I started to think about this and I came to the following reason: at some point during the past few years, the child felt that she had to choose. She felt, in her limited and child-like understanding of things, that she had to choose between God and parent: to love God and upset the parents or to love parents and hope that God would be ok with not-choosing Him.
It’s a child’s hope. But it is a hope that easy devolves into presumption. And presumption accounts for the disappearance of the sorrow. If God doesn’t mind if we miss Mass, then why should we feel sorrow for it?
This presumption would further devolve into indifference when the child realizes that her parents—the parents whom she chose over God—are indifferent to Holy Mass.
So, by the time the child is in seventh grade, she sees both God and parents as indifferent to Holy Mass. Conclusion: Mass couldn’t be
that important as to call missing it a “sin”—much less a sin to be sorry about.
By the example of their parents and by the love the children have for them, the kids’ consciences were slowly killed—and with it, any sense of sin and sorrow for it.
Questioning the Indifference
At which point, I was angry again. But it wasn’t a righteous anger at the parents. It was an anger of helplessness. I didn’t see how this situation could possibly be remedied without some kind of miracle. I was angry that there had been decades of indifference and that it seemed as though no one had done anything about it.
So I tried doing something about it: invitations to confessions, hearing confessions more, treating it as important, teaching on the Holy Mass, etc. I even—when giving the kids their penance—I even told them to offer prayers for their parents.
And there was some improvement. But I was still very much swimming against the stream.
I too was tempted to think that maybe this is just how things are and maybe this is all part of the whole becoming a “smaller Church” thing that Pope Benedict had talked about.
Until this year.
This year, I heard confessions all throughout the Archdiocese. And I had long ago stopped asking why kids were missing Sunday Mass. I knew the answer to that question. But I started asking a new question:
When was the last time you received the Eucharist?
That’s a different question. And that’s a whole lot different than simply asking about whether one is going to Mass. This question puts the crosshairs square on the target: on receiving Jesus.
When was the last time you received Jesus?
Indifferent Answers and Answering Indifference
I wasn’t ready for the answers I received. On average, fourth- and fifth-graders have not received Jesus since their first holy communion… in second grade. That’s two to three years without receiving Jesus.
I wasn’t angry any more. I was sad. I was deeply sad for the kids who haven’t had Jesus for two or more years.
When the seventh- and eighth-graders started coming to me for confessions, I started to ask them the same question: when was the last time you received the Eucharist. For the vast majority, it had been over a year. For some, it had been a full five years—again, since first communion.
Some seventh- and eighth-graders would smile as they told me that. At which point I would echo their answer:
it has been five years since you have received Jesus.
And I added a new question:
Isn’t that sad?
Immediately, their conscience—just as it was way back when—was alive again. Every single one admitted that it was sad. Lukewarmness became sorrow again. And they missed Jesus. They knew it.
And maybe that might be seen as mean of me. But I am trying to keep their consciences alive. Trying to keep alive the notion that Mass is important. A notion that is being killed Sunday after Sunday by the example of their parents.