Guest column from Father Joshua Allen:
I love the Spring! I love the warmer weather, and the still cool nights. I love that Cherry trees are in bloom and Dogwoods are popping up here and there. Azaleas and Rhododendrons are the most beautiful bushes ever…and I even saw a giant Camellia beginning to bloom the other day. The Masters was awesome…though I didn’t get to watch much of it, and I’ve been enjoying sitting outside on the porch of the Rectory, so long as the tornadoes of pollen have not been too bad. Spring in Atlanta is amazing…and this is the first time I’ve been back for it in eight years. I’ve missed it. My allergies haven’t, but I have.
One of the many challenges that we often face as the weather begins to get warmer and as Spring Sports begin to kick into high gear is Mass attendance. I’ve already noticed the post-Easter crowds are significantly smaller than the Lenten crowds. Spring Break is often the tipping point, when families get out of their routines and begin the hustle and bustle of their family activities. Once we get out of our routines, often it’s all too easy to stay out of them.
We celebrate First Communions in this parish in a couple of weeks on May 11. Sadly, beginning the very next day, Mass attendance will plummet. Many families take summer break from school and PSR to mean summer break from God, which is not the intention of the Church, nor is it a good thing for families.
Study after study after study has shown that two factors overwhelmingly contribute to young people retaining their faith as they get older and head off to college and begin their working lives. The first factor is Mass attendance. When we skip here or there, or when we allow vacation plans or travelling to visit family or extra curricular activities to take the place of Mass—even on an occasional basis—we have seen again and again that the take home message for kids is this: Mass is important, but only if there’s nothing else to do. Here’s the thing: there’s always something else to do in College.
So many parents come to me baffled when their sons and daughters drift away from the Church in college. And unlike the trend in decades past, when young people would leave during college but return when they were married or when they had kids, today when young people leave, they leave for good. Not surprisingly, young people increasingly report a that they are not happy in their lives, that they feel unfulfilled in their work and in their private lives, and that they seek a higher purpose for their life. That higher purpose just doesn’t come from God. I don’t know where they’re looking, but I know where the answer is.
Attending Mass regularly and with joy—not with Mom or Dad consenting reluctantly, but truly making Mass the most important event of the week—is essential for young people to remain close to God. But, it is not enough.
The second factor that contributes substantially to a young person remaining in the faith when they get older is attendance at youth groups. Generally speaking, the young person who remains active in Edge and Life Teen from 6-12th grade reports a higher level of satisfaction than his or her peers, and by an overwhelming margin, those students remain faithful Catholics even during college. This factor has more influence than the attendance of a Catholic High School. Those who do both—that is, attending youth group and attending Catholic High School, generally report as the most satisfied and happy teens in the country.
I think the reason for these findings is that youth group is a more or less voluntary activity. High School is compulsory. Even though Catholic Education is immensely valuable, it does not substitute for the free choice that a young person makes to know and to love their faith in practice—which is the mantra of our youth programs at St. Brigid.
We live in trying times for our youth, and I want to make sure that St. Brigid equips our parents with the tools necessary to prepare your kids for a future of happiness. Mass attendance and youth group attendance are the most important factors. If these are things you’ve struggled with, please let us know how we can help you. We understand the struggles! We want to help you resolve some of them. Please feel free to contact any of our youth ministers or myself at any time!
So enjoy the Spring, St. Brigid! Take your allergy medicine and open the windows…enjoy the glory of God—and make sure you teach your families to enjoy that glory forever.