Emma’s father was ecstatic. He was a proud man — proud of his daughter and proud of her achievements. He was convinced she would be awarded a Fulbright Scholarship someday and, who knows, possibly a Nobel Prize in the Something-or-Other category.
She wasn’t even 13, but had already won national recognition for her work with Odyssey of the Mind. She was also an extremely talented dancer who took lessons in ballet, jazz, hip hop and ballroom. Then, there was the piano and the violin, or maybe it was the cello. Soccer was a passion, not to mention softball. In fact, there was so much she was doing that my brain was starting to throb listening to him talk about her accomplishments.
Emma was a fortunate young woman — except for one thing. And it was a very big thing. This wasn’t simply a case of over-involvement, which is an affliction many children suffer nowadays. This was a case of disordered priorities because, you see, church and catechism classes weren’t on the activities calendar posted on their refrigerator.
Her family no longer went to Mass, and I had to wonder, “Did God become irrelevant?” Or had all the extracurricular activities forced the family to forget God in the pursuit of success and honors they thought would get her into a good college someday? Centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas identified the pursuit of prestige as one of the major obstacles to God.
Unfortunately, they don’t give out trophies and awards for spiritual development, although when I was in third grade, I knew my Baltimore Catechism cold, word for word, and, as a reward, Sister Mary Joseph gave me a glow-in-the-dark plastic baby Jesus, which I still take out every Christmas to display prominently and proudly on the mantel.
And I still remember who made me. (God made me.) And equally important: “Q. Why did God make you? A. God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.” Those are simple lessons Emma hasn’t learned.
Our priorities quickly become disoriented when God isn’t at the top of the list. One of my friends who hasn’t been to Mass in a year tells me that Jesus understands all the work she has to do and the commitments she has to keep with her elderly mother and the activities her two sons are involved in, including several sports, music and Latin competitions. Jesus understands?
We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of the kid who goes to Catholic school and Mass until college comes along and his spiritual life ends. Today, however, an increasing number of young people don’t even know the basics because parents think other things are more important.
Another of my friends takes her daughter to all kinds of anti-Trump protests, which has become a popular pastime for them. They, too, stopped attending Mass and religious instructions a long time ago. I told her the solutions lie in the tabernacle, not in the White House or political movements.
It’s very simple. When children don’t get instruction in their faith and can’t turn to God because they have no relationship, they look elsewhere for the answers to life and to the longing that only God can satisfy. They turn to pleasure, possessions, sex, drugs, recognition and all the other opiates that dull our spiritual longing.
You’ve seen the statistics. For the most part, the Millennial Generation does not identify with formal faith. There are many reasons, but, in the end, I suspect it’s because, as parents, we placed more importance on worldly ambition and success than on Christ. The Odyssey of the Mind is a wonderful thing, but we should never forget the odyssey of the soul.
Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.