By Barb Arland-Fye
Two years ago, an instructor in my son Patrick’s College 101 class asked for a show of hands of students who attended church and students who did not. Most of the 20 students didn’t go to church but said they used to be active churchgoers and remembered getting up in the morning and going to church with their families. Now as adults out of the house, those who no longer attended church didn’t think it was important, Patrick said. He was among the students who thought church was important.
Later, in a Religion in America course he took, students disclosed during class discussion that they were not involved in church or had changed their church affiliation. Not a very reinforcing message for a young Catholic spreading his wings.
When my son moved to Cedar Rapids to attend Kirkwood Community College, I prayed he would continue to attend Mass. It was his choice; I didn’t have control. But I did have one factor in my favor. My husband Steve and I have attended Mass weekly throughout our 30 years of marriage. Our two sons accompanied us. We didn’t give up, even when their behavior embarrassed us. We prayed each night as a family, as often as possible, even though Patrick often resisted.
Data from the National Survey of Youth and Religion (NSYR) shows that of Catholics who maintained their Catholic identity into emerging adulthood, 52 percent had parents who attended religious services weekly or more, compared to 30 percent of former Catholics. Parents’ attendance at Mass matters!
Still, I wondered if Patrick would keep the faith. He didn’t appreciate going to Mass growing up. Once in a while, though, he’d comment about the homily he’d heard and say, “I think Father Joe was reading my mind.” The seeds of faith were germinating.
Some months after he started college, Patrick mentioned that he was attending Mass at St. Ludmila Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids and felt welcomed there. He liked the pastor, Father Denny Juhl, who gave great homilies and shook my son’s hand after Mass. “What kept me going was how Fr. Denny was very open and had lots of good things to talk about when it came to ways to live and with God’s perspective.”
Patrick also appreciated the homilies of a deacon who shared his personal experiences in reflecting on the Gospel and related them to other people’s life experiences. “He talked about the need to be always listening for God … and not always asking for stuff.”
My son thinks regular attendance at Mass and his friendships with devout Evangelical Christians have also helped him from buying into a misconception of many young adult former Catholics: religious faith and modern science are incompatible. “I understand where science is coming from and I have a spiritual side as well,” Patrick said. “It’s been a part of my life for 20 years.”
Church gives him a sense of belonging. He also believes God answers prayers, but “You have to understand that God has interesting ways of showing things. Sometimes not everything is going to be the way you expected.”
Next week, Patrick begins studies at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He hopes to strengthen his Catholic faith and to find “that people around me will be just as interested if not more interested in following the faith I have chosen to follow as well.”