it’s all too common, unfortunately, for a young Catholic to stop going to Mass after they graduate high school. They are out of Mom and Dad’s house for the first time, off to college, into the workforce and enjoying a yuppie lifestyle void of Sunday Mass.
But then something happens: Marriage and kids. And with that comes an overwhelming responsibility for something much bigger than yourself. And an awareness that you can’t possibly fulfill this responsibility all on your own. You need God. And so you and your family find yourselves back at Mass.
And it’s the most stressful, annoying and anxious experience of your life.
Your kids are loud. They seem to be bothering everyone. You don’t hear a word the priest says. You get a few annoyed looks from pious parishioners around you. You’re not sure if you’re bothering everyone. Should you take the kids outside? Or would that be even more distracting than the strange noise repeatedly coming from your toddler’s mouth? Should you ask your kid to stop playing with the missalette like it’s a funny telescope? Or is that a small concession compared to the meltdown you’ll get when you ask him to stop? Is it okay to give your 1 yr old a few cheerios so you can get through the Mass? Or is that completely inappropriate?
Mass is hard for young families. I feel like we need a class to teach us some best practices. Not just to help us do it better, but to help us to feel comfortable…what’s okay, what’s not, etc.
The priest and parish can play a huge role here. Just a few words before or after Mass are huge. Unfortunately, too often those words are discouraging words for young families. The kinds of words that make them feel uncomfortable at Mass. The kinds of words and looks that make young families feel unwelcome and to wonder whether it’s worth going to Mass in the first place. It’s the kind of experience that makes them think perhaps they should try that other church down the street that their friends go to. The one where children are welcome and young families affirmed and comforted.
This is a scenario playing out right now for millions of young families in our country. And it’s devastating for the Church because it’s millions of missed opportunities to bring lapsed Catholics back into the Church. And instead, we’re losing them forever.
We Catholics are all about big families. But we often make it very hard for young, growing families to participate in the life of the Church. If we want to recruit or keep the next generation, we have to be a Church of young families. That’s a simple fact. Look around at the demographics at Mass next week, do you see a Church of young families? Probably not. What you see is a crisis coming.
We have to do two things much, much better. 1) We have to make going to Mass easier for young families in every way that we can. And 2) we have to teach all Catholics that Mass is worth it — no matter how hard it is.