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Community of Believers

Fr. John Burger

From the Director

By Fr. John Burger

This month’s issue of Columban Mission is put together loosely around the theme of family life. Judging by the letters and prayer requests that come into our mission office, one issue that is worrying many people is that some family members, usually the young, are not attending Mass regularly.

My first memory of attending Mass is not a happy one. I think I was about four years old, and I just could not settle down and be quiet. My parents probably thought they had dressed me in an appropriate way for church. I am sure they thought I looked spiffy or adorable or both in a little brown and cream houndstooth woolen suit. What they did not realize was that the wool cloth was scratchy and kept me in a state of irritation that I was trying to overcome in the worst way by wriggling. And that only made matters worse.

Sometimes when I am traveling on a Sunday, I enjoy slipping into a pew and simply attending a parish Mass. It can be good for us clergy to experience the liturgy from the consumer’s side of the altar rail. Once in a while the drama in the pew in front of me is distracting. For example, I will be distracted by a teen who, although s/he is attending Mass, is using all the body language s/he can muster to proclaim, “I am here but I do not want to be.”

Resistence on the subect of church attendance is likely to produce exactly a duel-of-wills type of reaction from parents who feel their authority being questioned. “I don’t want to go to Mass” is likely to produce a “Get ready, you are going” response. And that might lead to the parent winning a series of battles but losing the war.

Faith in God and His Son Jesus is not meant to be kept to oneself, but shared with others.

The complaint that Mass is boring is not going to be argued away on the basis of its entertainment value. But that is not the important thing about Mass.

Perhaps a better starting point for parents whose teens and adult children have stopped going to church would be to share their own deeply personal experiences of what participating in the Mass has meant to them. Faith in God and His Son Jesus is not meant to be kept to oneself, but shared with others. This is true especially in the context of our nearest and dearest.

What is shared need not be something theologically profound, but it does need to be honest. Perhaps one or both parents might share about times when they really felt close to God or that God felt near to them while in church. On the other hand, they could talk about how attending church week after week simply gives them a chance to slow down and clear their heads. Honest sharing is a way to fulfill the command found in 1 Peter 3. “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence …”

Hopefully, parents and grandparents can help their children appreciate these experiences or those of others known to them that helped them bond with God and with the community of believers.

After all, we are all searching for God who never gives up on us. I would encourage parents to share their own searching for God story and how the gift of faith has made a difference in their lives.

And, oh yes, don’t make the little children wear scratchy wool!