practices as the two of you admire the beauty of the sacred space. For instance, when signing yourself with holy water you can explain that Catholics do this ritual upon entering a church to remind themselves of their baptism and the life they share in the Holy Trinity.
Be genuinely concerned about your relative and the joys and sorrows of her life. Forgive any narrowness of view, and always be willing to see the best in her. She will know you are Catholic by your love.
(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass. Questions for Christ may be sent to her at Catholic Herald Family, P.O. Box 070913, Milwaukee, 53207-0913 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org)