3 Starting Points for Encouraging Non-Practicing Catholic Families

5139215570_fa0b898570_bMy friend Marc has a challenging post up about what we are teaching Catholic families about who and what they are. After reading through the questions posed for the Extraordinary Synod on the The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization — and its assumptions about the faithful’s familiarity with documents such as Gaudium et Spes and Familiaris Consortio — Marc muses

Is the Vatican so out of touch with the faithful? These are very intellectual questions that assume a lot of knowledge. Do they really think most Catholics read and understand these documents and terms?

But the other thing I thought was–should I have been teaching them this stuff? I’ve never even considered having a class for families on who and what they’re supposed to be. Parents would never come.

But if we don’t somehow teach them, how will they know? How will families understand themselves and what they’re called to be?

I’ve been wondering something similar for some time, although I also wonder if we’re teaching families what they should be doing to practice the faith at home. So many Catholic parents don’t even seem to be doing the basics anymore. And if they aren’t going to Mass on Sunday or praying before meals, do we really expect them to be sharing their faith in any meaningful way with their children?

(I could probably insert a whole sidebar here on the implications of Forming Intentional Disciples; suffice to say that it’s clear most Catholic parents wouldn’t meet Sherry’s criteria for intentional discipleship.)

I don’t think the answer is to hand out copies of Familiaris Consortio to every Catholic family and expect them to read it. So where do we start?

  1. Talk about the domestic Church. We need to remind parents that their families are a microcosm of the universal Church. Just as we gather together in parish communities to celebrate our faith, serve one another, and give thanks to God, so too are families called to do the same. This isn’t an “add-on” or something we do when we have extra time, but an integral part of what it means to be family in a Catholic context. Reminding families who they are — and using the language of the domestic Church — is one way to get them thinking about and moving towards this reality.
  2. Encourage greater Mass attendance. By that I don’t mean haranguing parents to be at Mass every Sunday. Rather, we should encourage them to take small steps towards greater participation. For a family that only attends at Easter and Christmas, maybe that means going once per month. For a family that participants more frequently, moving towards regular weekly attendance. And for families that are already attending every week, encouraging adding a daily Mass every week. The point is small improvements that can build on each other, not going immediately from 0 to 60.
  3. Reinforce family meal time and prayer. We’ve all seen the statistics that show how regular family meal times leads to better grades, a reduced likelihood of drug and gang involvement, and better mental and physical health. So why do so few families practice a daily shared meal? This simple step can help re-prioritize a family’s activities, help make connections to the Eucharist, and expand their faith lives through shared prayer and conversation. Activities such as The Meal Box (which my kids love) are a great tool to facilitate this interaction.

How do you think we can reach Catholics families and help them pass on the faith to their children?

Photo Credit: More Good Foundation via Compfight cc

Children and Church

As the father of four children (ages 8 1/2 years to 4 days), Beth Lewis Samuelson’s reflections on children in church resonates with me:

What does a child-tolerant church look like? First, the church ”and all of us, really ”must remember that where there are women, there are children. Today, with the widespread use of birth control and the prevalence of abortion services, the bittersweet burden of motherhood is no longer seen in the wider culture as a normal phase of life, but rather as a lifestyle option. As a result, many people don’t wish to be inconvenienced by children, who are seen as someone else’s “choice,” not the collective responsibility of (in this case) the church community. At an infant dedication ceremony, the entire congregation enters into a covenant with the parents to help raise the child to love and serve the Lord. That is what I remember hearing as a child, as I sat with my parents through many a long church service.

In a child-tolerant church, families with small, squirmy children are truly welcomed, not separated and exiled. An infant’s vocalizing, a dropped toy, the movement of a restless child in a pew ”all are viewed with tolerance, if not sympathy. Parents whose small children start to scream get up and take them to the cry room or the church foyer. The few moments of noise as a child is carried out are endured by the congregation and politely ignored. No one enjoys the disruption, of course, but all are mindful of having been in the same position or, at least, that all are called to “suffer little children to come unto me.”

I’m aware that, when I was young, my parents went to separate Sunday liturgies and kept my sister and I at home. While I am sympathetic to those who wish to spare others from distractions during Mass, my wife and I decided early on that we would take our children and celebrate the Eucharist as a family. Even on Sundays when my wife sang with the choir we would attend an earlier service as a family.

The bottom line for me is: children who are baptized members of the Church have every right to participate in her liturgical celebrations, just as any adult. I can’t imagine that anyone would ask an elderly person with severe Parkinson’s disease to leave because they constituted a distraction; nor would we expect a couple caring for an older mentally handicapped child to do so. So why we expect children to be tucked safely in a cry room or nursery is beyond me.

We must welcome all members of the Body of Christ. Christ suffered and died for all — even the toddler throwing Cheerios at the back of your head during the Gloria.

A Good Childhood

An interesting new study out of England blames the break-up of families — and the cooresponding damage inflicted on children — on the “enlightened” self-interest of parents:

The wellbeing of millions of children across Britain is being damaged by adults’ aggressive pursuit of personal success, a three-year inquiry by the Children’s Society concluded today.

The society “ a charity allied to the Church of England “ blamed the problems of young people on “a belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others”.

It said this “excessive individualism” was the cause of high rates of family break-up, unhealthy competition in schools, unprincipled advertising and acceptance of income inequality that left millions of children living in poverty.

(h/t: First Things)