If you have ever worked for the Catholic Church and were responsible for assisting children or teenagers in the reception of their Sacraments, one of the biggest issues that you have is that once they receive their Sacraments, they stop attending Mass and they completely abandon more formation. It doesn’t matter if they receive their Sacraments in third grade or in high school, this is epidemic that has been occurring in the Church since before I received Confirmation in 1991. For a lot of these children, it is not their fault, since many of them cannot drive. The responsibility lies with their parents who believe that once their children have received “all their Sacraments…they are done.”
Below is the best article I have ever read on this topic from two parents that are also volunteering as Catechists in our program. This article is spot on and needs to be shared with as many people as possible. I hope you enjoy as much as I did. It was originally published in the St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church (Gilbert, AZ) bulletin, Vidi Dominum, on July 7, 2019. It is shared here with permission.
As Catholic parents, we often get caught up in the checklist. Baptism…check! First Reconciliation…check! Confirmation…check! First Communion…check! We’re very busy and involved in the Church and in the formation of our children until they receive their first four sacraments and then…all goes quiet. Weekdays pass by without attending “church class.” Saturdays slip by without going to confession. Sundays sneak past without attending Mass. We find ourselves at a stand-still in our faith journey.
But it is important to keep moving. “God cannot steer a parked car. We have to be moving if we want Him to guide us.” This quote is found in a multitude of blogs, vlogs, church marquees, homilies, sermons, inspirational wall art, and painted on the offices of life coaches. It is memorable because it rings true.
When our family first moved to the Phoenix area a few years ago, we were frustrated by our inability to find “Religious Education” on the website of St. Mary Magdalene. Then we figured out that it’s called “Formation” here…and in many places all over the country, in fact! And not only did our new church provide formation for our elementary school children, but for our junior high and high schoolers as well. And adults, too! We went from scratching our heads about why there’s no “CCD” to realizing the breadth and depth of what is offered at St. Mary Magdalene. It is fantastic. We were already attending Mass regularly, keeping our faith moving, and these educational opportunities could keep us going, as well. In fact, they would come to deepen our relationship with God in both expected and unforeseen ways.
Then we learned that religious education for elementary school kids is called “Family Formation” and we wouldn’t be dropping our kids off and then coming back in an hour, after a Costco or Starbucks run. We would be staying for the Parent Sessions while our children attended their grade level sessions. Another little nudge to keep us moving. So often, in those Parent Sessions, we felt affirmed in knowledge we already had, challenged by Catholic practices or traditions about which we had never heard, and thankful for explanations to questions we had, the time and care put into presentations, and the timing and relevance of topics affecting Catholics today.
Now our youngest just received his Confirmation and First Communion this past May. We’re at that crossroads. There’s no longer the Sacrament checklist to keep us moving. So why keep attending Family Formation? Why have our older kids participate in Edge and GS24, the junior high and high school ministries? Because we need to put ourselves in the presence of people who are on similar journeys, people who are on completely different journeys, and we need to put ourselves in the presence of the Lord. We might even gain a better understanding of His plan for our lives.
It is really hard to catch a foul ball if you don’t attend a baseball game. It is really difficult to be moved to tears or laugh out loud at a movie that you never go to see. It is impossible to maintain a relationship with someone when you never do things together or visit each other, and avoid talking, e-mailing, and texting them. You have to go there; keep moving.
Every Mass you attend affords God the opportunity to connect with you. The homily on a topic covered every year may, this time, ring true…or give you a different perspective…or shock you…or ease your mind. Every minute spent in Adoration is a minute when the Holy Spirit might light a fire in your heart. A fire for forgiveness, for action, for consolation, for patience, for calm. Your children will experience this, too. You should see and hear the connections being made in 4th and 5th grade Family Formation as the kids take information they’ve heard over and over and over and suddenly make sense of it. They would have missed it if they had just checked the Sacrament boxes and stopped attending.
The time, energy, care and commitment of our Director and Coordinators of Youth Evangelization is extraordinary. The teenage and adult Core Members who lead our junior high and high schoolers each week and at camps and retreats are precious commodities, creating an environment of community, prayer, growth in our Catholic faith, and service. They keep our teenagers moving.
When we are moving in our faith, God is able to steer us. There are so many ways we can – and should – keep moving at home. Starting and ending our day with prayer as a family. Saying grace before meals. Living the commandments. One of which happens to be “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” Ah…going to the Saturday Vigil or Sunday Mass…a nice nudge and reminder from God to keep moving. From Mass flows the Sacraments we so diligently checked off the list and in Mass we experience the perfect prayer: we praise God, we thank God, we ask for forgiveness, we ask for something, and we offer ourselves. And we do it as a community.
To fully participate in Mass, we should go to Confession. It is available after each 8:00am weekday Mass and on Saturdays from 8:45am-11:15am. How will this week’s confession differ from your first or your third or your thirty-third? How have your concerns changed and how can God steer you to where He wants you to go? Keep moving. Yes, God can connect with us whenever He wants and the Holy Spirit can whisper to us and move our hearts at any time and place. But we can also place ourselves and our families in situations where we are more receptive to hearing the message, to being guided, to being steered.
Keep your children moving. Registration for Family Formation, Edge, and GS24 is open this month. Summer Mass Nights continue through July 17th and our Parish Feast Day celebration is July 22nd. Our children whom have already received their sacraments need every opportunity to hear the Holy Spirit, see other Catholic kids and learn about their faith journeys. Continuing to keep moving in our faith is not another thing to do…it is THE thing to do. We are blessed to have so many opportunities available to us and our children. We hope you are able to make the most of them. Keep the faith!
Cori and Paul Gagnon moved to the Phoenix three years ago with their 4 children, ages 9-13. Together, they teach 2nd grade Family Formation and stay active hiking, camping, and kayaking when possible.