This priest nails it. Just. Nails. It.
For the past 12 years I have been a pastor of a parish or multiple parishes with parochial schools attached to them.
I’m not a pastor, but I’ve been involved in faith formation ministry for 15 years or so. I feel his pain.
Over the years they have been a great source of joy for me in watching these children grow and watching faith blossom….
One of my joys has been seeing that spiritual light bulb go off over their heads.
I know that their parents are partners in this endeavor. I see some parents make great efforts to get their children to Sunday Mass, teach them the truth of faith, support the parish and school, and carry the rest of load of their very busy schedules. I admire their dedication. I know my principals and teachers do as well.
This said, the same institution that exalts my heart also crushes it. I would estimate that about a third of my students over the years do not go to Mass on the weekend. That number rises significantly after they graduate from 8th grade. After 19 years of priesthood, I know what will usually happen. These young bright faces will wander further and further away from faith, mimicking the minimalism of their parents. I grieve that the blossoming of faith will be truncated and is actively being undone by those charged with the primary duty of handing on true faith in Jesus Christ. I had one brother priest refer to this as spiritual child abuse. Harsh words, I thought, but true words.
I love that phrase: spiritual child abuse. Quite accurate. We actually had one parent get in the face of one teacher and berate her for teaching that Sunday mass attendance was a requirement. “I’ll teach my kids about how often to go to church!” he said. Literally, someone unclear on the concept. I was dreading getting those children in my grade, which would have been three years later. Fortunately – or even more so, unfortunately – I never did. The parents never brought their kids back, even for just the Wednesday night classes. I’m sure their Sunday obligation turned into their Sunday sleep in late. /sigh
I hear plenty of excuses from these other parents. I know some work on weekends because of the nature of their jobs. But that is not the case for all. It is spiritual sloth. When we teach our children that it is okay and necessary to take from God the one hour of liturgical worship He asks for a week, what are we telling our child about the faith as a whole?
I told my students each year that I expect their respect for the hours I put into preparing the lessons, getting ready for class, taking hours out of my week for them, the money I put into supplies, etc. It didn’t mean I got respect, but I asked for it. I work full time and still volunteer, yet we can’t get parents to bring their kids to mass, or even to class each week.
The time we have for Mass built into the school schedule is not a replacement for the weekend Masses. That is on the parent who will stand before God and have to tell Him why they taught their children to treat God they way they did. When we teach our children that sacraments are like merit badges, that is, do the bare minimum and get your badge, what are we telling them about God’s grace and His desire to be a part of our lives?
I see parents who will go out of their way for a child to develop skills in a sport but will not go out of their way for Mass. Not all sports parents do this. I know parents who do both well. I appreciate and laud their effort. I know it is not easy. That is why I do not buy the excuses from the others: I know many parents who make the sacrifices and teach their children to do the same. I will respect those who do this.
We are asked to donate our time, talent, and treasure. It’s hard to get volunteers, but the worst is the collection plate. I’ve heard that the people who count the money each week get pennies, buttons, and other worthless items in the basket, from a mass full of people whose expensive cars are in the parking lot and have manicures and very nice clothes. Suck it up, and give up a meal out or something and put that money in the plate. God doesn’t ask much of you, but he does ask for something.
Furthermore, when we teach our children that making such sacrifices is unimportant or an undue burden, we take for granted God’s mercy and grace (the sin of presumption) and we teach them to take for granted the effort and sacrifices that parishes and parishioners make for that school to be open at all. Parishes are willing to give tremendous amounts of resources, energy, and time to make schools a reality. They do this as an investment in the future. When that investment is squandered, it is sinful.
I go one step further as a pastor in a diocese where we do not charge tuition to members of the parish. Our parishes give up a tremendous amount for these schools to be in existence; it is a slap in our collective face to be told we want you to heavily subsidize my children’s education and faith formation but I will teach my child to ignore most of it. I know that sounds harsh, but that is reality.
I know the conventional wisdom is to soft peddle or say nothing at all. We don’t want people to get upset after all. We are supposed to be the Church of nice. Wait, no we are not. The Catholic Church is supposed to call people to holiness and excellence; something we are trying to do in our schools. I want your children to be holy. I want your children in heaven. I know the two are tied together. I want you parents to be holy. I want you in heaven as well. I know the two are tied together. We need to be on the same page.
I agree. Priests need to slap their congregations upside the head with a spiritual 2×4. I get so tired of our parish getting the short end of the stick because parents and members aren’t called on the carpet for their selfishness. We keep getting warnings about the money we owe, that our collections aren’t enough to run the church, yet nothing changes – because we have to be nice and not hurt anyone’s feelings. Screw that, I say. Shame is helpful when it is justified and needed. If we cannot support our parish, then we deserve to lose it. Maybe the freeloaders will do better when they have to drive to a parish further away. Our parish gets taken for granted because the priest doesn’t insist on NOT being taken for granted.
To not say anything is a severe breech in my duties as a pastor and a grave disservice to the parents who do make the effort and the sacrifices. I take my duties seriously. All of my parents in the school, home school, and public school need to do the same. I would rather have you angrier than wet hen at me now and convert than have you happy with me and watch you drift further away!
So to my school parents reading this: To you who make the sacrifices and make your way to Mass Sunday in and Sunday out, who show up to help despite your busy schedules, who volunteer…thank you. To my school parents who don’t do these things, challenge yourself to excellence, want your child’s eternal salvation as much as I do, want your salvation as much as I do…make the effort, the sacrifice…we’re right there with you! I will keep doing my part, I will insist that my school and other education programs do the same, but each parent needs to do theirs as well.
Those who have had me as the pastor know it is not my nature to shrink away from a struggle and that it is my nature to call to holiness and excellence and nothing less. I need partners in this…and you parents are just the partners in this I need.
It’s not just the school parents, though. It’s every single parishioner, including me. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s not about me. It’s about our community.
I think I can put my soapbox away now. For now.
PS: I have forwarded this link to my parish. Let’s see if it gets used. Or pokes someone into action.