A summer news article reported that the super rich worry their children will grow up to lack drive and ambition to get ahead. I got to thinking: what was my biggest parental worry?

Wealth induced apathy isn’t on my radar. A neighborhood kid recently thought our car was broken because there was no button for the window. I explained that if he rotated the crank, the window would magically lower. He was flabbergasted.

Nope, a greater worry would be that my children will grow up and leave their Catholic faith.

Unnecessary paranoia? I hope. A 2008 survey by the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices” revealed that only 30 percent of people born Catholic remained Catholic as adults.

I can relate. My three sisters and I were raised Catholic. We lived across the street from the church. We attended Catholic school. My mother was the parish director of religious education. We received the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, first Communion and confirmation. Today, two of my sisters are Jehovah Witnesses and my other sister attends a Lutheran church.

How does this happen?

I have a friend who is a former Catholic. She’s very bright and gifted and many years ago, she taught Sunday school.

We were talking about spirituality and she was peppering me with questions: why didn’t the church allow this, or why did it refuse to do such and such, or put up with this and that? I just sat there, unsure how to respond.

A few moments of silence passed. Then I asked, “Who was Jesus?” The conversation came to a screeching halt. She wasn’t sure how to respond. After more silence, she replied, “Does it matter?”

How does this happen?

For those who remain in the Catholic Church, Pew researchers found nearly one-third of Catholics polled believe in an impersonal God. Interestingly, Mass attendance among the young was also found to correlate directly with the belief that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God. Here’s a clue as to how people can so completely jettison their Catholic faith. They’re saying goodbye to an impersonal culture. That’s a lot easier than turning your back on Jesus Christ and his bride, the church.

A vibrant Catholic receives the sacraments, participates in the life of the church and seeks to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we teach our children to cross off the first two and forget the last one, we will have overlooked the most important part. They may leave us Catholic, but who knows for how long. So, how do we work on this relationship? I took a chance and asked my kids.

Heading home from church on a recent Sunday, we pulled into the grocery store for donuts. Teresa ran inside while I tried to appease the hungry crowd in the minivan.

“Do we know what a relationship is? Grace, let your brothers try to answer this one,” I told my 11-year-old daughter.

“It’s when you love someone,” replied John, 6. 

“Well, that would be a good relationship. What do you have to do in order to have a relationship?”

“You have to be married to them.”

“Not always. (Thank goodness.) I have a relationship with you guys, with our neighbors and Grandma. What do you need for a relationship?”

“You have to know them.”

“What else?”

“You have to talk with them.”

Now I was ready to spring the big question.

“Can we have a relationship with God?”

“Yes,” piped in Joseph, 8, from the back.

“How can we talk to Jesus?”

“Through prayer, quiet time, going to adoration.”

“And how does he speak to us?”

“Through Bible and at Mass.”

By the time Teresa returned with the donuts, I was a bit relieved and delighted. We were on the right track. We were getting to know Jesus in the heart of his church.

During this era of the New Evangelization, our pastors, shepherds and parish leaders are working hard to promote a renewed atmosphere of intentional discipleship. This is reinvigorating our Catholic Church and is already bearing much fruit.

Two days ago, our parish, St. John the Baptist, began eucharistic adoration and will be having it every Monday afternoon from here on out. Teresa and Grace went first and Joseph and I went next. The room was nearly full. Twenty minutes passed and I tugged on Joseph’s shirt to leave. He asked if we could stay for 10 more minutes.
We stayed. And the worry left.

(Joe is married to Teresa. They have four children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly-inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)