Owen will be making his First Communion this April. As part of the preparation, there was a meeting for parents at the church last night. We had a speaker, a woman I've known and respected for quite some time. I've heard from others over the years that not everyone shares my opinion of her. She's very well-educated, both at a secular level and in the faith, and she speaks the truth. I think she makes people uncomfortable (sometimes the truth is hard to swallow). She talked to us about the importance of bringing our children to Jesus. Taking them to Mass, receiving the Eucharist often and with reverence. I was soaking it up. Sometimes I need the obvious re-stated for me to keep me on track and aware of the big picture, and this was one of those times.
They had given us a half sheet of paper with a few questions on it, things like "what does your faith mean to you?" and "how can you help your children develop a strong relationship with Jesus?". At one point she asked us to discuss one of the questions within the groups at our tables.
I turned to the four other parents at my table, expecting to discuss the generic answers that are typical of this sort of situation. Instead, the woman across from me said, "This is so unwelcoming, this whole atmosphere. It just seems so heavy-handed and unwelcoming. I would not feel comfortable bringing someone who isn't Catholic to this." She proceeded to say that she doesn't need to be lectured about coming to Mass, and that she doesn't "buy" that Jesus would have a problem with us missing Mass because we're busy.
You could have scraped me off the floor with a spatula.
Over the next several minutes the others at the table chimed in with thoughts on how the Church in general has always had a problem with making people feel welcome, how the non-denominational churches do a much better job of that, how the readings at Mass are "fine, but they're old", and how they have a hard time relating to the priests' homilies and often "check out" during Mass.
I made a few all-too-feeble attempts to refute what they were saying. I could kick myself now for not saying more, but I was just so shocked. It was one of those moments when I can feel my face getting hot and my mind racing, but it doesn't result in immediate, coherent action from my mouth.
One of the things I did manage to get out was that these ladies who coordinate the religious education of our children and plan group sacraments have their work cut out for them. They have to figure out how best to communicate with and relate to a huge group of parents who are at all different levels of practicing their faith. They are keenly aware of the fact that every year there are children who make their First Communion, and then don't see the inside of the church again until Christmas, if even then. They have to cater to the lowest common denominator, they have to try to get through to these people who are clearly missing the point, missing the boat, and taking their children with them.
I don't think they heard me.
Aside from the pettiness of hijacking what should have been a positive moment for the sake of airing their own issues of disgruntlement, the bitterness of the message just resonates with me, even this morning.
If we are causing battles and waging war within our own community, how can we come together, or even survive, in this world that is already against us? How can we be sure our children will "get it" when they're surrounded by families who make up their own rules and practice a faith of convenience rather than doctrine? And these are people who are paying to send their children to a Catholic school, I would have expected more from them.
I left there feeling disappointed and dejected. It was a real eye-opening experience for me though, and certainly reinforces that we are making the right decision by homeschooling our children in the Faith. We have to, we must give them the best possible start at a life of faithfulness. Their eternal lives depend on it.