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“I don’t want to go to Mass”

What do you say when your child doesn’t want any part of church?

When I was 11, Msgr. Galvin spotted me wandering around the church courtyard – a sorrowful child in a crowd of people who had just attended services for my grandma. His suggestion that we head into the rectory for a quick piece of cake was just the distraction I needed. Rectories and convents were mysterious worlds whispered about on our school playground. Monsignor’s kind words shared over a treat helped my healing process begin.

In recent years, when I described my visit to the rectory, faces grow somber until listeners realize they are hearing a simple tale of a compassionate priest. But the initial tension reveals underlying concerns about those who found abuse rather than healing through the church, and those whose stories were kept in the shadows. As our children mature and confront these issues, some become disillusioned. Issues involving the ordination of women and married men are challenging to others. As parents, how do we deal with adolescents who distance themselves from the church?

Make decisions about church attendance.

Set household expectations for church attendance rather than having weekly battles. How flexible are your family’s options? Is an evening Mass a possibility? Perhaps late Saturday evenings and a sleep-deprived teen are contributing to the problem. Is there a Catholic friend who could be picked up on the way to church and brought home for dinner?

Put your faith into action.

If your church sponsors meals for the homeless, a food cupboard or other service opportunity, consider becoming involved as a family. Allowing God to use their hands to benefit others helps adolescents see the benefit of working in the community.

Encourage prayer despite the disillusionment.

Relationships with God are active and real. That means that all emotions can be shared, including anger about what happens within the church. Problems exist, and all our feelings can be shared in prayer.

Listen without defensiveness.

A mature faith confronts the shadow side of life as well as the joy. Try not to be drawn into a power struggle or to become defensive.

Remember that, as concerned as you are about the spiritual well-being of your children, God’s tender compassion is even greater. Many priests who knew St. Monica thought that her constant prayers for her pagan son would not be answered in the way she hoped. Yet after 17 years, St. Augustine converted to Catholicism. Trust God to continue to offer opportunities for your children to be nourished by his word, his body and his blood.