Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, February 24, 2018

At 5:30 Mass in the back of the church – in an area reserved for teenagers who creep in late and adults who creep out early – a grandmother arrived with her two granddaughters.

The girls, who were about 11, genuflected hastily and pushed into the pew. They looked as if they’d spent the afternoon at soccer practice, the great all-American pastime in suburban communities across the country. I think some kids spend more time on the soccer field than the average trader spends on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

When Mass began, the woman showed them how to make the Sign of the Cross because they were confused whether it went left to right or right to left. Clearly, they were in unfamiliar territory.

Watching them reminded me of my early days teaching religion to eighth graders, when I was shocked to discover none of them knew their prayers.

This, of course, was back in the 1970s, when most religious education consisted of guitar strumming and group discussions that centered on the question, "So how do you feel about this?" rather than on telling them what was right and what was wrong.

Grandparents’ taking grandchildren to church has become a cultural phenomenon – a seriously necessary one because there are a lot of baby boomers who put their children’s spiritual development on the back burner or, should I say, second to soccer.

Where would we be without grandparents? In my childhood, it was my grandmother who first took me to church. She was an Italian immigrant who was widowed at an early age and had to raise nine children alone on the east side of Bridgeport during the Depression.

I can still remember walking with her to St. Mary’s Church on Pembroke Street and sitting in one of the back pews, listening to a Latin Mass with incense and candles and all the strange comings and goings that made no sense to me, but seemed terribly important.

Years later, when my mother taught CCD to students making their first holy Communion, the church posted a signup sheet at the entrance every week, just to make sure someone – parents or grandparents or the town dog warden – was getting the kids to Mass.

When you don’t start spiritual education at a young age, it’s hard to play catch-up. All too often, a child’s religious education can take a backseat to karate class, piano lessons, dance recitals and all our other social preoccupations.

I still remember when my friend’s 7-year-old son came to her one day with a startling question: "Mommy, who is God?" He must have heard about God in class or on the playground and figured this God person was someone he needed to meet. Fortunately, she realized she had to do something fast.

The tragedy is that our children are the last great hope for this troubled society, and if they think Guitar Hero is more important than God, the future is grim indeed.

We need to give them the tools to spread the faith in a Godless world.

Sad to say, I have adult friends who never had the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with God, and when they confront a crisis, praying to God is the last thing that comes to mind. They’ll call the lawyer; they’ll call the doctor; they’ll call the police department; they’ll call the financial adviser; but God isn’t on the list.

They’ll cry. They’ll scream. They’ll whine. They’ll complain. But, praying is a response that doesn’t come to mind, all because they never learned to have a "conscious contact with their Higher Power," as they say in 12-Step programs like AA.

God is just waiting for us to ask for help, but so many people don’t bother to ask – or don’t know enough to ask.

When Mass was over, the two girls – who spent much of the time looking around curiously as if they were on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History – seemed pleased with the experience. Their grandmother certainly was. She had a huge smile on her face, and I’m sure she intended to take them back the following week.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.