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Q: My teenager doesn’t want to go to Mass with our family anymore, and it’s becoming a rough subject in our family. Do I continue to make her go?
A: Whew. This is a good, tough question, one that resonates with me as I suspect I’ll be asking it in a dozen or so years when my toddler and infant enter the realm of teendom. I think that your answer lies in the answer to a different question: what is your purpose in attending Mass as a family?
If your goal is to have meaningful and enjoyable family-time, then I would suggest letting go of Mass and finding something else—perhaps investing in a deck of Table Topic cards and digging into them over weekly brunch—as it sounds like Mass is a sore spot and unlikely to create happy together-time at the moment.
If your goal is to raise a life-long Catholic, then, well, I’d suggest doing some soul searching and coming to peace with letting go of this goal (anecdotally, I was raised in a family that attended Mass together weekly, and only 50 percent of my generation ended up as practicing Catholics; if there was a recipe for raising life-long Catholics, the person who discovered it would be a very wealthy individual right now).
But, if your goal is to show your teenager that there are certain things that your family does, regardless of anyone’s mood at the moment—Sunday Mass, along with activities like, say, Saturday morning chores, family dinner, annual dentist check-ups and school—then I say keep making her go. I can guarantee that she won’t be the only teenager in the sanctuary who spent the car ride to Mass rolling her eyes… just like she wasn’t the only toddler who made a face about eating broccoli, or child who resisted bedtime, or tween who screamed when you said no to R-rated movies.
Q: Are there negotiable parts of Catholicism? Do I have to agree with everything the church teaches to be Catholic?
A: Let’s pretend for a moment that you were asking this question in the year 1615. That’s the year that Galileo Galilei was investigated by the Roman Inquisition—the Catholic Church’s system of tribunals that were responsible for prosecuting individuals whose ideas were deemed heretical—and placed under house arrest for suggesting that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun, not the other way around. If you agreed with everything that the church taught at that time, you would have found yourself on the wrong side of history.
Or, let’s fast forward to the year 2017. At that time, the Catechism of the Catholic Church stated that the church supports the use of capital punishment in certain instances. It wasn’t until 2018, under Pope Francis’s leadership, that the death penalty was deemed an attack on the dignity of life and therefore inadmissible no matter the circumstances. If, in 2017, you unilaterally opposed capital punishment, your views would have been in opposition to the teaching of the church.
God is unchanging, but the church and her teachings are not. What you disagree with at one moment could be changed the next. You don’t have to agree with everything the church teaches to be Catholic because the church isn’t God; she’s a human and imperfect organization, subject to fallibility. Baptism is what makes you Catholic—not what you do or don’t believe at a given time.
Q: I want to have a private baptism for my child, outside of Mass or after Mass. My husband isn’t as concerned, but I am not close with anyone at our parish, and I’d prefer it to be private. Is this wrong?
A: It certainly isn’t wrong to desire a private baptism, and some parishes (mine, at least) default to these. In general, I err on the side of doing what will feel most meaningful for you, while maintaining respect for your parish’s customs and your pastor’s guidance. This is an important day for your family, and you should be comfortable.
That said, I do want to offer a different perspective as well. When I moved to a new city for my husband’s job a couple of years ago and struggled to make friends, a relative suggested that I get a dog or have a baby—portals to new worlds of friendship, he said. I wasn’t about to make my family-planning choices around my desire for a bigger social circle, but I understood his point. There is nothing like a baby to open the door to conversation with strangers. You may not be close with anyone at your parish right now, but a baptism could be the moment in which connections are sparked. It’s nice to know people in your parish, to feel like it’s a true community and not just a place you go for one hour each week, and this celebration of new life for your child could form new lives of friendship for you as well.