May 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 10

God, Parents And Children

By Msgr. Frank Wissel

Photo of a familyMany biological or adoptive parents want and rightly so, only the best for our children. As a spiritual father to many, I want only the best spirituality for my parishioners and families.

I am blessed as a Catholic pastor to celebrate each Sunday morning at 9 AM children's Mass at St. Mary on Greenwich Avenue. I admire greatly the parents and their beautiful and most intelligent children who attend every Sunday. However, there are many others I would like to see and I don't. The ones who attend regularly are bright; they know their faith and are able to articulate the proper behavior that they learned from their faith.

Where do they learn this - from me, the pastor? I wish I could say yes, but the fact is they learn it at home from their best and greatest teachers - Mom and Dad. We all try to give children 110 percent of all our efforts and concerns. We want them to have the best schooling, the most fashionable clothing, the safest cars, the best in athletics and extracurricular activities.

It is wonderful for parents to be involved in their children's activities. All this is done with one goal in mind, that our children will be self-sufficient and will eventually have the best in employment, careers, relationships and lifestyles.

Yet, with all these good and worthy intentions, I am gravely concerned - when it comes to their child's spiritual growth, education and upbringing. In my many years as a Catholic priest and as a pastor of a large downtown church, I have seen this trend steadily magnifying to alarming proportions. Sincere, well-meaning and otherwise good and caring parents who could not careless about their child's religious upbringing. I suspect that this goes across the board in other religions.

Sunday worship with disturbing frequency has been relegated more and more to an "if I feel like it," or "if I have the time" attitude. Religious education classes are seen by a significant number of parents as requirements for the "magic" of the next Sacrament to be administered. So what if a child never really learns catechism because Mom and Dad are too busy to review it with the child and especially fail to communicate moral values by word or example.

What happened to family prayer? What happened to private prayer? When we look at the condition of our world, how we fail to see spirituality as a great need for both adults and children is beyond me.

Photo of a man walking on the beach with his son on his shouldersChildren not only need, but also on a deep level, yearn for the fullness of their faith. It is not enough that we are content with them being "just a good person" with little or no religious values. One of the saddest things that I so frequently hear is children's confessions. Why are they sad? Because they confess that they haven't been to church because their parents don't have the time or were "too busy" to take them.

What does it say about one's sense of priorities, one's sense of what really matters, when everything else seems to be more important than God and Church? If we were dealing with a doctor's appointment, our child would be there. If there were horseback riding, a football game, soccer practice or any one of the hundreds of other things we do, we would fit them into our schedule. But when it comes to church - "Oh well, God understands."

Understand, he may, but with the great variety in styles and kinds of worship that most faiths offer these days, there's really no excuse for not attending regularly. God has given each of us so much, how can one really refuse to give him back just one hour a week and to thank and worship him trying to form ourselves more into his image.

We can all be selfish; God can help us be selfless.

Now I know it has been said by many for many years about how so-and-so goes to church and doesn't treat people very well. A true church doesn't encourage or condone anyone who is a "hypocrite." But in the long run that's none of my business as I have a bigger challenge in myself to be good without evaluating someone else.

Is it such a wonder that so many teens and young adults turn to drugs, alcohol, casual sex and abusive relationships, to say nothing of violence against their own selves and especially in time of crisis?

There is a small portion of our hearts, minds and souls that is reserved for the God who strengthens us. Our children need and want to plug into that little portion. There is a great philosophy in education that applies to all of us with our children. "My words will teach you, but my actions will convince you."

Let us, no matter what religion we have, participate each week as not only a family, but as God's family.