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When not going to Mass might be a cry for mercy


Katrina Fernandez - published on 11/15/16

It's right to be concerned about the state of another's soul, but don't miss the signs that pastoral care may be in order.

Dear Katrina,

So normally I don’t write to strangers online but what would you do if your mother were teaching faith formation at your parish and you knew for a stone cold fact she hadn’t been to Mass in two months? I know we aren’t supposed to judge and mind our own business but my mom is in charge of teaching children their Catholic faith and she doesn’t even practice her own. I said something to her about it a while ago and she just waved me off and said she’ll get to it. I ask her every weekend if she wants to comes to Mass and offer her a ride but she says maybe next weekend.

I asked her what’s going on because when dad was alive and we kids were smaller she’d go every Sunday. My dad died six years ago and she started going to Mass less and less often after that. I thought it was maybe she didn’t like going alone so I would ask her to come with us but she always declines. I’m concerned about her but I am also concerned because I don’t think someone who won’t go to church should be teaching faith formation class to kids. Should I tell our priest? If I do and he makes her stop teaching she’ll know it was me who told. Also I know how much teaching means to her and she loves her kids. I just know that if my child was in her class I would be upset if they were being taught Catholicism by someone who doesn’t go to Mass. So I am torn about what to do.



Dear M.C.

This is a tough situation. As a mom with a kid in faith formation, preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, I’d want to know if the teachers in charge of his formation adhered to and practiced the faith they were charged with teaching. When parents enroll their children in these classes they expect them to be taught by credible individuals who at the very least understand that missing Mass is a mortal sin.

You love your mom and I know your first priority is to see her back in church. You stated that she regularly went to Mass every Sunday before her husband passed away; it’s entirely possible that Mass is too painful an experience. As a single mother I can attest to that. There are many Sundays when I sit in church surrounded by families and that loneliness feels more pronounced. While her children are grown with families of their own she is left to grieve alone, or at least it probably feels that way to her. Keep inviting her Mass but also address the loneliness she may be feeling that is preventing her from going in the first place. Invite her to dinner and see that she is involved in your lives on a daily basis. Make a point to call her and ask her about her day and see how she is doing, really doing. Isolation could be a sign of depression.

You are right to be concerned about her and the state of her soul. You love her, why wouldn’t you be worried? Ignoring the problem out of fear of being “judgmental” will benefit no one and “minding your business” when someone is hurting themselves may be a popular line of thought but it’s not a Christian one.

I would recommend asking her if she’d like grief counseling or asking her if she’d like to join you for grief counseling. Most parishes offer some type of support for people who have lost loved ones. I would also suggest that you make an appointment to talk to your priest, not about whether or not your mother is fit to teach faith formation, but about what you can do to help her and encourage her to start coming to Mass again.  

When I lost my son I stopped going to church for a little while. Not because I was mad at God or anything, but I was just too depressed. I hated being around mothers and babies and church was one place where babies were in abundance. My pastor (I wasn’t Catholic at the time) called me one evening to say my absence was noted. Not in an accusatory way, asking me to explain my whereabouts, but in a way that showed genuine concern for my emotional and spiritual well being. Perhaps you can ask your priest to do the same. See if he will call your mom and ask her if everything is OK and let her know that his door is always open.

You’re mom loves her students so I doubt she would intentionally put their formation in jeopardy;  although it does encourage students to see their teachers at Mass. Honestly, I would only be concerned about her ability to teach if you knew for a stone cold fact she was openly teaching and promoting heresy. 

I want to be very clear — missing Mass is a mortal sin and a spiritually perilous matter, and Catholic teachers, even parish faith formation teachers, have a moral obligation to be an exemplary example to their students. A teacher who has no regard for the Mass and deliberately chooses not to go to Mass out of willful disobedience is not fit to teach. A grieving widow, on the other hand, who may be struggling because of depression, needs pastoral care from her family, her priest, and her community of fellow Catholics.

AdviceEducationMental Health
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