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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Going to church--even for the Not-So-Right Reasons...

On any given Sunday morning, you may see a mom frantically smoothing down bed-head hair and wrestling toddlers into tights.  Meanwhile, a scruffy husband dons a wrinkled shirt as he wipes off stray shaving cream.  After the entourage of children find their shoes, they scramble to the car seats amidst bickering.  Frantically, they race to the church only to sneak into the back pew praying that their baby does not scream during the quiet parts of church.  Why do families bother to go to Mass when it can be such a hassle on an otherwise “peaceful weekend day”?  What if the parents don’t have a strong faith?  So many families choose to have their children christened in the faith, and then don’t attend Mass as a family again, though it is a commandment that we attend weekly.  The Catholic Church offers salvation, truth, and understanding, but what if you aren’t ready to “buy into” all of that?  What can the Church offer your family if you are not strong in your faith?  The Church can teach your family so many things besides the obvious spiritual reasons:

1.       The Church strengthens marriage:  As the divorce rate nears 60% for Americans, couples can be reassured that Catholics have a less than 20% chance of separation, which is the lowest among organized religions.  The statistic, however, has one “catch”: the couples must attend mass regularly.  The act of taking that hour out of your schedule for God as a couple has a profound impact on the overall success and longevity of your marriage, even if you do not  necessarily have a profound faith. 

2.       The Church teaches you sacrifice:  Planning your weekend activities around Mass times can be inconvenient, even with all the choices that are offered.  Sometimes by attending church you may miss parties, play dates, or even just sleeping in (especially as your little ones grow into teenagers).  How is making your children go somewhere that they don’t want go good for them? It teaches them that the world does not revolve around their needs and desires.  Learning to sacrifice for others can be the cornerstone for developing empathy, work ethic, and selflessness.  Children also will witness their parental sacrifices in going to Mass, and they will recognize the importance of a greater good.

3.       The Church teaches your children to sit still:   Children are bundles of energy that race around all day while parents desperately try to keep up.  Many parents wait until preschool to teach their children the importance of sitting and listening.  Providing a routine structure in which children NEED to be quiet once a week is a great start on that essential life skill.  Is wrestling a 15-month-old for one hour exhausting? YES! But once that baby learns to sit quietly (and it does eventually happen) that skill can translate into other areas.  For example, sitting at a restaurant waiting for food will seem easy in comparison.   Children will learn that they can’t always be “wiggly” and noisy.  Even two-year-olds can differentiate between a playground and a pew, if the parent is vigilant and consistent.

4.       The Church teaches forgiveness:  Though most parents and couples attempt unconditional love and forgiveness, every day stresses challenge even the most patient and kind.  The act of Reconciliation can be an emotionally healing experience for the entire family.  Unlike other Christian religions, the Catholic Church has you confess your sins to a priest. This may seem like a cruel, humiliating task, but instead it can be a peaceful closure to one’s mistakes.  By verbalizing your sins, you have to face your errors and become accountable for your actions.  Besides the absolution of your sins, the psychology of the act itself provides enough reason to participate.  Teaching your children (and yourself) that you can make mistakes, learn from them, and start anew creates an emotional secure family.

5.       The Church teaches fundamental morals:   Children need rules, limits, and structure to succeed; they need those guidelines to be able to securely develop into stable, reasonable adults.   Even if you don’t consider yourself a “good” Catholic, you probably believe in the basic tenets of the church.  On the most basic level, the Church follows the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments—not exactly challenging doctrine to follow, even for children.  Without deep faith, one can still model those teachings as a family.  Children eagerly grasp at the concepts of right and wrong, but they are also in the “why” stage.   The Church provides an answer to that ‘why’ –a reason besides “Because I said so.” 

6.       The Church thrives on tradition: Throughout your life you may move to a new house, city, or even a new country.  Catholic means universal; unlike other Christian religions, the canon of the Mass will remain the same no matter where you attend.  For families, the church becomes a home: a consistent, stable one.  Churchgoers have a more positive daily outlook than non-churchgoers, and statistically they are happiest on Sundays.  Keeping the tradition of Sunday Mass will have you focus on doing at least one activity together as a family.  Once church is established as a “mandatory” tradition, family dinners, outings, and more might soon fill your Sunday calendar. 

7.       The Church is patient with faith: You may not have a profound faith now, but the Church is patient.  The church provides a calm, peaceful atmosphere to foster your spirituality.  You, or your children, may not always feel a connection with the Mass, but by being there you are receiving the graces of the service.  You are giving your children a chance to claim a faith that you may not have.   If you attend Mass with an open mind, your belief may deepen, or you may at least be willing to discuss your doubts with those who may have a stronger faith. 

Lastly, just ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?” Going to weekly Mass has a significant impact on your family’s well-being.  The Church can support you as your family grows, and you may take advantage of the dozens of other opportunities it can provide (youth groups, RCIA, etc.)  Hopefully, you will soon recognize the true riches of that the Church can offer you, so you can be Catholic for the right reasons, but for now, just go to Church—God knows what He’s doing.

**Please note, if you are doubting your faith, please do examine these guidelines for receiving Holy Communion

The easy rules for today:

Rule #3 Go to church every Sunday. You (and your children) may be getting more out of the mass than you realize.

Rule #313 Play the odds: if statistics show that churchgoers have happier, longer marriages and more stable families-- then go for it!

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