On Easter Sunday, as I hauled my screaming twenty-month-old up the aisle to receive communion, spraying parishioners with Cheerios like a deacon with holy water, one thought kept running through my mind: “I am a Christmas and Easter Catholic.”
That was always a pejorative term growing up, reserved for the less pious who did not go to mass every week. Or volunteer stuffing shoe boxes with toiletries for the homeless. Or sing in the Children’s Choir, serve as an altar server, and read as a lector. In short, I was good, and the kids whose families showed up sparingly were bad; I was assured of a place in Heaven for my faith and good works, and there was a tiny corner of Hell reserved for those who played with their hand-held Sega video games during mass (and their enablers). As with many issues in life, I’ve come to realize it isn’t that black and white.
For many lapsed Catholics, I imagine the withdrawal from mass and the church community occurs in high school and college. As time goes on, other aspects of the faith disappear until you talk about Catholicism in the past tense. Through that time, I stayed strong in the faith, likely because I went to Catholic schools. Even after graduating I had a Catholic roommate and was within walking distance of a great parish, so it made attendance at mass and participation in the community quite easy. (The exceptions being long-weekend camping trips; even then, we typically found a church on the road somewhere, or made our own peace with God out in the wilderness.) After marriage, my wife and I went to mass regularly.
Slowly, however, I stopped going to mass. Looking back, there isn’t one defining moment where it slipped away: I could point my wife being required to work weekends, my work load during law school, or the time and energy associated with fatherhood. Regardless of the cause, I stopped being “good” as I defined it in my youth.
It doesn’t mean I believed any less in the tenets of my faith. I was a theology major, and I still read theological works. I still tried to live out my life as a good Christian. I still read Bible stories to my daughter at night. I just stopped going to mass.
And now, with the birth of my second child and my wife going back to work on the weekends, I want to fix things. I have no doubt it’s going to be difficult, but I believe it’s important to recapture what I’ve lost now before I get too used to it. I recognize that I need to start out slowly; someone who hasn’t been running in years doesn’t hop into the race when the Rock and Roll Marathon comes to town.
So I am establishing a few simple goals for myself, dubbed Operation: Mass with Kids. In order of importance/reality:
(1) Go every week. (This one is self-explanatory.)
(2) Arrive before the First Reading. (Look, this may not seem like a tough goal to meet, but do you have two under two? Do you know what it’s like in the morning to get them out the door by yourself? It’s awful. With one kid, I haven’t heard something read aloud from the Old Testament in nearly two years; with two kids, I just want to get into the building without a diaper exploding all over my church clothes.)
(3) Stay until the end. (Again, unless you have kids, you don’t know the temptation to just pick up everything and leave when they start to lose it. What’s that? A missionary is making a plea for alms after Communion? Here, take $20 and wrap this thing up because its nap time, Sister.)
(4) Volunteer in the parish once a month. (I hope some shoe boxes need filling, because I’m really good at that.)
(5) Blog about the experience every week.
The last goal is (a) an attempt to get my editor off my back about never writing, (b) a way to maintain some levity about the situation, and (c) an accountability mechanism. I’m also hoping it will be somewhat relevant for “bad” people who are struggling with the same problems. Even if you’re “good,” you should enjoy my journey as I climb out of this hole. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to figure out how mass times match up with feeding schedules.