“Mom, I don’t want to go to church!” says my child as she drags herself to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. “Why do we have to go? ___________’s family doesn’t go to church, so why do we have to? It’s boring.” These are the comments that I hear on occasion when my child is feeling disconnected with Mass. And what makes it hard is when the world outside of our walls doesn’t always practice or support it. I’m certainly not passing judgement, but it’s definitely a harder sell to convince my kids about the importance of Mass when the traditions of 2,000 years seem unrelatable to the modern world.
The trademark responses of the past, “Because I said so” and “That’s what we’re supposed to do” and “Because that’s what God wants from us” are no longer satisfactory, even for adults — which is eventually what our children will be one day. Grownups want a simple answer about why the Church does certain practices, and frankly some explanations or parts of the Mass aren’t simple. Unless we take the time to discover them (and that’s not always priority) we will feel disengaged at Mass.
Recently, a friend of mine told me her daughter no longer desired to be an altar server. She was tired of it and felt disconnected. We are in a society of immediate gratification and anything can be Googled, so my reasons for attending Mass have to become better and more savvy. Trying to rationalize for my child to sit still for an hour and become one with the Mass and the Eucharist is a hard sell.
For many (adults and children) it is difficult to understand that in the Mass, the Eucharist awaits us and Jesus is truly present. For a long time I didn’t comprehend this either. So it’s understandable to walk into church and not recognize every aspect of history and tradition. Even as a cradle Catholic, I’m still learning so many things.
So how do we help our kids understand the faith at a simpler level? And most importantly, how do we keep our children engaged in the Mass when the last place they want to be is in the church?
I wish I had a simple answer to give you, but I don’t … but I have found that if my only focus is for my children to go to Mass and nothing more, then I am missing the point of living my faith. If I see it only within the scope of an hour of my week, if my goal is to drag my kids tugging and screaming (and yes, sometimes it feels that way) just to sit in the pews ( and then dart to the parking lot ready to take on less-Christian activities for the week) then why would my kids want to go? I can see the logic.
What I can offer you is this: Keep going. Keep going, but don’t make going to church limited to a building. And go to mass not only out of obligation but out of joy. How can this be done if there’s no joy from your kids to start? , that’s where the remaining 167 hours that make up your week come into play. We want our kids to understand that the mass is the sacred consecration of the Body of Christ, but the family is where we can nurture and support our understanding of the Body.
The Christian Home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is the rightly called the domestic church, a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1666)
Your daily interactions with God is part of your Domestic Church, so in a sense you are in church all the time. As a parent whose prayer is to see my children continue their Catholic faith as adults, I’ve realized that if I don’t make it part of our life more than just Sunday, than it becomes irrelevant. I’ve also realized that when it’s forced and it becomes the “because I said so” model I fail to allow my children to see the joy in their Catholic faith. Instead of “because I said so’s” let’s try to work on, “because it reminds us that God has never left us all week.”
It’s important to visit Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass on Sunday, but it’s also important to receive Him in our everyday. Make your daily interactions your Domestic Church.
Below are a few ways you can celebrate your faith outside of Mass that will help you draw closer to God on Sundays.
- Do charity work together. Take your kids to the local homeless shelter and serve meals. Sign up for a fun run that supports a medical or social cause and offer up prayers for those whom it helps.
- Offer to do prayers at home for a special person, and remember to light a candle for them when you go to Mass.
- Be kind to the environment. Start a garden and remind your children that all good things come from God.
- Take the children with you to Adoration; even if you don’t make it a full hour, practice the quiet with them. Let them see Jesus present in the Eucharist.
- Practice going to confession with your family.
- Be kind to others. Remind your children that even those who don’t practice their faith or practice a different one are still children of God. Don’t limit your faith to just your Catholic friends.
- My youngest daughter and I use a Rosary app. She enjoys pushing the buttons and praying the Rosary with me, and we make it a special time together.
- Get involved with ministries within your church. I have been involved with Bible studies and book clubs. When my children see these, they realize that God is more than just present on a Sunday morning.
- Do simple acts; when we pass a church we use the sign of the cross.
- Pray together. Practice at meal times, in the car together, or even in the morning or before bedtime.
- When my daughter hears an ambulance drive by, she says “ Mary, help of Christians, pray for us.”
- Read the Bible together, or read the Sunday readings before you go to Mass.
- Our parish doesn’t have a crying room or a Sunday school where younger ones can retreat, so being creative in the pews has been a challenge. I have found that coloring pictures of saints, or Bible coloring books can be incredibly helpful. My child is learning about God, but at her level.
- Invite your priest or deacon to your home for dinner. Your children will see that the clergy are more than just someone standing on a pulpit but part of your lives. And you’ll be surprised how your house does not have to be picture-perfect to receive guests.
To put it simply, if you don’t make God part of your life beyond the walls of Sunday Mass, how can you expect your children to enjoy Him when they’re at Mass? If you only go to God when there is a problem, how do you expect them to form a relationship with Him?
What are ways you find helpful to encourage your children to find Mass joyful?
Copyright 2019 Andrea Bear