Here in England and Wales, the Church is going through interesting times. Firstly, as in the US, we have the new translation of the Mass due to be introduced in the autumn; the current translation is very simple; the new is more difficult.

Secondly, we also have just had an announcement from our bishops that they are changing the rules on Friday abstinence. For centuries, Catholics used to abstain from eating flesh meat on Fridays; either eating fish or vegetarian food. This was a part of our public Catholic culture and identity. Then some years ago, the bishops decided that we could choose to substitute some other penance or good work of our own choosing, and eat meat should we so desire. Now we are changing back to the traditional practice.

The third big change in the wings is on Holidays of Obligation. Until very recently we had to go to Mass on the feats of the Epiphany and the Ascension of Our Lord. Then the bishops declared we would celebrate these feasts on the nearest Sunday. Now they are considering reversing that decision.

I thinkI detect a trend here, which is that each of the original changes were designed to make life easier, presumably on the assumption that more people would be engaged as a result. But in fact, each has had the opposite effect. And I think one can discern why.

When you look at groups that have a stable and solid sense of their identity, it is at least in part because they share a common understanding that their identity is important – and that often springs form it being demanding.

Consider the difference between a choir or music group that expects everyone to turn up to every practice, with only rare exceptions for emergencies, compared to one which is run on a ‘drop by if you can’ basis. The second is more inclusive, but the first will have the higher standards – and the higher levels of commitment.

The same goes for a sports team. A casual group who meet if the weather is nice on a Saturday afternoon is not the same as a team who meet every week regardless of conditions, and work at their game.

I think our bishops are re-discovering this truth at least in the field of liturgical discipline, and I associate that with the recent visit of our Holy Father last year.

So the great paradox is, the easier we make our Faith, the less commitment we generate. Consider all those who water down Catholic morality, because it is too hard. Does that attract people to the Faith? On the contrary: it is the Churches where the whole Faith is preached, including the difficult bits, that have the most committed faithful.

And my belief is that the same applies to our kids. If we make the Faith too easy, and don’t allow it to make any demands on them, they will only have a loose attachment to it. So we need to consider how to make it sufficiently challenging – not so much as to overwhelm or intimidate, but enough to make it seem seriously worth engaging with.

Those challenges may be physical (making the effort to kneel for a long period of adoration), or mental (striving to understand some difficult metaphysical concept) or emotional (forgiving somebody who has really hurt us) and so on.

The skill is to find the right level and type of challenge for the development level of each of your kids: so that’s this week’s challenge!

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2 Responses to Keeping Your Kids Catholic: A Great Paradox

  1. @Aluwir says:

    Agreed, that 'faith lite,' with minimal commitments, isn't likely to be taken seriously. By anybody: young or old.

    We've got similar issues here in the United States. I'm looking forward to learning the new Mass procedures: but not to the bitter complaints I expect from folks who don't like change.

    I think parents – fathers – need to be careful about *what* sort of commitments we expect: from themselves, and from our children. In my youth, back in the '60s, many folks my age had noticed that their painfully 'virtuous' parents scrupulously conformed to some customs – like going to church – but acted unethically when in the 'real world.'

    That didn't encourage kids to follow their parents then. And I doubt that teens and young adults today are any less observant.

  2. Micha Elyi says:

    A return to the discipline of Friday abstinence from flesh meat is probably a good thing overall. However, a restriction on luxury foods would be useful to add. For what is the point of the discipline if one only conforms to the letter of the Church law while violating the spirit of an abstinence by, to name one example, enjoying a fine lobster dinner on Friday?