The Catholic Church devotes vast resources to Catholic schools, catechetical materials, youth ministry, all with the aim of handing on the faith to the next generation. Yet the results are generally not encouraging.
Perhaps, then, we should review the current model for reaching young people. Might it be seriously flawed?
US writer and convert to the Church Eric Sammons argues that the place to begin is with the factors which influence a person to continue as a Catholic after the teenage years.
And the strongest influence, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, is the faith commitment of parents.
The Center noted that children who grew up in a home where religion was important and whose parents frequently discussed faith matters were more likely than others to continue to practise as adults.
For Catholics, if religion was “very important” in the family, then about 3 out of 4 children remained Catholic. If it was “not too/not at all important,” only 38% remained Catholic.
The father’s faith, however, his enthusiastic loyalty to Christ, is particularly important. A report in Population Studies magazine in 2000 found that a father’s religious practice massively influences his children’s future attendance or absence from church.
“If a father does not go to church,” said the report, “no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 (2%) will become a regular worshipper.
“If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become regular or irregular churchgoers.”
Sammons points out, “if parishes want children to retain their faith in adulthood, they should focus not on the children but on the fathers” (Crisis Magazine 9/1/20).
In the Bible, he notes, God deals with people through a “mediator” such as Moses or, in the Church, through bishops and priests representing Jesus. In the family, the domestic church, the father is the mediator.
But parishes, he argues, will have to make radical changes to attract the fathers of young children. The message that young virile men are not welcome has to end.
For Sammons, “merely entering a typical suburban Catholic parish is emasculating: the architecture, the music, the felt banners, the limp homily, the army of elderly female ministers of Holy Communion.”
This picture, as most of us know from experience, does not just apply to parishes in the US.
Should the Church, then, not devote a lot more time to devising a masculine spirituality and way of worshipping God? How about more focus in preaching on the Mass as a sacrifice? And on hope in a secularist world of despair?
Sammons proposes a number of changes in parishes. Not all will win universal support, but they provide a starting point for discussion:
- Priest and people should face in the same direction for Mass, he says, noting that “men would prefer following a leader into battle to sitting around a table for a chat.”
- Altar servers should be boys – “the visual of hordes of women at the altar sends an unwelcoming and effeminate message to most men.”
- Silence before and after Mass. Chattering people signal that they don’t take the Mass seriously, but a man wants a faith he can give his life to.
- Sing inspiring and traditional hymns, not pop drivel or variations on Kum-ba-yah.
- Men don’t want to be told week after week to “just be nice”; they want to be called to make real sacrifices, to be involved in practical activities; to hear homilies that confront today’s anti-Catholic secularism and that “tell it like it is”.
Fathers are the future, which may explain why today’s culture of despair is so anti-father.