During the past two months our parish family saw 101 young children receiving their First Holy Communion, and 85 older students receiving their Confirmation. I, as pastor, was happy to be an integral part of the preparation for and reception of these important sacraments.
I have consistently held a sincere belief in the innate goodness of our young people. I have great hope that they will meet the many challenges of our time with their youth, creativity and energy.
This being said, I also experience a significant disappointment after the sacramental ceremonies are completed. Where are those same children who just received the Most Precious Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time? What about those who were recently sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit? Where are they each subsequent weekend as I look for them at Mass? It’s the same type of let down that occurs for me the week after the large Christmas and Easter crowds are no longer filling the pews.
Yes, I see a few of the children weekly. However, there are far too few. I do not see anywhere near the numbers that I should be seeing.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to make a significant difference whether the children go to our Catholic school or participate in our religious education program. It is all too obvious that too many of these students are conspicuously absent . . . along with their parents. Period.
I reminded the parents on numerous occasions that they are the first teachers—and need to be the best teachers—of their children in the ways of faith. They teach by word and example. Second graders and probably most eighth graders need to be driven to church. They’re not really to blame if they lack the means of transportation and no one brings them.
When a second grader tells me that “they’re just too busy” to go to church, I can pretty much guess where that statement has its real origin. “Too busy” at age seven? Really?
I try to be upbeat and encouraging. I attempt to convince and persuade people of the need for God. I tell them how much Jesus truly loves them. He died for us. Just look at the crucifix.
I ask myself continually “what am I doing wrong?” I never thought that being a pastor would entail this type of frustration. Is it apathy? Indifference?
I guess that I shouldn’t take it so personally. When priests meet and talk—when we compare notes—we frequently vent the same frustrations about our respective parishes.
The scenario is far too common: Now you see them . . . now you don’t.
Best magic act around—sad to say.
Fr. Ed Namiotka