See the discussion of Chapter One here.
Chapter Two: Why Kids Leave the Church
This chapter consists of three essays:
Why Teens Stop Going to Mass by William J. O'Malley, S.J.
Are We Reaching Our Youth by Mark Berchem
Why Young Catholics Leave, and What Parents Can Do About It by Bert Ghezzi
1. Why do young people stop attending Mass? How do parents affect this choice?
All three essays in Chapter Two address this question. The broad answer is young people stop attending Mass because they have never internalized their faith. It is Mom’s Faith, or Dad’s Faith, or Grandmother’s Faith. Why don’t they take ownership of their Faith? Perhaps it is because they have never seen their parents take ownership of their faith? Fr. O’Malley writes:
If parents’ attendance at Mass seems to be a perfunctory and joyless fulfillment of form, if God is never spoken of in the home as a person with whom the parents have a real relationship, the teenager assumes that, even for the parents, the forty-five minutes on Sunday is at worst phony and at best deadened formalism.
I believe this happens when Faith is viewed as a series of obligations rather than a series of opportunities. I call this “Check list Catholicism”. Attended Mass-check. Got to confession once this year—check. Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation—check. Okay, the faith card is punched for Heaven.
Instead, parents need to communicate that the Sacraments, rituals, and devotions of Catholicism are opportunities to deepen their own relationship with God. If they are being done as a matter of rote with no visible impact on everyday life, then there is no motivation for kids to continue them when they escape parental control.
My children know I chat often with St. Monica whom I view as the patron saint of nagging mothers. Blessed Mother also is asked to intercede on a regular basis. (I really can’t imagine raising children and not uttering a few Hail Mary’s. How do the Protestant mothers do it?) No meal is eaten without first offering grace. We attend Mass every Sunday, but also try to attend daily Mass on occasion as well. Whenever there is a dilemma, I ask, “Did you pray about it?” There is no aspect of our lives that is off limits to our Faith.
2. What must parents do to reach their kids?
Parents must model what it means to internalize one’s Faith. Mark Berchem writes:
We can start by witnessing the vitality of our own faith. We must catch our kids’ attention by how we live. Does our faith make any difference to us?…
How we live our faith really does make an impression on our children. Who do you think kids are looking at? It’s ordinary me and ordinary you. They see us day in and day out in real life situations. We can show them that Christ is alive and that our faith really does make a difference.
3. What are the reasons young people leave the church?
Bert Ghezzi itemizes three primary reasons kids leave the Church:
--There are those who are experiencing family tensions. The Church represents the parents against whom they are rebelling. Their motivation stems less from a rejection of the Church than it does from a general rejection of their parents and what they represent.
--There are those who grow bored or weary of the Church. These are the kids who never internalized their faith. They turn their attention and activities to their job, their hobbies, their friends, or other worldly pursuits. They see no relevance of the Church to their daily lives.
--The third group are those who have adopted lifestyles that conflict with Church teachings. Like those in the second group, their faith was never internalized. However, unlike the second group who never really reject the Church but rather ignore it as they go about their daily lives, this third group actively denies the truth of the Church. They deny the authority of the Church in matters of morals.
4. What can parents do to help keep their children from leaving the Church?
Number one on the list is to pray. And make sure your kids know you are praying. I enjoy lighting prayer candles for special intentions. When my children see a candle burning they know I am praying and often will ask about it. We also occasionally say a family rosary together. It is good for families to respond to life’s happy and sad events with prayer.
Catholicism should permeate the family and the home. Parents need to share how their Catholicism affects their jobs, their leisure activities, and their life choices. It cannot be compartmentalized to the church building on Sundays. Children must see that Faith makes a difference.
Over half of young Catholics leave the Church as a way to rebel against their parents. Fostering healthy relationships between parents and children would go a long way towards keeping kids Catholic. That does not mean there is an absence of conflict. But it does mean that the dignity of all family members is respected even when there is a disagreement.