The question is one that many Catholic parents struggle with: Why don’t my adult children attend Mass or practice their faith?
The answer is complicated and comprised of a myriad of factors beyond any parent’s control, said Deacon Dennis Dolan. “One thing I know, this is not on you. Get rid of the personal guilt. It is highly unlikely you did anything wrong to bring this about,” he told parents at a workshop on this very question sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Faith Events.
Most every organization in civil society is having a membership problem, the church included. Cultural religion is dying in the West as are cultural supports that people once relied on, Dolan said. Today, we live in a ‘Do-it-Yourself’ culture where people choose their own identities rather than adhering to those set by previous generations. Religious traditions are no longer passed on to generations by default or automatically.
He sees two major factors impacting the decline in church attendance by young adults. The first is the clergy abuse scandal. Young adults no longer see the Church as an authority. The second factor is a lack of leisure time. Today, two college graduates are barely sustaining a middle-class lifestyle that was maintained by a blue-collar worker fifty years ago. “Most people today are now in survival mode…People are exhausted, and attending church becomes one of those things they can cut out of their busy schedules. Sunday is no longer a day of rest; it has become a day of rest to catch up on things that don’t get done in the work week.”
Dolan offered hope to participants reminding them that, “No one is beyond God’s grace. Scripture tells us God wills everyone to be saved. He will find a way…If they never go to church or receive the sacraments, they are not cut off from God.”
One of Dolan’s key messages is that “God does not have grandchildren.” He believes people must make their own personal choice to have an intentional relationship with God. Just because you are a practicing Catholic and have a personal relationship with Christ doesn’t mean your children will automatically follow in the same pattern regardless of how they were raised. “Christ calls everybody to their own relationship with him,” he said.
With that in mind, Dolan told parents not to nag their adult children to go to church. Instead, give them an authentic and personal witness of holiness. Let them see that Jesus means something to you, he said. Model an adult faith and let them know it is okay for them to have questions about their faith or church teachings. Encourage them to do research to find answers to their questions and provide them with good resources to do so.
Another suggestion was for grandparents to pass on their faith to their grandchildren. Bring them to church, especially one that will give them a positive experience of the liturgy. “And sit in the front pew so they can see what is going on,” he said. Set a good example for them, let them see you pray, and give them religious items for gifts such as medals, books, or a Catholic study Bible.
Giving them an experience of the reality of the Gospel is another key. Take them on mission trips to underserved areas or bring them with you to volunteer at a soup kitchen. “When they ask you why we’re doing this tell them it is because Jesus said, ‘feed the hungry.’”
By Mary-Jo McLaughlin
Watch the Workshop Replay Below