Talk to nearly any active Catholic family today about what, if anything, keeps them from being more involved in parish life, and I would be willing to bet that a solid majority of them would answer: “Time.”
Press them for a few details, and here are a few things you may hear:
--Weekday Masses are scheduled in such a way that people who work regular hours or whose kids go to school can’t get there;
--Parish activities are scheduled in such a way that few but retired people can possibly attend (case in point: our mission parish’s share in a recent parish retreat, which involved talks on weekdays at 9:00 a.m.);
--Upcoming activities aren’t announced far enough in advance, so that parents don’t have time to arrange childcare if they want to attend;
--Religious education classes and activities make life frustrating and difficult for any family who has more than one child in RE at any given time;
--Weekend activities, especially if they are scheduled for Saturdays, may conflict with children’s school and sports activities or with the schedules of parents who work non-traditional hours (such as police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, etc.);
and so on.
Now, none of these problems are specific to parish schedules. One of the prices of modern life is that while we have more things than ever, we have less leisure than our grandparents did. When my grandfather left each day’s work as an inventor for Brach’s Candy Company at approximately 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, he left his work at work. He may have done a bit of design drawing or puttering at home, but the idea of being on-call 24/7 would have been obnoxious to him (family rumor has it that he had a lock on the inside of his workroom door and that even Mr. Brach had to knock). What our grandparents might have denounced as a kind of tyranny has become the modern way of life; when work calls, we answer, or face the consequences.
But what I think sometimes bugs the average Catholic is the apparent cluelessness on the part of some priests (not all--many of the younger ones get this all too well) as to what family life these days entails. You will hear a bit of “gentle kidding” from the pulpit about how few dads signed up to help with a fundraiser (a fish fry where those helping have to be in the parish hall by 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, for instance) or how few moms are coming to the “Mom’s Coffee and Bible Study” hour set up on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. (no children, please, and no, we don’t have childcare on the premises). You will even hear some consternation at how few people attend daily Mass--why, 8 a.m. is early enough for dad to get to work by nine since daily Mass is brief, or if that doesn’t work, surely he can get to the 5:30 p.m. daily Mass instead! It’s almost as though some priests, despite having abandoned Latin, fiddleback chasubles, buckled shoes, and other bits of 1955, still think that the family has been preserved in amber in roughly that year, so that Dad works from 9 to 5 on weekdays and never on weekends, mom is home with the younger kids while the older ones are in school, and there is a whole network of grandparents and single aunts and kindly neighbors who can step in at a moment’s notice to watch those little ones while Mom makes a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, attends a “Mom’s Coffee and Bible Study” hour, or responds to an emergency request to help out at the school or the parish.
The truth is that when it comes to time, many families are stretched to the breaking point. As a stay-at-home mom I am one of the lucky ones (and yet as a homeschooling mom the idea that I’ve had years of total leisure makes me chuckle a bit). Families larger than mine often include kids with college and work schedules, kids with grade school and high school obligations, and some “littles” still at home. Yes, some families end up overextending themselves--but some of that “overextending” happens at the parish level, when some tender-hearted moms or dads sign up yet again to help with something that the parish priest may assume they have oodles of time to take care of, not realizing that they will be juggling multiple responsibilities and patching together some extra babysitting or whatever the case might be to get it all done.
And that’s why I want to repeat a plea I’ve made before: Fathers, please talk to fathers. Pastors and priests, I know that you, too, are insanely busy and don’t have tons of spare leisure time, but even if you could send out an email or something, please ask families, and especially fathers of families, about issues like these.
I know that some priests complain about the laity’s lack of involvement in the parish and the absence of a spirit of discipleship. I think that they might learn that the biggest obstacle to these things for many is not indifference or selfishness or a lackadaisical attitude--it is just time.