For the past 12 years I have been a pastor of a parish or multiple parishes with parochial schools attached to them.
Over the years they have been a great source of joy for me in watching these children grow and watching faith blossom. They are little sponges that will soak up pretty much anything. At the schools I have been pastor of, I have made it a priority that truth and piety be taught. Over the years I have been blessed with excellent principals and faculty. They have joined in the desire to instill faith and piety in their students. I have seen them rejoice over their students’ successes and fret over the failures and tragedies that befall their students. I love hearing the students engaged in worship of God. I love their earnest and trusting faith.
I know that their parents are partners in this endeavor. I see some parents make great efforts to get their children to Sunday Mass, teach them the truth of faith, support the parish and school, and carry the rest of load of their very busy schedules. I admire their dedication. I know my principals and teachers do as well.
This said, the same institution that exalts my heart also crushes it. I would estimate that about a third of my students over the years do not go to Mass on the weekend. That number rises significantly after they graduate from 8th grade. After 19 years of priesthood, I know what will usually happen. These young bright faces will wander further and further away from faith, mimicking the minimalism of their parents. I grieve that the blossoming of faith will be truncated and is actively being undone by those charged with the primary duty of handing on true faith in Jesus Christ. I had one brother priest refer to this as spiritual child abuse. Harsh words, I thought, but true words.
I hear plenty of excuses from these other parents. I know some work on weekends because of the nature of their jobs. But that is not the case for all. It is spiritual sloth. When we teach our children that it is okay and necessary to take from God the one hour of liturgical worship He asks for a week, what are we telling our child about the faith as a whole?
The time we have for Mass built into the school schedule is not a replacement for the weekend Masses. That is on the parent who will stand before God and have to tell Him why they taught their children to treat God they way they did. When we teach our children that sacraments are like merit badges, that is, do the bare minimum and get your badge, what are we telling them about God’s grace and His desire to be a part of our lives?
I see parents who will go out of their way for a child to develop skills in a sport but will not go out of their way for Mass. Not all sports parents do this. I know parents who do both well. I appreciate and laud their effort. I know it is not easy. That is why I do not buy the excuses from the others: I know many parents who make the sacrifices and teach their children to do the same. I will respect those who do this.
Furthermore, when we teach our children that making such sacrifices is unimportant or an undue burden, we take for granted God’s mercy and grace (the sin of presumption) and we teach them to take for granted the effort and sacrifices that parishes and parishioners make for that school to be open at all. Parishes are willing to give tremendous amounts of resources, energy, and time to make schools a reality. They do this as an investment in the future. When that investment is squandered, it is sinful.
I go one step further as a pastor in a diocese where we do not charge tuition to members of the parish. Our parishes give up a tremendous amount for these schools to be in existence; it is a slap in our collective face to be told we want you to heavily subsidize my children’s education and faith formation but I will teach my child to ignore most of it. I know that sounds harsh, but that is reality.
I know the conventional wisdom is to soft peddle or say nothing at all. We don’t want people to get upset after all. We are supposed to be the Church of nice. Wait, no we are not. The Catholic Church is supposed to call people to holiness and excellence; something we are trying to do in our schools. I want your children to be holy. I want your children in heaven. I know the two are tied together. I want you parents to be holy. I want you in heaven as well. I know the two are tied together. We need to be on the same page.
To not say anything is a severe breech in my duties as a pastor and a grave disservice to the parents who do make the effort and the sacrifices. I take my duties seriously. All of my parents in the school, home school, and public school need to do the same. I would rather have you angrier than wet hen at me now and convert than have you happy with me and watch you drift further away!
So to my school parents reading this: To you who make the sacrifices and make your way to Mass Sunday in and Sunday out, who show up to help despite your busy schedules, who volunteer…thank you. To my school parents who don’t do these things, challenge yourself to excellence, want your child’s eternal salvation as much as I do, want your salvation as much as I do…make the effort, the sacrifice…we’re right there with you! I will keep doing my part, I will insist that my school and other education programs do the same, but each parent needs to do theirs as well.
Those who have had me as the pastor know it is not my nature to shrink away from a struggle and that it is my nature to call to holiness and excellence and nothing less. I need partners in this…and you parents are just the partners in this I need.
Fr. Bill Peckman is a priest in the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri. He is the pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Macon, St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, St. Patrick Parish in Clarence, Sacred Heart Parish in Bevier.
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