Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Want young people at church? Stop your Sunday shopping.

Sherry Weddell of the Colorado Springs-based Siena Institute has been doing important work on the demographic problems facing American Catholicism. She cites disturbing figures:

"Roughly 32% of those raised Catholic have abandoned the identity altogether. An additional 38% of those raised Catholic retain the identity but seldom or never bother to show up. 30% attend Mass at least once a month. Only about 15.6% are at Mass on a given weekend... Catholics leave the Church and the name Catholic by age 23. The majority by age 18."

She notes that attending CCD, involvement in youth ministry and going to a Catholic high school make little or no difference about whether a young man or woman stays Catholic.

But so far she misses one obvious question:

What do young churchgoing Catholics do on Sunday when they start to drift from the Church?

Certainly, some are sleeping in or goofing off. Yet in my experience many young Catholics are working very hard to support themselves or their families or to prepare for the future.

Unlike those fortunate to have "normal" weekday jobs, my twentysomething friends who work retail all have to work Sundays because that's when everyone shops.

If young people are busy working, it's very hard for them to get to Mass.

Catholics are notoriously apathetic about evangelization. If Catholics must be apathetic, let's at least be apathetic in the right ways and not shop or contract labor on Sunday.

Every time we shop on Sunday, we provide a bit more pressure on some young low-paid worker to skip church. This is a matter of worker's rights and, yes, social justice.

As the Catechism says:

"Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day."

This is a larger problem than is recognized. In response to these comments on Mark Shea's blog, one woman wrote:

"My husband frequently has to work both Saturday evening and Sunday morning. He works for a grocery store. He has asked if he can be excused from Sunday work because of his religious faith and been told no, because he's in management. It's either quit his job (not an option!) or frequently be literally unable to attend Mass.

"So many people think absolutely nothing about zipping over to the supermarket after Mass on Sunday to pick up a jar of peanut butter. Come on, you couldn't wait one more day? You couldn't think about these things on Saturday?"

This woman's plight is too common. It also suggests Sunday labor has ripple effects. If her family owns only one car (a likely case, in a country where there is less than one car for every two people) both she and her children will face more difficulties simply attending Mass.

Just imagine the difficulty if both spouses work more than two low-paying jobs to stay afloat.

Some parishes are very aware of the problems of arranging rides to Mass for the elderly or disabled. But I'm not sure we're very good at helping distressed families or newly independent young people physically travel to Mass. A mere volunteer driving program can help people grow in faith.

What's more, destructive economic habits don't end with the worker. Many Catholics who leave the faith surely start their decline in a fateful Sunday morning decision to visit the mall instead of Mass.

Both custom and law once prevented Americans from shopping and unnecessary economic activity on Sunday. Such laws are now on the wane, as is churchgoing and human happiness.

Catholic commentators love to condemn the dictatorship of relativism. But for the working man or woman who has trouble making it to Mass on Sunday, a far greater threat to faith is the small dictator in management. Not to mention his many Catholic patrons, myself included, who have acted like Sunday is no different than any other day.

We cannot serve both God and Mammon. What easier way to serve God than through collective inaction on the Lord's Day?


profetaverdad said...

Enlightened. I'm never had thought in that way. Hopefully many catholics can reflect on this matter.

Anonymous said...

I have an additional idea: Stop your Sunday shopping IN CHURCH. You know what I mean: "In the back of church, the boy scouts will be selling...the Christian Women will be selling...the 8th graders will be selling...our foreign sister parish will be selling...the Usher Society will be selling...."

sos said...

The only way families can have time together is to ban Sunday shopping. It's like giving the people choice whether or not to pay taxes. We all know the end result of this. Who would bother paying taxes? What about the minimum wage? If we left this up to retailers what would happen? Would low income people get a fair wage?
What about the environment? Are we helping it buy shopping seven days a week? Stores that have their lights on another day of the week. More traffic on our roads plus emissions going into our atmosphere to boot. Think about it! We have a long way as a society to go, if we can not see what Sunday shopping has done to the country and the world.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was very easy to have Sundays closed to ahopping hours in the old days. Many employers required all their employees to go to Protestant services on that day as a condition of continued employment, when Catholics were lucky enough to get hired in the first place...

People also had to work 6 full days a week, 60-72 hours/week, so many fell asleep during services...

No thanks, I'll take the modern times, even if part time jobs require weekend work...
God is not available on only one calendar day a week, so I will honor him on my day of rest, whenever that occurs!!

Kevin J. Jones said...

Anonymous #2,

It sounds like you're a visitor from the UK.

You write: "I'll take the modern times, even if part time jobs require weekend work...

God is not available on only one calendar day a week, so I will honor him on my day of rest, whenever that occurs!!"

This is a very individualist point of view. Many people's full-time jobs now require Sunday work.

How are Catholics, who are obliged to attend Sunday Mass or a Saturday vigil, supposed to get to Mass when everyone is "honoring God in their own way"?

Catholicism has been relatively permissive of some Sunday leisure activities that require others to work, such as restaurant dining and entertainment. This was done precisely to accommodate people who were working the six-day week.

However, I avoided going into such detail because it will encourage excuse-making when what we need is a more principled stand against servile labor.