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Too Busy for Church?

May 9, 2016


Well, this was one factoid that didn’t pop up in 100 Pop Culture Things that Make You a Millenial: 48% of Millennial Catholics don’t attend Mass more often because of “family responsibilities.” I recently saw a discouraging graph of reasons the Millennials do or don’t go to church as compiled by Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and referred to the negative effect that soccer has on Mass attendance. Demographically that makes sense, since some Millenials are old enough to have soccer playing children while some are young enough to not be able to drive themselves to Mass and may well find themselves not only playing soccer but also being dragged along to siblings’ activities.

The chart as a whole has some disheartening, even puzzling, statistics. Health reasons are cited by 29% of the survey’s respondents as why they do not attend Mass. Having seen people wobble into church on walkers, wheel in by chair, and have their breathing assisted by portable oxygen, I beg to ask how sickly are the young Millennials? They must be suffering greatly if they can’t make it to Mass but semi-paralyzed, gasping, ninety year-olds can. Or, thinking back to my young and foolish days, is “health reasons” putting a polite tag on what should be called a raging hangover? There are times when we all have something too sneezy, too coughy, just too communicable to be at Mass. But does this constitute enough people to be 29% of a given population at any one time? Just wondering. But I digress.

Hendey’s post was titled “Skipping Mass for Soccer.” I am not now nor have I ever been a soccer mom. But I do like sports. (I’d be glad to post a picture of the tennis trophies I won in my teen years, but I let some of my own Millennials play with them. Trophies are not particularly durable playthings.) So I am not writing to rant against sports. Sports—played and viewed—are part of a healthy, well-balanced life. Balance is what appears to have gone missing. And Mark 2:27—The sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath—has been given a multitude of bad, out of context, and very convenient interpretations.

The subject of sports schedules conflicting with religious obligations comes up often at my parish. There are multiple sports, multiple levels of team and league structure, and multiple schedules that parents are faced with.  My middle-of-the-Boomer Generation age must be showing, because my first thought is always, “Who in their right mind schedules sports on Sunday morning?” Parents who disagree with sports infringing on more important family obligations, such as Mass attendance, find themselves in a difficult minority position. I think that if enough parents would tell the coaches, “No– we won’t go,” there would have to be some sort of capitulation from the coaches, leagues etc. At this point there are not enough parents to constitute a tipping point. The parent who refuses to go along with the current ways brings down a Gatorade-tinted white martyrdom upon his child. Skip practices, skip games— you’re off the team.

I came up against a lot of this when I was in charge of altar server scheduling at my parish. We are blessed to have six Masses each weekend, and faithful, diligent parents trying to strike spiritual and sports balance have a lot of wiggle room. In parishes not so fortunate, sports may have the winning hand.

Part of that could be that team sports have structure and rules that have the respect, and even fear, that no longer belongs to the Church. Scheduling of altar server training in the spring was very complicated; so many parents calling to say one session or the other could not be attended because of sports, dance or similar ‘serious’ obligations. I would joke that if altar serving were declared to be part of the sports program there would be more cooperation from participants and parents. People expect understanding and forgiveness from the Church (especially the “nice lady” who handles the altar server calls) but not so much from the coach. If the coach expects you to be there, you are there.

Other reasons cited in the CARA survey for missing Mass are also open to discussion (boring, poor sermons, not a mortal sin) and strong rejoinder. Strong— as in sorry, “Sometime it’s boring, but it’s not meant to be entertainment. You’re not just there for the sermon. And, yes, it is a mortal sin to miss Mass.” Others reasons aren’t great but deserve credit for a certain unvarnished honesty: I’m not a religious person, I’m too busy. But what makes ‘family responsibilities’ a reason for neglecting the pivotal obligation in family life points to what the Millennial generation treasures most. What is important? Fun, social connections, success? Why is it so common for the most important need for a family – “the source and summit of the Christian life”  CCC 1324 – to be overlooked when responsibilities and obligations are considered?

Family life is a great blessing. It also presents an awesome burden of obligation for parents who want to do what is best for their families in all areas. Some of these obligations are more fun than others. Sports and other recreational activities are among the most enjoyable moments in family life. Fresh diapers, flashcards, dental appointments and driving lessons… those are not exactly fun. And other obligations are so obvious we hardly think about them. We don’t question that families need to be fed. Lunches are packed, dinners are served. It is an increasing lack of concern over spiritual sustenance that is disturbing.

Is it time for a brutal examination of what the Boomers may have taught the Millennials to treasure? If 48% of Millennial Catholics are missing Mass for ‘family responsibilities’ they are not treasuring what is most important. They are not storing up treasure in heaven nor are they teaching the next generation to do likewise. That is spiritually tragic. And just plain sad. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matthew 6:21).