Pray Tell Poll: Forcing Worship?

Should parents make their children attend worship?

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  1. The question is pretty open-ended. I think that 12 and under should be introduced to worship and that means making them go. This assumes the parents go. After that, you led the horse to water, but you can’t make it think…

    1. I agree that younger children should be “forced” to go, just as they are “forced” to go anywhere their parents go (like the grocery store or bank). With older kids, I think it depends on the practice of the parents and the disposition of the kid. Some kids don’t have a problem going along with what they are expected to do while others quickly become angry and resentful. I know one person (now in his 40s) who resents having had Catholicism “shoved down his throat” even though he’s never described his upbringing as particularly harsh in this regard – he just didn’t like being expected to go. On the other hand, I also once heard a homily by a priest who attributed his vocation to being forced to go as a teenager even though he hated it at the time. I’m not really sure what the best solution is for when a teenager resents or otherwise makes a huge deal about having to go.

      I also think the example of the parents is important. It’s hard to justify expecting a teen to go if he wants to miss for trivial reasons if the parents have no problem missing Mass for trivial reasons themselves. I also know several lapsed Catholics who were forced to go by themselves while their parents stayed home on Sundays.

      1. It may be somewhat easier for Catholics who supposedly embrace a social/communitarian approach over an individualistic approach (something that can cut orthogonally through traditionalist vs progressive divides). If this discussion had ever been had with my late parents, say, 50 years ago, I can imagine something like the following coming spontaneously from them: “This is how and what we do in our family. While your feelings are your feelings, they are a piece of information, not a decision for the family. Our decision for the family is not a subject of negotiation.” I remember *many* quite daring pushes-and-pulls between one or more my four older siblings and my parents in the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s, but this was not subject for which any of my siblings openly went to the mat (likewise, they/we did not go to the mat over having to go the full course of CCD through 12th grade, by which time perhaps less than 5% of Catholic kids in our huge public high school were participating). Maybe it’s because my parents were not hypocrites, and we knew that; yes, they may have been inconsistent or equivocal in certain shallow to moderate ways, but they had integrity with their basic values and could be challenged by their own children to conform to them – in that way, we were a society. A highly ordered society, to be sure.

  2. This reminds me of a homily I heard the other Sunday at a parish I visited. The pastor spoke of the parish schoolchildren responding to daily mass attendance at the school (an ambitious program for any Catholic school) with “we don’t HAVE to go to mass every day, we GET to go to mass every day.”

    Whether we like it or not, parents have an outsized role in shaping their children’s view on the Faith. If parents display a view that Mass or the Faith in general is burdensome and show even passive resentment towards it, then no child in their right mind would want to continue with something that their parents demonstrably would care less about if they could, and parents shouldn’t be surprised when this happens.

    To answer the question, no. If parents have to literally drag their [presumably teenaged] children to mass, then they have already failed. Faith in the Lord can never be coerced; they must want it themselves, and no amount of Sunday school can ever relieve parent of the responsibility to give sincere and compelling witness to the Faith.

  3. See: “Eat your peas.”

    Parents sometimes have to “force” their children to go to school, to brush their teeth and comb their hair, go to bed at a proper bedtime, to say “please” and “thank you,” to pick up their toys, and do appropriate chores at home. These are life skills, good habits, and activities of belonging. They are also disciplines. Churchgoing is good for you and it is a discipline that is learned. There are many benefits: People who have a church community live longer, are more resilient in the face of adversity, exhibit better health and adapt better to life’s challenges. What parent wouldn’t want that for their child, presuming the parent is not ideologically opposed to the faith?

    Of course, human beings being what they are, half the time we resist things that are good for us. You can develop a taste for fresh vegetables, but let’s face it. There wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic if it wasn’t the case that soft drinks and fries taste awfully good!

    The challenge lies precisely here: to develop a taste for what’s good — and eventually find your own reasons for loving such things.

    1. When it comes to their kids not wanting to go to Mass, a lot of times parents just give up and give in. It’s easier than fighting on a Sunday morning, and then they don’t have to go themselves. It’s another spoke in the wheel of the vicious cycle.

    2. @Rita:

      So I guess the flip side of the “Eat your peas” argument would be “A-peas-ment”?

      Sorry. I had to do that.

  4. One of the first things that came to mind when I saw this poll was the exchange from Mass: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” “It is right and just.” Several years ago, I was doing some research on an unrelated topic when several independent sources mentioned the justice of worship within a span of about a week. It was both overwhelming and revelatory, as the explanations were not all exactly the same, but built on each other and, taken as a whole, were very compelling. Since that time, I have tried to remember as much of them as possible (didn’t take notes at the time, darn it), as I often have conversations about this with parishioners and, sometimes, their kids.

    Most kids immediately grasp the injustice of withholding from a person that which belongs to him / her. If you put this in the context of an employer not paying them for working all week, they get this really quickly! If you then work this backward via a couple less concrete, more abstract examples, sometimes you can get them to understand “it is right and just” more fully. Whether or not they accept that when they stayed up too late on Saturday night and want to sleep in is another matter. Discipline is still required. However, as parents, catechists, and parish family members, we need to expose them to this mode of thinking and its implied consequences–responsibility for their actions.

    Charles Day said in a previous comment “…you led the horse to water, but you can’t make it think…” True, but if you give kids something challenging to think about, something that takes some mental wrangling, something bigger and more complicated than they are, great things can result.

    1. Another framing of this can be found in Pope Clement XI’s Universal Prayer – in the spirit of mutual self-giving:

      Volo quidquid vis, volo quia vis, volo quomodo vis, volo quamdiu vis.

      I want to do what You will [ask], in the way You will [ask], for as long as You will [ask], because You will [ask].

      (And help me to want to do that, especially when I resist it most.)

      1. A more literal rendering of the Latin might be:

        I want to do whatever you wish, because you wish it, in whatever way you wish it, for as long as you wish it.

      2. Yes, thank you much! Also apprehends the alliterative quality somewhat.

        A lot of that prayer, which was beloved of my late mother, has a formulaic quality that is not entirely appealing, but that one line for me is the gemstone of it.

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