Don’t Blame Church if We’re Lukewarm
Waiting in line for confession a few weeks ago, I witnessed two adults sharing their relationship with the Church with the children who accompanied them.
At one end of the line, a little boy stood with his mom. He had a question a minute, clearly anxious about going to confession. Mom was very patient, answering his questions and soothing his fears.
It was beautiful to watch. Mother and son were walking together in faith. The boy, despite his anxiety, was fully engaged in preparing for confession. He was thinking about what and how he would confess. Mom was there to help him, but she also served as an example by participating in this healing sacrament of reconciliation herself.
A little further down the line stood a girl. Her grandfather had brought her to confession. As soon as they walked in, he told her to go and stand in line, and he went to sit down in one of the pews halfway down the church.
Five minutes later, he was pacing impatiently up and down the aisles. Someone he knew entered the church. Grandpa made a beeline for him, had a loud catch-up with his buddy. Then he informed his granddaughter that he was going to the shops to buy a few things, and that she must wait with the gentleman. And he vanished.
Meanwhile, the girl was clearly bored. After a few minutes of fidgeting, she began to hum a popular song. Then she started practising some dance moves. The guy, now charged with keeping an eye on her, frowned at her and told her to stop it.
Twenty minutes later, Grandpa returned but the line hadn’t moved very far. He declared loudly to anyone who would listen that they really should have more priests available! When the girl’s turn finally came, the elderly gentleman stood and left the church, perhaps to wait for her in the car.
Despite her distracting restlessness, I really felt sad for the girl. She had no one to help her prepare for her confession, to calm her nerves, pray with her. I got the feeling that the grandfather had been sent on an errand to take the girl to confession, but he himself was not interested at all.
How can we expect our children to grow in faith and a relationship with Jesus if we don’t walk the journey with them, like the first mom did with her son?
If we’re just going through the motions, but with no personal involvement, then what’s the point?
Fr James Mallon, in his book Divine Renovation, talks about renewing the Church and making it come alive again. He states that society has changed so dramatically in the last half-century that unless younger generations can see a point to the faith, they’re likely to leave.
He calls us to self-reflection: are we like the early disciples—full of missionary fire to share our faith with others? Or are we just going through the motions, sitting at a “safe distance, more concerned with our own needs and comfort”?
Fr Mallon goes on to say that unless we become missionary disciples, our efforts to pass on the faith will be ineffective. To be a disciples, he says, is “to be a learner. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from and about Jesus, the master, Jesus the teacher.”
I saw discipleship in the mother. The sacrament of reconciliation was clearly important to her and she wanted to help her son to fully experience that grace as well. In contrast, the grandfather was sitting “at a distance”, thinking about the rest of his day.
We Cant Give Kids a Reason to Stay
Catechists struggle with this all the time. Many parents drop their children off at catechism but don’t add to that one weekly hour of instruction.
The catechists’ efforts will be futile unless the faith is also alive in the home. Unless parents bring their children to Mass (and that means attending Mass with them, not just dropping them off at the door), it’s unlikely that these kids will continue coming to church after confirmation.
Too often, we blame the kids for their lack of interest. We complain that they aren’t engaged, are easily distracted by their electronic devices, their friends. We fight with them when they tell us they no longer want to come to church. We tell them they have to come, but can’t give them a good reason why.
We should be blaming ourselves instead.
Fr Mallon points out that often, we think that catechism is just for the kids, and an “entirely optional and entirely non-essential” activity for adults. “We value it for children and teenagers, but somehow think that adults do not need to learn, grow or mature.”
Is it arrogant when we feel that there is nothing more to learn? Or is it fear? Are we afraid of what will happen if we allow the Resurrection to take hold of our lives? After all, it will change everything.
If we truly embrace the final instruction of the Risen Christ in Galilee (Mt 28:16–20) to go and make disciples of every nation, if we live in the spirit of Pentecost, alive with the courage and conviction of our faith to be missionary disciples, then we need to realign our priorities, relinquishing many comforts to become true missionaries.
But unless we do this, we cannot complain about our shrinking churches or lament our offspring’s indifference.
We cannot blame the situation in the Church today for our lukewarm faith. Unless we are prepared to get involved in rebuilding the Church we claim to love, then nothing will change.
So let’s make this Easter season different. Let’s begin with ourselves, renewing our faith and our knowledge of the faith.
Some suggestions include: join an RCIA programme, a Bible study group, a prayer group, participate in a ministry within the Church, go on retreat, take time to read the Gospels and other religious literature, take time to pray.
Let’s make our Church come alive again!