One of the great sorrows of many Irish parishes is the pain felt by parents and grandparents when family members no longer go to Mass. Whenever I speak at parish events or novenas, I see the acute pain as people tell me about how they did their best to bring their children up in the Faith only to see these same children reject it.
Every now and then people tell me stories of their son or daughter having a fundamental issue with tenets of the faith. Sometimes it is a story of child feeling unwelcome due to sexual orientation or a marriage that didn’t work out. More often than not, it’s cold indifference – a modern-day conformism.
If the 20-something of the 1970s who didn’t go to Mass was something of a rebel, it is the young person who does practise their faith today who is the true rebel swimming against the tide.
Parents feel immense pain when their values are rejected by those they have brought up. I hear variations of it all the time: “Mary is very kind and good, but she never brings the children to Mass.”
Some grandparents struggle and bring their grandchildren to Mass, but it doesn’t take the children long to ask why Mum and Dad don’t go. Their parents’ indifference becomes infectious.
People often tell me of their friends and neighbours who live very Christian lives but never go to Mass or worship God communally. Is Mass really that important, they ask? Well, the short answer is ‘yes’.
People of Faith don’t have a monopoly on goodness, and I don’t deny for one minute that there are many good people who are not religious or don’t attend Mass. That is self-evident.
Mass attendance can be a crude measure, but it does speak to us about the health or otherwise of faith.
Christ gave us the Sacraments for a reason. If 70 or 80% of people aren’t churchgoers, well, they’re missing out on something that Jesus himself personally invited them to.
If we believe, as we do, that the Sacraments are vital gateways to God we should want people to participate in them.
Jesus did not come to instigate some new way of living more ethically. He came to reveal God and the way that God’s presence is made manifest in through the Sacraments – particularly participation in Holy Communion.
So, while we might take quiet satisfaction that many young people formed in Catholic schools live lives of admirable charity and altruism, our proclamation of the Gospel has failed spectacularly if they are not practising their faith. A Church without young people is a Church with an uncertain future.
Michael Kelly is co-author of a new book with Austen Ivereigh How to Defend the Faith – Without Raising Your Voice. It is available from Columba Books