Fourteen years ago today, Dennis and I were married at Our Lady of the Assumption in the Bronx. It was a day very much like today — sunny, windy, a little chilly. Everything about our wedding day was perfect, from the carefully picked readings and songs at Mass to the Italian restaurant where we had a small reception. (OK, maybe everything was perfect except for the level of noise and fake smoke emanating from the DJ’s set-up. Good old Frankie Finesse.)
This morning, as the kids were getting ready for school, Dennis was blasting “Difficult to Cure,” Rainbow’s version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in honor of our special day. We walked out of the church to the more sedate version of “Ode to Joy” and into the reception to the pounding version of the same song. Dennis and I joked today that we were probably the only ones in the place who got the connection. Somehow that made it even more special, like an inside joke that only the two of us got at the time.
Tonight we are going to go to a little Indian restaurant in town, a reminder of our weekly outings to Panna in Greenwich Village during the early days of our courtship. We spent many evenings eating papadum, sharing a bottle of Concha y Toro that we had picked up on Astor Place, laughing over the fact that the waiter knew us so well he would make sure I always had a big fork at my place setting. Funny the things that used to bother me. Now I’d be happy to eat with a stick from the backyard just to have a quiet meal and conversation away from the kids for an hour.
So, on this anniversary day, I’d like to share this verse from our beautiful wedding song, “Emotionally Yours,” by Bob Dylan. You can actually hear it by clicking HERE.
“Come baby, rock me, come baby, lock me into the shadows of your heart. Come baby, teach me, come baby, reach me, let the music start. I could be dreaming but I keep believing you’re the one I’m livin’ for. And I will always be emotionally yours.
It’s like my whole life never happened, When I see you, it’s as if I never had a thought. I know this dream, it might be crazy, But it’s the only one I’ve got.”
I was driving my 8-year-old daughter to soccer practice last night. (This is the same daughter I wrote about last week when my husband and I made the decision to move her from Catholic to public school next fall.) I find driving in the car with my children, especially when it’s one-on-one, is a great time to learn things that are going on in their lives. Maybe it’s the fact that they can talk from the back seat of the car with no one looking at them as they bring up the things that worry or confuse them. And that’s exactly what happened last night.
Olivia told me that one of her friends, another child in her third-grade Catholic school class, whom we will call X, told her and some other children that X’s family does not believe that Communion is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I could feel myself tensing up as I tried to respond in a charitable yet clear way. Then my daughter said that this isn’t the first time her friend has tried to pound home this alternative view on Catholic teaching. I told Olivia that the next time this happens she needs to tell X that if you don’t believe in the Eucharist, you aren’t a Catholic. Harsh? Perhaps. True? Absolutely. I tried to explain to Olivia that people can disagree with the Church on some things, but that you cannot disagree with the Church on Eucharist and still call yourself a Catholic.
A new Pew Forum study on Religion & Public Life shows that roughly two-thirds of Americans who claim “no affiliation” with a church were raised Catholic or Protestant and have changed faiths twice. The study also found that Mass attendance was a “powerful predictor” of whether a child would remain Catholic as an adult. Among the lifelong Catholics surveyed, 69 percent of those who regularly attended Mass as a teen remained Catholic, while only 44 percent of those who are now “unaffiliated” attended Mass regularly.
The big news, however, is that Catholic education, which included not only Catholic school education but religious education and youth ministry programs, had a “negligible impact” on whether a Catholic child would remain Catholic as an adult. How could that be? Well, let’s go back to my daughter’s classmate, whose Catholic family thinks it’s important enough to send their children to Catholic school but not important enough to understand or believe the teachings of the faith.
Our Catholic formation programs — in schools and in parishes — continue to be ineffective in producing knowledgeable Catholics who understand what it truly means to be a Catholic. And, if you don’t know what it means to be a Catholic, you don’t have any reason to be loyal to your faith or your Church. Our schools, our religious education programs, our pastors, our bishops must find a way to transmit the truth of our teachings in an unequivocal way.
If our Catholic schools are not clearly teaching the meaning of Eucharist, we have failed. If our teachers or parish leaders are telling Catholic children and adults that there is room to disagree on issues like abortion, we have failed. If our Catholic high schools do not ensure that children get to Sunday Mass when they are away on a school trip, we have failed. If our pastors do not speak clearly about our teachings from the pulpit on Sundays, we have failed. The reality is that many of the Catholics who leave the Church never really understood their beliefs in the first place. They don’t even know what they are leaving behind because if they did, they would never leave.
My daughter told me that she explained to her friend that Communion is Jesus, not a symbol for Jesus. As I drove toward the soccer field, I told her how proud I was that she was willing to stand up for what she believes in even when it wasn’t easy or popular. She didn’t get that from a religion class, she got that from home and from Mass. If we want to keep Catholics Catholic for the long haul, we need to get families back into the pews and faith back into the home.
Here’s Noah’s performance of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” from today’s piano recital. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you may have seen it already, but I have to post it here too. Just doing the proud mom thing.
My husband and I recently had to make a very difficult decision with and for our 8-year-old daughter, who is finishing up third grade at our parish’s Catholic school. Due to a strange confluence of events, the number of girls in her class – already at an unhealthy low compared to the number of boys – was about to drop again, to only five girls in a class of 22 or so next fall.
Her two best friends are leaving, and while that isn’t reason alone to move her out of Catholic and into public school, it certainly set the wheels in motion for some serious discussion and reflection. We began weighing the benefits of her Catholic education against the negatives of being one of so few girls in a class.
The more we looked at it from every angle, the more we realized that, although Catholic schools are worth a sacrifice, there comes a time when the sacrifice may be too great. The unfortunate thing is that far too many families like ours, for one reason or another, are reaching the saturation point when it comes to the amount of sacrifice they can take on to give their children a Catholic education. You can see it in dropping enrollments, in closing schools, in the rise of charter schools, in the unwillingness and inability of even very active Catholic families to stretch beyond their financial means for a faith-based education option.
A few years ago, we made this decision in reverse. We pulled our older son out of the well-respected public school where he was very happy because we thought Catholic education made sense for our family. My husband and I both work for the Church. We are both active in our parish. Enrolling our children in Catholic school seemed like a natural extension of our faith life.
I envisioned all three of our children being in one school at the same time. I loved the close-knit school community where everyone knows everyone else. I took comfort in the fact that our children would learn about their faith in a holistic way, not just in religion class but interwoven with science and English and history and service projects.
Despite all the wonderful things that drew us to our Catholic school in the first place, however, I have to admit that there was a sense of relief when our daughter announced this week that she wants to give public school a try. Although my husband and I made sure that she did not have any sense of the financial impact one decision might have over another, we could not help but take into account the very real fact that a vote for public school would mean a significant drop in the monthly tuition bills that have had a stranglehold on our finances for several years now.
Already we have decided that our youngest, who has one more year of preschool, will not go to Catholic school because we simply cannot put ourselves through the financial and emotional uncertainty that has been part of our Catholic school experience to date. With tuition nearly doubling in just four years, we’ve been priced out of Catholic education. Unfortunately, that is the sad state of affairs for many Catholic families, families who serve on parish committees and run parish events and lector on Sundays but are effectively shut out of parish schools for purely financial reasons.
As we stand at the edge of this unexpected precipice, one where our three children will be in three different types of schools next year – Montessori, Catholic and public, I have to wonder how much longer other Catholic school families like ours can survive the tumult and tuition. If we don’t find a way to make our Catholic schools a more affordable option for average families – through government-sponsored vouchers or tax credits or through regionalization of some of our failing schools and certainly through any attempts possible to rein in rising tuition costs – our beloved Catholic schools could soon become nothing more than a footnote in Church history books. And that would be a sad day for Catholics everywhere.
This is the quote that came up today on the Word of God Everyday, which I receive by email each weekday. I thought it was worth sharing:
Everyone who breathes, high and low, educated and ignorant, young and old, man and woman, has a mission. We are not sent into this world for nothing, we are not born at random. God sees every soul. He deigns to need every one of us.