The news out of Our Lady School simultaneously heartened and disheartened Father Jeffrey Maassen, pastor at the parish in Festus.
On one hand, the school's eighth-graders wanted to be regulars at Sunday Masses, a precept of Catholicism.
On the other, if they expressed this desire, then it must not be happening on a regular basis.
"When I hear my eighth-graders saying, 'I want to go Mass,' that to me is 'Wow,'" Father Maassen said, adding, "It's awesome that they said that, but it's sad, too, because it indicates parents aren't (taking them), which is heartbreaking."
With the archdiocese educating more than 36,000 students in 140 schools, weekly Mass attendance should approach 90-95 percent, 100 percent minus the percentage of students from other faith traditions receiving nonpareil Catholic education. Yet, pastors such as Father Maassen and parish priests in general see too few of their school's Catholic students on a weekly basis.
He called the sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday "the source of what we do. The most important thing we do is worshiping."
Sunday worship is among the minimum requirements of the Catholic faith; it's called "Sunday obligation" for a reason. Caring for fellow humans — regardless of race, education, income or stage in life — and being a selfless steward of abilities and resources are givens, yet Catholics are obliged to worship for just an hour each Sunday, give or take.
Still, fewer than one in three Catholics attend Sunday Mass, about 29 percent, according to the most recent Mass counts in the archdiocese. The national number also hovers around 29 percent.
Why is that?
Maybe some people think Christmas and Easter suffice. Maybe some have fallen away from the faith of their youth. Maybe some believe being a good, caring and nice person is enough. Maybe some want to be entertained in their Sunday worship, rather than the same-old-same-old at Sunday Mass.
One of the beauties of the Catholic Church is its universality. Whether in New Zealand, Australia, Russia, the United States, Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and even the Middle East and regardless of language, the sacrifice of the Mass is the same — the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Real Presence of Body and Blood of Christ isn't confined by geography.
In Festus, Missouri, USA, students at Our Lady want their parents to take them to Mass on Sundays, to pray with them and share the faith at home, and help them prepare for confirmation, a significant milestone in a Catholic's life.
Father Maassen calls the family "a microcosm of the Church," with parents serving a crucial role in their children's faith life in adulthood. If parents regularly take their children to church and pray with them, their children will do the same with their children down the road, and so on.
At Our Lady Parish, the eighth-graders are showing their parents the way. Mass attendance and prayer/family time at home is up, students have led prayer circles for all school parents, and they've dived into service projects. They experienced homelessness by camping out in cardboard boxes on parish grounds, raised money for the parish's St. Vincent de Paul Conference by Christmas caroling and will organize an upcoming luncheon for elderly and shut-ins in the parish.
Similar awesome activities are happening at schools and parishes across the diocese. It's up to parents to be thoroughly engaged with their children's activities, walk with them on their lives' journeys and lead by example.
We need to watch them because they're watching us.