It always comes up in class, and in our own families and I always struggle with how to deal with the question. Even though I teach in a Catholic school, it is common for many of the students to not go regularly to mass, for many our school masses are the only opportunity students have to even get to mass. So, I am reluctant to answer the question with the easy answer, “It’s a moral sin, thats why”. It’s not my style to use fear and guilt to make students go to mass or to do anything, for that matter. I like to explain the why, and remind students that our God is a loving God, and rules are only there to protect us. When we fully understand God and “see the light” then you cease to need rules because you would have no desire to break them.
So far the main way I try and help them to see that going to mass is important it to try and relate it to them. Since the “social” aspect of high school is so important to them I try to use that angle.
For starters I ask the students to answer the following questions, do they believe in God? Do they believe in Jesus Christ? and if they answer yes to those two questions, I ask them what the greatest commandment is according to Jesus. To that they reply, “To love God with all your heart and with all your soul” and then I ask how do they show that they love God? I will also ask them, how do they show their love to their parents and friends? Then we discuss what would happen to those relationships if we stopped spending time with those people? Basically, I want them to think about it, discuss in small groups and then to discuss as a larger group. The concept of “why we go to mass” really isn’t the hardest concept to understand, but the thing is, do we ever take the time to really contemplate why we go?
I also find it helpful to remind students that God desires a personal relationship with each of us and He doesn’t demand much, just one hour a week. Also our Church has made it sooooo easy to make mass, offering multiple mass times on Saturday evenings, and Sundays. What then does it say to God then when we don’t make it? Isn’t God supposed to be number one in our lives? Yet, we can’t commit to one hour out of 168 hours in a week? What kind of message are we sending to God? What would happen to our earthly friendships, if we treated them like how we treat God? Also what happens to us when we start to move away from someone, we gradually grow farther and farther away from that person.
By the end of the discussion, I hope, at the very least that the students have thought critically about this issue and their own relationship with God. That they need to have a personal relationship with God all the time, and not just when they need help. It is so common to see students praying desperately to God before an exam, yet forget him when times are easy or good. Could you imagine what are our earthly relationships would be like, if we treated them in this manner?
Another perspective that I thought about using was the concept of “team”. Since I do a lot of coaching, and most of the students are involved in extra-curricular in one way or another, I thought that this might help them to see why it isn’t enough for them to worship God from their own bedrooms or in their own unique way. For instance, as Catholics we are part of a community and when we go to mass we are worshiping God together, satisfying a deep need within us to be a part of something greater than ourselves.
It’s the same way when you are involved with some kind of team or group that is moving towards the same goal. But, what happens when one team member stops going? What happens when one team member decides he or she is going to show up randomly or when they have time? Well for starters you wouldn’t be on that team very long, but luckily for us our God is forgiving and always open to those who wish to come back. But even still, if everyone was committed to coming to mass every Sunday, it would make our community stronger, and thus we could accomplish much more.
Of course there are many other reasons why we need to go to mass every Sunday, and I encourage the students to think of other reasons.
For myself personally, I grew up seeing how important God was to my parents, even when I did not fully understand this whole faith thing or why we went to Church. We never missed mass growing up. Ever. I remember driving an hour from our remote camping spot to go to mass in some town, or finding a parish somewhere we were holidaying, even if it was in another language. I also remember my sister not being allowed to go to a sporting event, because she hadn’t been to mass yet, but luckily for her, their was a Korean mass somewhere in our area in the afternoon!
It was because I saw how important it was, to my parents, that when I had to make the decision for myself, whether I was going to believe or not, I genuinely sought to find the truth. I genuinely gave my parent’s religion a shot at defending itself, because I respected my parents. Through my parents positive example it was easier for me to find the truth. I am thankful for that, because I know of far too many people, who have had negative examples growing up, and never gave their faith a fair shot.