In a recent letter to the editor, a parishioner from my parish (Immaculate Conception) discussed the issue of Mass attendance and the possible reasons why so many Catholics are turning away from the church or are inactive.
While the service and its music are an essential part of worship, people would not be falling away from the church if their needs were being met. It has long been established and supported by research that people function best and are happiest when they have a clearly defined basic set of rules — expectations, and values by which to live.
To name a few, we as children had to memorize the Ten Commandments and the six Precepts of the Catholic Church. Teaching these basic rules, expectations and values was also accompanied by teaching that there are consequences for violations of the aforementioned. Coming from a conservative French Canadian Catholic background, throughout my childhood, we were taught about sin and its consequences. We were taught that sin existed in two forms; omission and commission.
In other words if a person failed to do the right thing through omission or commission, bad things would happen. We were taught to fear the Lord and the consequences of sin. This teaching fostered the development of conscience and a moral compass.
I know in today’s world it is not fashionable or considered healthy to teach children fear. Yet basic fear of consequences is what initially drives one to internalize and live in accordance with rules, expectations and values. Compliance through righteous behavior becomes reinforcing. If there is no fear of consequences, the three essentials of a happy, fulfilling life will most likely be ignored, fail to be internalized or complied with.
Today in our church we are taught about a caring, loving and forgiving God. While that is essential, little emphasis seems to be placed upon sin and its consequences either by the church or by many parents. The church no longer defines in clear, unmistakable terms what is sin or emphasizes how to recognize it. Attendance at Mass is a prime example.
As children we were taught that missing Mass was a sin. It was our clearly defined duty to attend Mass on Sunday and on holy days of obligation. Where has our obligation (or responsibility) as Catholics and parents gone?
By the same token, can we be sinful in the way we vote or make our routine everyday choices? Is it a sin to vote for a politician who is pro abortion? Statistics on Catholic behavior patterns seem to show that for many, sin is not an important consideration when voting, conducting business, or making choices in our daily lives. The church of my youth and my family taught us to weigh everything we did in terms of right and wrong (or whether or not it was sinful through omission or commission). We did not receive a list of sins. Rather, we were given the tools and the foundation to judge for ourselves. This ability to judge is a key element in living a Catholic lifestyle so eloquently referred to by Matthew Kelly in his book, Rediscover Catholicism.
In summary, I submit that many people are leaving the church or not attending Mass because it is failing to provide the security of basic and clearly defined rules, expectations and values. A sense of security is a basic human need and many are confused by our secular culture and are turning to other denominations or other sources to find it. Our Lord, Jesus Christ was not a “soft sell” salesman or marketer.
He not only emphasized the loving, forgiving nature of God, he clearly defined the consequences of sin in no uncertain terms. Don’t miss understand my point. I am not advocating a dictatorial church with an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts. Rather, I feel a balanced approach in regard to reinforcement (God’s love) and the consequences of sin is the key.Walter Chapleau lives in Campbellsburg, Ky., and is a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky.