Every so often, my husband takes our sons camping. I’m delighted that he shares these special times with them, but he often uses the voluntary hardship of “roughing it” to excuse himself — and our sons — from Sunday Mass. Am I wrong to demand an adjustment to their routine?
This is a classic question in two ways. One, it has come up to us in the past. And two, it instantly brings to mind one of the oldest axioms in the book: Actions speak louder than words.
For parents, that means personal integrity is paramount. It doesn’t matter what lessons we teach our children if we aren’t consistent in backing up our words with our own behavior.
Missing Sunday Mass constitutes grave matter. The Catechism makes this very clear. Whether or not your husband is culpable for taking these Sundays “off,” and causing his sons to do the same, is not for us to decide. What we know for sure is that, if there is a Catholic church within driving distance of the campsite, he is missing a perfect opportunity to model Christian manhood to his boys. Along with perfecting their fishing and campfire skills, they could be getting their priorities straight for a lifetime.
Kids can zero in on hypocrisy like Global Positioning Systems. They’re always alert for signs of inconsistency. If you instruct your children that we are obligated to attend Mass every Sunday but you miss every now and again for no good reason, guess what your kids will deduce?
They won’t get the message that Mass is mandatory; they’ll figure that Mass is something we do unless something better comes along. In other words, it’s optional. And if it’s optional, it can’t be that important.
Mass is the central activity of our faith as Catholics. If our relationship with the Lord is at the center of our lives, and Mass is the central act of our faith, then it follows that the most basic activity of our lives is the celebration of the Eucharist. Living this truth consistently matters infinitely more than words.
Tom: I think back to the family vacations of my own childhood. Every summer, we would spend four weeks on the road, driving from Omaha to Los Angeles. We would make lots of stops on the way, visiting relatives and seeing sights. After two long days driving across Nebraska and Wyoming, we would end up spending Saturday night in Salt Lake City. On Sunday morning, we would hit the road again — early.
My dad always made sure that we got to Salt Lake City in time for the Saturday evening Mass at the one Catholic church in town. He was never one to be preachy, so going to Mass was never a matter of discussion. He and my mother simply made it a priority for our family. Period. As a result, after years of never missing Mass, even on these grueling road trips, I got the message loud and clear.
Truly, the simple acts of life in Christ are more powerful than the most eloquent words any parent ever spoke to any child.
Never missing Mass may be the single simplest and most powerful statement your husband can make to his sons. So, by all means, demand an adjustment to their camping schedule. The fish will still be there for catchin’ after Mass.
Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.