My wife likes to tell the story of the old spinster woman who died and went to heaven to the kids in the eighth grade Faith Formation class we teach.
If you haven’t heard the story, it goes like this. There was once a woman who never married but lived a chaste life. The woman steadfastly kept the Five Precepts of the Church throughout her life. She went to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation without fail and always put a modest offering in the collection basket. She also received the Eucharist at every Mass.
The woman made sure she went to Confession once a year, whether she needed to or not. And of course she fasted during Lent, as she was obligated to do. Before going to bed each night she said an Our Father and upon arising each morning, she would say “Thank you God for this new day.”
The House She Built in Heaven
When she died St. Peter met her at the Pearly Gates. He told her he would take her to the house she had built for herself in heaven. She had built her house, he said, by the way she had lived her life on earth.
The two began walking passed beautiful, large, stately mansions and the woman got excited wondering which one of them was to be hers. But then they passed the mansions and the houses began getting smaller and less stately. Pretty soon the houses they were walking past were small and plain looking. Finally they arrived at a very small, nondescript house.
“This is your house,” St. Peter told the woman.
“I don’t understand,” said the woman. “I went to Mass every week and received Holy Communion without fail and kept the Precepts of the Church my whole life. Why is my house so small and plain?”
“Yes, you kept the Precepts of the Church,” said St. Peter, “but you never really lived your Faith. Throughout your life you looked down on the people around you and you did not see Jesus in any of them. You never helped those in need, you never mourned, and your only sense of righteousness was self-righteousness.
“You never tried to share your Faith with others and you never really loved your neighbor as yourself. Your whole life was wrapped up in taking care of yourself and seeing to your own needs. This is the house you built for yourself.”
We are Here to Serve
Compare the old spinster woman’s life with the life of Jesus and recall what He tells us in Mark 10:43-45:
“Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The old spinster woman story serves as a springboard to talking about the Precepts of the Church, but more importantly it is a wonderful segue into talking about living the Beatitudes and keeping the Commandments.
But we have noticed in recent years (my wife more so since she has been teaching Faith Formation much longer than I have) that eighth graders today seem to be less knowledgeable about their Faith than they were 20 years ago. They are a reflection of their parents’ attitudes.
A couple years ago I started the first class of the year by asking the kids, “Why are we here? Why did God make us?” None of the kids could answer the question. Most Baby Boomers (I hope) know the answer to this question from the Baltimore Catechism: God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
This year, because of the discouraging findings from the recent Pew poll that only one third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence, we decided to ask the kids to complete a short survey at the beginning of the first class. The survey results were very disheartening — a reflection of their parents attitudes.
The Survey Said . . .
For instance, only 3 out of the 16 said they go to Mass every Sunday or most every Sunday. Half of the kids in the class, 8 out of 16, said they go to Mass only on Christmas and Easter. And for 14 out of the 16 kids in the class it’s been 2 to 4 years since they last went to Confession.
We also asked on the survey if they had ever heard the word “transubstantiation” and if they knew what the word meant. None of them had heard the word before or had any idea what it meant. Only 7 out of the 16 said the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. Mind you, these kids are 13 and 14 years old and have already had 7 years of Faith Formation classes.
Also depressing was the fact that only 6 out of the 16 knew that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And none of them knew that St. Peter was the first Pope of the Catholic Church.
On the plus side, 13 and 12 out of 16, respectively, said hell is real and the devil is real. Some of the kids in previous years have been wholly unfamiliar with hell. Last year our parish’s Director of Religious Education (DRE) told us that a couple parents had complained that we scared their kids when we talked about hell. We had read Sr. Faustina’s vision of hell to the kids.
Setting an Example
Now lest I give the wrong impression, this is not an indictment of our parish’s religious formation program or of the catechists who volunteer their time to teach. It is an indictment of the many Catholic parents who have lax attitudes about their faith. They are not setting good examples for their children by going to Mass every week and not going to Confession regularly. They are not setting good examples for their children. And their kids are merely reflecting their parents’ attitudes.
It’s no wonder millennials are leaving the Church. Too many Catholic parents today are lapsed Catholics and their attitudes toward their faith are rubbing off on their kids.
Chances are that you know one or more lapsed Catholics. Maybe they are friends or family members. Maybe they are even sons or daughters with children of their own. Pray for them, and do not stop praying for them. But maybe do more than pray.
When an opportunity presents itself, talk to your lapsed Catholic friends or loved ones – in a non-confrontational way. Try to find out what caused them to lapse. Then silently pray to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to help you to know what to say to get your lapsed Catholic friend or loved one to start practicing his or her Faith again. Help them to remember why we are on this earth, why God made us. Change their attitudes.