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Dear Fr. Joe: How can I convince my kids that going to Mass is not about being entertained?

Q: My children think Mass is totally boring. Unfortunately, the music and preaching in our parish are a little on the dull side. How can I convince my kids that going to Mass is not about being entertained?

A: You know,  I get this question a lot and have spent a good deal of time on this answer. I want to break down some of the underlying issues, so that we can approach this one with a clean heart and mind.

    First of all, I know there are folks out there who place no value on Mass being an enjoyable experience. More than a few times in the recent past, I have been mailed this quote from George Weigel’s book, Letters to a Young Catholic:

 
“When priests and people forget what’s really going on here – when the Mass is another form of entertainment, or therapy, or even therapeutic entertainment – the Mass is not what it’s meant to be – and we’re not what we were meant to be, in our baptism. So here’s the basic point, which is a countercultural point: We don’t worship God because if makes us feel good, or relieved, or entertained. We worship God because God is to be worshipped – and in giving God the worship that is his due, we satisfy one of the deepest longings of the human spirit.”

    I dig this, I really do. I love the power of it and what it means. I don’t like the sense of moral superiority that is sometimes conveyed with this quote, but that’s a side issue. Primarily, we worship God because that is what we are supposed to do and, perhaps more importantly, because God is owed that.
    However, how does one explain this to a child?
    In order to answer that, we have to go back to our youth. When I was younger and went to, say, my grandpa’s birthday party, it never occurred to me to wonder what I was going to get out of the experience. I don’t recall refusing to go to Grandpa’s birthday party because it was boring. In writing this, I kept asking myself “How did my folks pull this off?”
    In the end, it strikes me that they did it by reinforcing to me the importance of the person of my grandfather. I don’t know how, I just know they did. Parents, your overt respect and affection for your parents is a significant message to your children; one that they often just “get.”
   So, why not apply that to Jesus? Beginning as early as you can, introduce them to the person of Jesus. Talk about him way too much. Read the Scriptures with your kids and learn together what the amazing stories are. It will help you tremendously, as well as, obviously, helping your kids. Think of it this way: If you want your children to be  great students and/or athletes, then you need to work with them and practice. If we want to raise saints (and I hope we want that more than anything), then we should work with them at a greater level of passion or even greater. Help them see that Jesus is someone they want to know and spend time with.
    All of this isn’t to say that Mass should be boring. We priests need to work hard at crafting a homily that is life-giving and full of life. Those who help create the celebration of the sacred Mass need to be conscious of the ability of the Mass to reach everyone. The church has provided us with rules and boundaries for our celebrations and we need to follow them, but it goes even deeper than that.
    A congregation has a role to play in this, too. The priest draws energy from those gathered for worship and, frankly, for me, the hardest part of being a priest is celebrating such a joyful and amazing sacrament in a congregation that simply sits and stares. It’s not just about perfect theology or practice – it’s about our souls, our hearts and our lives. Enter into the Mass with joy and reverence. Make sure that anyone who comes to church wants to come back.
    I guess in the end, it comes down to balance. We need to understand and respect the Mass for what it is, but also push ourselves and our parish to be alive and joyful about what we are celebrating.
    Enjoy another day in God’s presence!


– Father Joseph Krupp