By Fr. Jacob Greiner
During the last month, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Knoxville has been holding conversations about what we can do as a faith community to better support families in our church and in the wider community. An expert on faith formation came to our church to present data gathered in an exhaustive study done about the religiosity of youth in the United States in order to help us better understand the problems facing families. This study followed thousands of youths over a period of several years and these youths were members of different Christian denominations and the Jewish faith.
There were not many surprises in the results. Families are too busy. Families are facing numerous and difficult societal pressures that seem to be constantly changing. Families are not monolithic; they are becoming more and more diverse. Families are hurting because of the social sins. Families want children to be successful and independent, but parents feel as if they cannot provide what their parents gave to them. Families are looking to their churches to help in the education of their children, but a growing number of children are not practicing religious faith once they enter adulthood.
There was one data point that stunned me and it has dominated my thoughts and prayers ever since hearing it from the results of this survey. When pre-teens and teenagers were asked about their top concern in regards to their families, a majority answered that they wanted to a have closer relationship with their parents or guardians. Therefore, a core relationship within our families is missing. If parents are supposed to be the primary educators of the faith in the lives of their children, they must first have established a relationship that allows them to fulfill this important and sacred role.
Sacred Scripture is full of instructions, commands and guidance about the importance of family life and how families are supposed to live together. Jesus in a special way extends the concept of his family to those who believe in him through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, this divine wisdom and gift of faith will not transform our families unless parents and children work at their relationships with each other.
What can we do? Though I am not a trained therapist or social worker, I believe the answer to fostering any relationship, whether with God or any person, is spending time with them. I also understand that this reality is easier said than done, but the simple realities in our lives are sometimes hard. Therefore, all people, including ministers and leaders, need to be more intentional in spending time with our families in order that we are not neglecting the most precious gift that God has given to many of us. If we neglect this gift of family everything else might fall apart, and this could probably explain many of the challenges facing families.
Be assured of my continued thoughts and prayers for the Knoxville and surrounding communities, especially for all families in our area.
(Fr. Greiner is administrator of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher.)