My father, mother and I attended the 9 a.m. Mass every Sunday at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Woonsocket.
Originally this was the children’s Mass, but even in my teenage years, we continued to attend at this hour since Catholics rarely went to Communion at the later Masses in those days.
One time my father was kneeling in the pew with his eyes closed. He was no doubt meditating. Two teenage girls were seated in front of us, gabbing back and forth as if they were at a soda fountain.
My father knelt up straight and in his most stentorian voice, barked, “Shut Up!” The two girls turned around and were greeted by a look that almost withered them.
Sunday Mass at St. Charles was not always this dramatic. There always was Mass at St. Charles. Except for an infrequent illness, I never recall missing Mass in my life, nor did my parents ever miss Mass, even in old age.
Sunday-go-to-meeting was an inviolable aspect of Kiley family life, and of course, in those days the Kileys were not alone.
A recent survey of religious life in America singled out Mass attendance as the prime indication of a stable faith life.
Regular worship, that is, Mass on Sunday, was clearly correlated with continued faith.
Among both Catholics and Protestants, high percentages of those who have stayed in their churches were active participants in the religious church services of their youth.
Those who regularly attended Mass as children and teens were more likely to have remained Catholic.
Curiously, participation in religious education as a child or in youth groups as teens appears to have had little statistical difference in whether childhood Catholics are still Catholic.
However, 86 percent of people who are still Catholic said they attended church weekly as children and 69 percent of current Catholics attended church regularly as teens.
It is naïve to think that merely being present in the church building on Sunday is going to guide and direct a person’s life in later years.
Pastors can sadly cite those Confirmation students who are made to sign in at the Church door every weekend but then are never seen again until they show up to get their first baby baptized.
Pastors also know that those dads, moms, and kids who are present together every Sunday of a child’s life reflect a home life that is as ordered, disciplined and committed as their church life.
A contemporary family that takes the time and effort to worship regularly is probably going to take the time and effort to be conscientious about other obligations as well.
The lamentable drop in Sunday Mass participation by Catholics (65 percent in 1965; 25 percent in 2000) corresponds to an equally lamentable drop in much of family life at home.
Divorce, re-marriage, single parenthood, contraception, drugs, Sunday shopping, Sunday working, a laissez-faire attitude toward Church law and practice, the penetration of the entertainment industry into the home, secularity, and other social ills have drastically challenged American home life.
A Catholic family that succumbs to these threats, in part or in whole, may frankly feel unmoved or unworthy to go to Mass on Sunday.
The Church rightly has high standards and parents who regularly fall short of these standards might question the usefulness of sitting in a pew each Sunday.
Families however who face the struggles of contemporary life and come to church not out of self-satisfaction but looking for self-improvement through worship bequeath a marvelous legacy to their children.
These families do not view church as a contradiction to home life but rather as a support for home life, no matter how challenged that home life might be.
It is sad that compromise at home often means compromise at church.
Concessions at home distressingly mean concessions regarding church.
Commitment at home will similarly translate into commitment concerning church.
Parents who have not given up on their home life will be less likely to give up on their parish life.
A Baptist family lived just around the corner from my family in Woonsocket.
One of the boys revealed one day that his church was not holding services during July and August.
My astonishment at his announcement is still vivid after almost 60 years.
Sunday without church should still be something that astonishes a Catholic, not something that is taken with a shrug of the shoulders.