Wednesday, December 03, 2008

parish suggestion follow-up

My last post about my partying senior citizens provoked an e-mail from a confrere (albeit from a different ecclesial communion) who had this to say:
It isn't just that they will stay until the end - people will go to any function, regardless of weather, except church. 
If it is threatening to rain or snow, its a light house, but nothing will stop the tailgate before the Jets game, or the kids soccer or football games, even sitting in the chilly rain.
It's human nature....anywhere but comfortable and safe in the Lord's arms.
This reminded me of an article written almost a decade ago by Bishop Thomas Tobin (now in Providence, but then in Youngstown, Ohio), in which he lamented the state of the Sacrament of Marriage in all its brutal reality.

But I digress.  This e-mail sent to me prompted an impromptu reply, which I've embellished a bit as I've had time to ponder it:
  • If a football coach tells parents their son needs to memorize plays to be on the team, the parents agree.  If a priest tells parents their child needs to memorize prayers or facts about their faith to be a better Catholic, the parents argue.
  • If a soccer coach tells parents they need to get their child to team practices three times a week, the parents change work schedules and arrange carpools.  If a priest tells parents they need to get their child to a practice before a big liturgy, the parents complain.
  • If a cheerleading coach tells parents that they need to raise money so the team can go to a competition at Disney World, the parents sell candy bars and wash cars.  If a priest tells parents that they need to raise money so the altar servers can get new robes, the parents remark that "It's always about money".
  • If a school teacher isn't pushing his/her students to read and do math beyond their grade level, then he/she isn't thought to be doing their job.  If a religious education program pushes students to know and understand their faith beyond their grade level, then the program is thought to be "unrealistic".
Sports parents see the connection between practices and "the game"; they understand that to play better during games, their athlete needs to attend practices in order to reinforce things already learned, as well as to learn new things. Sports parents understand that if their child does not attend the practices, chances are they will not play in the game. Parents will even send their children to special sports camps in order to get them advanced coaching and skills, so that their child can do something on the field that the other players cannot.

A significant amount (but certainly not all) of Catholic parents don't see the connection between their child(ren)'s religious education classes and Sunday Mass. Some think it is sufficient to send their child(ren) to the classes, but not attend Mass regularly.  Religious education is a service they pay for and expect to be done for them but not by them.  Like hiring someone to teach their kids to play the piano, some parents think that religious education programs are there to teach their children to have faith.   But back to kids who attend religious ed. but not Mass:  Can you imagine signing little Johnny or Judy up for soccer, taking them to the practices during the week, and then not taking them to the actual games?  Do we tell them they should just be happy attending the practices?  That's neither fair to the child(ren) nor to the team.  Unlike the goal of youth athletics, which is meant to help the athlete be the best player they can be while still understanding they are a part of a team, the goal in most religious education classes is to know exactly what the other kids know, and no more.  Religious education tests are largely "fill in the blank"; essay questions are a rarity.  We never give a child a topic and see what they can do with it.  Instead we ask them to name the 12 apostles, the 7 sacraments, the 3 Divine Persons, the names of the Pope, the Bishop, and the Pastor (and sadly, if they can do that we're astonished), and they're done.  Ask them what the Apostles did for us, or what the Sacraments do for us, etc., and you get the blank face.  Yet THAT'S what will get them through the "game times" when life experiences have them pressured or down, and they could use their Catholic faith to help them through the storm.  I'm not even getting into the question of the current obsession with "community service hours" that is now been grafted into Confirmation preparation programs.  I mean, isn't community service what the justice system gives to offenders as a punishment?

OK, enough ranting on this.


Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

I also have a beef with the CYO basketball league that insists on scheduling Sunday games. (At 1 PM) But still, SUNDAY games. That is family day for us. My daughter has 8 Sunday games out of 16 games for the season. And at 1 PM on Sunday, we're just finishing up the closing hymn at the noon Mass, and she is putting away her altar-server robe.

We told the coach that she might be late to the Sunday games.

Adrienne said...

Fr. Jay - I understand what you are saying about memorizing facts (which the kids don't do anyway) but.........if the kid can't tell me what a sacrament is we can't have a discussion about how it impacts their life.

I taught 4th grade for awhile at a traditional Catholic school, and I had some of the best theological discussions with those little boys ever. But each one of them could recite word for word out of the catechism, just like I could when I was a girl. It is the jumping off place for being able to say, "let's take a look at that and see what it means".

Both ways of learning are important. I call it head and heart. Let's get it into the head so we can than get it into the heart.

Melody said...

First time I've surfed into your blog. But I loved the post, you make such valid points - and they (sadly) transcend borders.

I'm from Bbay India & parents are pretty much the same here too.


Ginkgo100 said...

Some think it is sufficient to send their child(ren) to the classes, but not attend Mass regularly.

This is exactly the problem I have as a confirmation catechist (of 11th-graders). If a baseball coach told parents that there is no point in attending practice if you don't show up for the game, the parents would agree; but when I (and the program director, and our pastor) tell them there is no point in attending confirmation class if they don't go to Mass, we are ignored. I tell my kids I'd rather they skip class if they would just go to Mass. I guess I'm glad they don't skip class, but the majority still don't go to Mass. One told me her mom wouldn't LET her go because she had too much homework!

I'm frustrated with my class this year. About half are there just because their parents make them go.

Maybe I will try giving them an essay question this week.

Tony said...

Fr. Jay,

Part of the problem is "what's the use" attitude many parents have when it comes to the dismal religious ed programs in their parishes.

To be fair, these teachers are usually volunteers, and are not sufficiently trained in the faith themselves.

When my daughter was in 10th grade, I asked permission of my pastor to home school her in religious ed, because she was better prepared for confirmation at that time than the teacher.

I know, if I can teach it, why don't I teach it to everyone? I don't believe that is where God is calling me right now in the Church.

PS: Why do we have to sign in with our Google account and type the silly letters in the box?

Rachel said...

Very good analogy between sports and church. It's amazing how little people are willing to sacrifice for things of real value...

John C. Hathaway said...

Wonderful! You've started quite a "meme" here.

When my nephew was confirmed, his mother was the only member of his immediate family who went: the rest went to his brother's baseball game.

I would like to offer one minor tweak: if the CCD teacher is trying to get students to learn stuff *at* their grade level, and often *below* it, parents say they're being "unrealistic."

Janny said...

We had a sign-in system for Mass attendance for Confirmation kids when my kids were going through Catholic school and Confirmation prep. Yeah, it's not much, and yeah, kids could get other kids to sign for them--on the other hand, all it would take is one teacher to look over the handwriting and they'd know who signed for whom. You don't go to Mass, you don't get confirmed. That was the tradeoff. I don't know if anyone actually failed to make it...can't remember now (it was several years ago!).

The downside to that was, of course, kids were saying things like, "Boy, I'll be glad when we're finally confirmed so we don't have to do this stupid Mass thing anymore." To which my daughter said, "Huh? If you're not going to Mass regularly anyway, WHY IN THE WORLD are you getting confirmed? Confirmed as WHAT?"

She was told to mind her own business. :-\

The other side of the coin: we had a new church dedication/consecration ceremony on the same Saturday afternoon as a BIG community baseball game for my son's (and my husband's, since he was the coach) team. But when we saw the date, there was never a question in our house as to where we would be. We attended that dedication and party as a family, and both father and son knew why they were giving up that game. Son didn't even complain AT ALL, which warmed my heart. It helped that we could tell them, "You may never see another church dedication in your lives--it doesn't happen that often. Take it in." :-)

The beautiful thing about that decision was, when we got home from the party, tucked in our door was an autographed baseball from the entire team and other coaches, with the final (winning!) score on it for father and son to keep as a memento. We still have that ball; I wonder if those other kids and coaches knew just how affirming that gesture was to both us as a family, and to our faith. It still gives me a smile to look at it.

Something positive, at any rate.


Denise said...

I am a 7th grade catechist and have lamented the same situation in my parish. However, what I would greatly appreciate and am not getting are some words from the pulpit or a parent letter from the pastor. And the letter should use the "s" word--sin! It is a sin of grave matter to miss Mass without serious cause. As I talk to parents, I am amazed at how many have never heard this or who tell me I must be mistaken. I really believe such words from a priest would have great impact. You may also want to see my suggestions for reaching some of the "C & E Catholics."

Simplex Vir said...

Father Toborowsky,

I could not agree more with your analysis of practice for the big game which would be Mass.

Both of my boys serve at Mass, my younger who is 13, serves also at the TLM (in all its forms). My oldest who is approaching 20 and is in college has not embraced the TLM but still serves diligently at the OF.

The point of this is that both are also athletes. The college guy is a wrestler for the school. The other is a Hockey player (odd because we are from the south and these are both very Northern sports). They have always seen this connection to practicing their faith as much as practicing their sport. When they serve they want to do there very best for God, the Priest, and the congregation. It is like a game sometimes even to the extent that there is some competitiveness with other servers. Just not too out of control.

I enjoyed the post and will be returning often!