In my last post, I took a hard look at children attending Mass. The truths, the joys, and the challenges for the parents, the community, and the God-loving children themselves! Bringing Children to Church certainly spurred great discussion, deeper prayer, and ultimately further thought for me.
In the end, I think it’s good wisdom to understand and respect the fact that each family operates in very individual manners. Cultivating faith in our own families also involves navigating personalities, routines, methods of discipline, and ways of learning. None of which are universal.
I think one thing we can all agree on, is that bringing children to church is a challenge (period.) As parents, we hope to do our best for our children and to support one another along the way. As each of our families strive to find the rhythm of life that brings the greatest amount of peace to our Mass experience, we seek to direct each family member toward Christ, in the most direct manner.
Thankfully, there are plenty of consolations among the saints, many of whom would have been dragged into the pew at one point in time. Just imagine Monica’s conversations with her hard-headed son Augustine. Some steps toward sanctification compel, while others repel us. Love, discipline, repentance, sacrifice, charity, suffering, poverty, death; these are not all easy to embrace, yet each is present on the path toward holiness. The greatest challenge to one soul is what most beckons another.
The Unlocking Key
Despite each family’s personal style of attending worship, there are some ASTONISHING and undeniable factors in keeping the ears and hearts of our little ones open. Surprisingly, the continuation of faith in a child rests solely in the hands of their fathers.
If asked who were the most devout in a family, or even the most eager to praise the Lord, many would answer in favor of their mother. The view of the “Churchgoing Dad” is far too often one of an advanced adolescent, mumbling under his breath each Sunday, as he is coaxed into the pew by his wife.
And try as she may, the holiest of mothers does not rank well on the statistical analysis of those keeping their children in church as adults. The missing key? You guessed it, it’s dear old Dad!
The percentage of children who continue to attend Mass as adults is based on one key variable, according to a study conducted in Switzerland. “The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”
It is fascinating to discover that church attendance in grown children is weighed so strongly on the attendance of the father, even trumping two actively attending parents!
Numbers Don’t Lie
Statistically speaking, 33% of the children of two regularly attending parents will become regularly attending churchgoers themselves. Only 2% of the children of regularly attending mothers and non-practicing fathers will become regulars. And shockingly, the highest percent, 44% of children who become regular churchgoers, is awarded to the regularly attending fathers and non-practicing mothers! Who knew?
The study stated that, “Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some extraordinary effects. An irregular father and a non-practicing mother will yield 25 percent of their children as regular attenders in their future life and a further 23 percent as irregulars. This is twelve times the yield where the roles are reversed.”
Politically incorrect, I know! But as they say, “Numbers don’t lie.” Psychologists and politicians may scatter to strategize and change the wording, but the truth remains, without Pops, there is a void of influence that determines even our religious practices as adults.
I couldn’t help reflect on a parable while going over these undeniable numbers. The seeds that are fortunate enough to fall on good soil, in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, produce good crop, and they produce in abundance. For the first time, I considered this parable from the perspective of the seeds being children, planted into the good soil of a faithful family.
Unfortunately, no more in the child’s control than that of the scattered seed that fall upon bad soil, God steps in with his infinite mercy. There is no doubt in my mind that God extends his hand constantly to those with a disadvantage.
A Call to Action
We can only change our society, by primarily changing ourselves and our own household. From within, we are able to reach out locally and strengthen others.
Adult Children: They say knowledge is power, and I believe it, but only if you act upon that knowledge. Most of the knowledge inundated, goes in one ear and out the other, discouraging and making us more helpless. As an adult, you have surely discovered strengths and weaknesses carried from childhood. If you had a strong, loving, and faithful father, then you are at an advantage. Celebrate this gift, take advantage and not for granted. If you lived in a family with a weak, hurtful, non-existent and non-practicing dad, then the path might be more challenging for you. Don’t allow yourself to back into the same corner. God the Father is pouring out many gifts and equipping you with abilities beyond your beliefs. Allow this knowledge to answer some of the questions you have been grappling with, and then put them peacefully to rest.
Mothers: These statistics can be more than discouraging for those faithful mothers who don’t have a faithful father-figure for their children. To those women I say, “Have hope, take courage, and don’t stop practicing. Grace can do extraordinary things, including bringing children (and their fathers) back! God answers the prayers of the faithful. Do all that you can to make your children part of that 2%, or even to change those statistics in the next generation. For those mothers who are blessed with a faithful spouse, encourage and support your husband’s faithfulness, and give thanks for the gift you are able to give your children in him!”
Fathers: Recognize your role and give thanks for its great importance. Get to work tilling the land and cultivating your soil! “Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious observances.” Please don’t ever underestimate your paternal influence, or shirk your duties, assuming that your wife will/can pick up the slack when it comes to “religious matters.”
The Truth About Men in Church on the Importance of Fathers to Churchgoing, Touchstone Magazine, Jan/Feb 2001