Magazine article U.S. Catholic

It's Sunday ...: Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

It's Sunday ...: Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Article excerpt

Last Sunday, I went to the 9 o'clock Mass. Alone.

This isn't the way it was supposed to be. We are part of a Catholic community, and Mass is said to be a celebration. These days Mass still represents many good things for me, but celebration isn't one of them.

What happened? My children grew up. Some of them still go to Mass, sometimes with me on that rare, really good Sunday. But some of them never go. The day just passes, and we don't even exchange any words about it. Three out of the four--they range in age from 18 to 25--are usually at home, too. Come Sunday morning, there's this "thing" we just don't talk about. I'm not sure I know a single Catholic family of my acquaintance that doesn't experience this sadness to one extent or another.

Too many young people, baptized and educated and raised as Catholics--who still vehemently claim to be believers--just aren't turning out for Sunday Mass anymore, not even with their parents. Barely 40 percent of baptized, self-proclaimed Catholics attend Mass in the U.S. on any given weekend. Of that number, less than one third are deemed "young people." In some inner-city parishes, it's an event to see anyone under the age of 55 sitting in a pew. Sure, parents still trundle off elementary school-age kids with them, but by the time they reach college, the drop-off becomes dramatic.

Catholic Church membership, overall, is not declining. The influx of mostly Hispanic Catholic immigrants has seen to that. It is church participation that seems to be endangered. You can chalk that up to laziness, disaffection, apathy, and a dozen other factors. The results add up to empty pews.

Millions of American Catholic parents with children in or approaching their very late teens or early 20s are going through a similar experience in which their children are exploring the boundaries and the permanence of their faith. The parents I used to sit next to on gray folding chairs at noisy school meetings from kindergarten on are experiencing the exact same dual crisis--of the soul and the family.

My friends Joe and Pat Burton live just a couple parishes away from us. They've been forced to accept the reality of grown children making their own choices, too.

"If they're at home, I sort of know what they're up to," says Pat, "but they all have lived away at school at one point or another, or still do. There's no way for me to really be sure what happens then."

When they'd call home, she would ask if they'd gone to Mass. "'Sure, Mom.' That was all I ever heard. Then I'd say, 'OK. What was the gospel about?' Then there'd be this silence. Finally I'd hear, 'The Prodigal Son.' Once, I told my son, 'It can't be the Prodigal Son every other week, honey.'"

Although they can',t control what their adult children do away from home, when they're under their parents' roof, it's a different matter. "At home, if they don't get up for Mass, I get them up. I don't care how late they were out the night before," says Pat. "And don't imagine it isn't a fight to get them to go with Joe and me when they come home for breaks or vacation. But I know it's a fight worth having."

Other parents disagree.

"We have plenty of other things to fight and argue about," explains Mary Kelly of New Jersey, "I know my children are basically good kids. This is a stage. It's rebellion, in a quiet way, and a life passage. This is how they show their independence from their father and me. It will pass. It may take until they think about having children of their own, but I know it's not a permanent rejection of the values they grew up with."

Growing up is hard to do

About the only times I can count on seeing my children all together at Mass are on the largely social occasions of weddings and funerals. That's something at least, but it does very little to make me feel better or any less culpable. Rightly or wrongly, I still assume responsibility for their actions, spiritual and otherwise. …

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