Q. My son, who is 19, has suffered from anxiety and depression since puberty, although it’s only recently that we have recognized it for what it is. He began using marijuana in his early teens, dropped out of school, struggled to hold a job and was very unstable.
His girlfriend recently gave birth to their son, whom he loves dearly. He seems to want very much to become what he calls “a good man,” but he keeps slipping. (The other day he told us he feels that he is a “pathological liar.”) The trust in their relationship has been broken so many times that I don’t think his girlfriend will take him back.
He keeps saying that he wants to return to Mass. (He says this on his own; believe me, I put no pressure on him, although I myself am a very committed Catholic.) But every Sunday morning, he seems to find some reason why he just can’t get up and go to church.
My question is this: Is it possible, because of everything that he has done wrong in the past that a “bad angel” is influencing him not to go back to Mass or to reconnect with the church? I am shy about talking to our parish priest about it, but if this is a possibility, is there something that can be done to release him from this hold? When I see him so broken, I feel that my heart is wrapped in thorns. (New Zealand)
A. I do not believe that your son is under the control of a “bad angel.” It’s much more likely that he is in the throes of depression, which is an increasingly common disease in our fast-paced world, a medical condition with medical remedies.
My guess is that he simply does not have the psychic energy to act on his better instincts, his professed desires to be “a good man” and to seek strength through the Eucharist.
Your first goal, if you have not done so already, is to find a competent psychiatrist – one experienced in treating young adults and one with whom your son would be comfortable in speaking.
God works most often through individuals, especially those in the healing professions. I would suggest, too, that you do speak with your parish priest – especially if he knows your son – and invite him to find a casual way to approach your son and simply ask him how he is doing.
Hopefully, that might begin a dialogue that could lead to your son’s return to the comforting grace of the sacraments.
I can only imagine your pain at seeing your child undergo such suffering. Continue to pray – and I will, too – that the Lord will ease your son’s agony and your own.
Q. Our pastor recently left the priesthood, and now he is advertising on the Web that he is available to perform weddings or funerals (including weddings of gay/lesbian couples.) The Catholic priest who married us has also left the priesthood and is now a Presbyterian minister. Both of these men are quick to proclaim openly that they used to be Catholic priests.
My question is this: How does a faithful Catholic treat and respond to these men now? I am appalled at their behavior and wonder what we are doing wrong that so many men are leaving the priesthood. (Central New Jersey)
A. How you should treat these two men is how you should treat everyone: with kindness. No one can pretend to know the struggles they may have endured – both in their years of active ministry and in their decisions to resign.
I would say: Be nice to them and leave any judgment to God. At the same time, though, I would be wary of any religious services offered by your former pastor. Having resigned from the Catholic priestly ministry, he no longer has faculties from the diocese, which means that he has no authorization from the church to celebrate Mass or to officiate at Catholic wedding or funerals.
As a result, Catholics would not fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending his service. (I would even wonder whether his marriage ceremonies are valid civilly, since most jurisdictions authorize clergy to officiate at weddings only if they are in good standing with the parent religious body.)
As to the “so many men” who are leaving the Catholic priesthood, you should be comforted to know that, these days, that is a fairly rare occurrence. (The peak years were the late 1960s and early 1970s.)
Also encouraging is the fact that seminary enrollments in the United States are on the upswing. In fact, 2012 saw the highest seminary enrollment in nearly 25 years, according to figures from Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington.
(Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.)