The following is letter to parishoners from Fr. John McCartney, pastor of St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church in Dix Hills, NY in the weekly bulletin. I thought it is very worth re-printing. (Hope he doesn’t mind.)
My dear people of St. Matthew’s,
Recently we have been discussing what it means to be a “practicing Catholic.” We saw that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, lists five “precepts,” or basic laws, that are fundamental to living the Catholic Faith. In short, following these precepts is absolutely necessary in order to call oneself a “practicing Catholic,” although much more is required than the bare minimum to call oneself a “good Catholic.”
The First Precept, as we saw previously, is: You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation and rest from servile labor.
It is the widespread violation of this precept that has caused the greatest number of problems in our Church over the last forty years. Currently, the number of Roman Catholics in the United States who live this precept and attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day is roughly 20 percent. Obviously, this is a deplorable statistic, and is the explanation for many of the troubles in our Catholic families.
Marriage is a sacrament. When a couple comes to a Catholic parish wanting to get married, they first must have an interview with a priest or a deacon. Any Catholic clergyman will tell you his experience is that the overwhelming majority of couples who approach the Church seeking the sacrament of marriage are living together, and are not attending Mass on any regular basis. Now, if a couple are not practicing Catholics, why would they want to get married in the Church? The answer, I suppose, is that they feel “culturally Catholic.” They want to have a traditional wedding, with all the trappings, and they want to have it in the parish church with which they have family associations. After the wedding, they never set foot in church again until the first baby needs baptism. Then, when Catholic couples divorce in the same percentages as the rest of society, everyone is mystified. If they speak to a priest at some point, inevitably the question comes: “How could God let this happen?” The only answer we can give to a question like that is: “You never allowed Him into your marriage in the first place. You never prayed, you never came to Church, you never went to confession, and occasionally you received Communion unworthily. How did you expect Him to help you when you shut Him out of your life so completely?”
The other place where this manifests itself so clearly is in the area of religious education. Here at St. Matthew’s we have an excellent religious education program, staffed by very hard working employees and dedicated volunteers. We try our best to provide a quality, orthodox Catholic education for our young people, and strive each year to improve it. The problem is that very few of the 2,000 children in the program are ever taken to Mass by their parents. The numbers are no different in St. Matthew’s than they are in any other parish in our diocese, or in our country for that matter. I will tell you honestly, I simply do not understand why parents bring their children to religious education classes if they are not practicing Catholics and never come to Mass. If I were a parent and not at all religious, I simply wouldn’t bother. And if I did, I certainly would not complain constantly about the minimalist requirements of the program. I do not want to sound blasphemous, but why would parents take their children to soccer practice each week and then never take them to play in a game?
It is hard, perhaps, for parents who are not religious to understand, but the Catholic Church cannot give their children anything that they are not first receiving at home. In the religious education program, we have children for about an hour a week for twenty-four weeks a year. The kids come late, and leave early. They miss classes. They never come to Mass unless mandated by the program under pain of expulsion. Is it any wonder, then, that they are bored, misbehave, learn to hate religion, and don’t know even the most basic Catholic prayers by the seventh grade? Anyone with any sense knows that Catholic religious education in America is a complete and utter failure. But the reason for this is directly related to the refusal to come every week to Sunday Mass. Absent that, everything we do will be nothing more than going through the motions. Our children deserve better.-Fr. McCartney