Our 18 year old says she does not want to go to Mass anymore. She is being home schooled through Seton Home Study and gets A’s in all her religion courses, so she is learning the Catholic faith and well. She just states that she wants to be given the freedom to choose to go to Mass for herself.
Her father and I explain that not only does she have the obligation to go, she has the honor to go, and it is also the matter of being obedient to our wishes while she is still under our roof.
Are we doing any ‘harm’ in forcing her to come to Mass with us? What I mean is, is it wrong for us to force her in the understanding that she has free will and is in most ways, an adult.
Maybe this is the sort of thing that the Synod of Bishops should have talked about.
The conventional wisdom is that forcing Church attendance on the unwilling is counterproductive. Forcing attendance, so it is said, only breeds resentment and, later, wholesale rebellion against the Church. In the same general category as forced attendance is bribed attendance: if you go with us to Mass, we’ll go to breakfast afterwards. Children, after a certain age, should come to see Church attendance not as some mandatory punishment, but as an open invitation and when they come to make the decision themselves to attend, their participation becomes real and they’re able to benefit more from the experience.
Frankly, I’m not entirely convinced that hoi polloi are right on this issue.
We “force” our children to do many things against their will. We force them to brush their teeth, eat their broccoli, clean their rooms, stand up straight, and be polite to Aunt Frieda when she visits. This does not seem universally to lead to lapsed dental care, abhorrence of broccoli, perpetually messy rooms, slouchers and rudeness when they hit adulthood.
Some parents can take things to excess. Some children end up being more rebellious than others. But, on the whole, parents having certain expectations of behavior among their children, especially those children expecting free bed and board at the parental manse, is normal.
When children become adults, or approach adulthood, and balk at the parental expectations, a conversation can ensue. “I see you’re not eating your broccoli, why is that?” “Oh mom, I really hate broccoli, it makes me so gassy. Can we have green beans instead?” or, “Dad, I’m 18 years old, and I really don’t want to go to church anymore.” “Why is that, son?” “Well, mostly it’s because I find the homilies to be lame and pointless, the music is insipid, and the liturgical dance is really contrary to what I’ve learned about the richness of our Catholic heritage.”
Negotiations can ensue.
If an 18 year old, seemingly intelligent and well-catechized child can decide not to attend Mass with the family, she should most definitely be expected to give an account of why she feels she should be free from this parental expectation. She may be going through a very difficult point in her spiritual life and might benefit from a longer conversation, perhaps, with a trusted priest or religious sister.
It’s reasonable for whatever conversation ensues to conclude with the statement,
“We, as your parents, agree that you’re an adult and should be able to make your own decisions. However, as an adult, you need to recognize that you’re still living in our house and are, therefore, under our authority. This is a family that goes to Church on Sundays and Holy Days. As a part of this family, it is our expectation that you will come with us. But first, go clean your room, and write that thank you note to Aunt Frieda for the lovely Christmas sweater she knit for you.”
Perhaps some readers have an experience of this situation and can lend some insight.