Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Toughest Day as a Priest

I think I can honestly say that the toughest day as a priest for me so far has been this past weekend. I didn't know that it was going to be first communion weekend until about Wednesday, and not being at the parish, it snuck up on me.

So I've been at the parish on the weekends for basically two years. But when it came time for the parents to process in with their young people receiving their first communion, I only recognized about 10% of the parents walking in. 10 PERCENT!! I was shocked and saddened at the same time, and I really am tempted to despair sometimes. Those poor kids! Who is going to bring them back to Mass? When are they going to receive second Communion? In a year? At school Mass? It was just really unbelievable and hard to process it all. Obviously the kids are not held accountable for their parents not bringing them to Mass, but wow, they are still keeping their kids from a ton of grace.

It would be one thing if any of the parents showed some sign of recognizing the incongruity, but instead it was the norm and none of the parents who I'd never seen before seemed to even recognize the problem.

I'm sure it is the same at other parishes, but it really was impossible to miss this year for me, and it was really sad. It also reminded me of going to the parish school's fundraiser last year - and I literally didn't recognize hardly anyone! Hardly any of the parents sending their kid to our Catholic school are also going to Mass!!!

All we can do I guess is try and help people to see that the Mass is the Source and Summit of all we do - and pray - really really hard.


  1. Please remember that we have a very large sanctuary and, as much as you think you can, there is no way that you can see and recognize each person who is there on each and every Sunday. I am a lector, so I know what the view is from the ambo. Also, school parents are not the only ones who attend the fundraiser......I see many people there each year who have other connections to the school rather than just being a parent. There were many people there this year who I did not recognize either through the school or through the parish....and I am very involved in both aspects of our community.

  2. Fr. John,

    My wife and I would like to think that your estimation (10% or about 8 sets of parents, we assume 40 First Communicants at each of the 2 Masses) is a combination of being a weekend assistant (do you celebrtate or concelebrate every Mass ?) and hopefully an over exaggeration for effect. We do enjoy your blog because it challenges us to think and be a better Catholics but we were taken back by this entry. We had a First Communicant at Saturday night Mass this past weekend. We were happy to celebrate this wonderful occasion with many fellow parishioners and schoolmates and although there were some people we didn't recognize it was probably due to the size of our parish. We realize that unfortunately there will be some (hopefully relatively few) that won't come to Mass every week (or frequently) but we were shocked and dissappointed by your number of 10%. Fr. Joe was more involved in the preparation for this class's First Communion, did he have a similar reaction ?

    As for the fundraiser, we saw many parishioners/school families and feel the ones we didn't know may have been sponsor's or friends/relatives looking to have a fun night out and donate to a good cause.

    We're not avid posters but we felt we needed to "defend" everyone who was celebrating this happy occasion. We can only hope and pray that some family or extended family will be inspired by their child or your homily to start a new tradition of weekly Mass. Thanks for all you do. God Bless.

    Joe and Shannon

  3. Continued from the first comment above....As an active member of our parish and school community, I take offense at your estimation that hardly any of the parents sending their children to the school are also taking them to Mass. My family attends Mass every week and regularly see a HUGE percentage of school families there. It is true that the percentage is not an ideal 100%, but it is definitely not 'hardly any.' If your schedule allowed more time to spend time in the school or with the families, you would realize how hurtful and erroneous your estimations truly are. Please do not disparage our wonderful school community without hard facts. People know where you serve....there is now the opportunity for others to unfairly judge us based on nothing more than your opinion.

  4. Well, sorry to offend, and although I don't know names I see all the faces each weekend and I'm just saying that I didn't recognize most of the people. This post isn't meant to dog this particular parish; I had read stuff before about this trend, but it just hit home in a real way seeing it in person. I've since talked to other priests, and they've noted a similar trend at first communions and also with the rate of people who send their kids to Catholic schools but don't go to Church every Sunday.

    Of course the 10% is an estimation, but it was my best guess. If it is higher, great - but it is still scarily off from 100%.

    We as Catholics need to have a serious discussion about A) why people don't come to Mass every weekend and B) what needs to happen to reverse the trend.

    This post was meant as an attempt to start that discussion.

  5. I certainly agree with your concerns about this problem of Mass attendence. However, if you were out to begin a discussion on the overall trend instead of disparage our particular parish, then you could have provided additional examples other than the two from our community. I understand that the issue was especially driven home by your observations this past weekend, but you certainly have experiences in other parishes or could have provided examples from your brother priests. I've not seen any comments on how many of your CRHS students you see at Mass each week, either. Hopefully you will have the opportunity to get to know our community better as our associate pastor, instead of simply judging us on what you observe from the altar each weekend.

  6. I look forward to being the associate pastor as well. The post was not at all about denigrating the parish of St. Malachy - mentioning the fact that I had never seen a lot of people bringing their kids to first communion doesn't denigrate the parish, it calls into question those who are showing up for the first time in a year (or two or longer?). In my mind mentioning that in no way is a knock on Malachy - and heck if it is seen as judgemental - no one has more blame to take than us the priests - Canon Law says we are responsible for ALL the souls within our parish boundary so if anyone would read the post and be accused it would be Fr. Joe and myself first and foremost for not doing a better job as priests.

  7. Indeed. If a priest had said what you did about my parish, I would not take offense because I know it is widespread problem.

  8. Father,

    I cannot imagine the weight that you hold in trying to get us all to heaven...thank you for being open and candid about where we fall. The best advice I ever got was from priests who did not worry about my "feelings" as much as the state of my soul. Do not despair. We need priests like you... we need to know and remember our responsibilities as the fortunate members of the one and holy apostolic Catholic Church. Missing mass is a mortal sin. This is very serious.

  9. Father,

    I have been going to the St. Malachy Parish every weekend since I was born, and I have been lucky enough to have parents that have put me through the faith. I cannot agree with you more... I was literally sitting in my seat questioning whether I had known any of the families present, and sorry if I am being a little judgmental. Plus give father some credit... I think he would know who goes to church considering he goes to church sometimes 4 times each weekend and is out in the Narthex after each Mass.