At church yesterday morning, I was shocked to hear our priest point out that the number of people (parishioners) attending weekend Masses was down — way down.
So I glanced to my right and left and found he was right. There were lots of vacant spaces in the pews.
Our diocese has a new bishop, but to my knowledge there has been no relaxation on the requirements for church attendance on weekends and holy days. And I’m sure news of that magnitude would have caused at least a small furor!
That got me to thinking about why people avoid church services on Sunday (or Saturday, for us Catholics):
- Weather. Yes, it’s been horrid, and we’ve had more than our share of ice, snow, and cold, but people still get out to do what they want. Some run to the bank; others to their weekly hairdresser appointment; still others to the mall or Wal-Mart or to cards with their buddies. Sorry, this one won’t fly!
- Age. I’ve heard some of the older members excuse themselves because they’ve “earned a rest,” or because they ache, or because they don’t feel like leaving their comfortable home and driving to church. Where in the Bible does it say we get to “earn” a respite? I can understand if a person is truly ill, he/she doesn’t belong in church, but “not feeling like it” doesn’t fly!
- Schedule. Some people stay away from church because they don’t like the times of the services. Really? Since when is that an excuse? If your boss says you’re to report for work at 8 a.m., do you get to tell him you’d rather sleep in until 10? I think not!
- Anger. Ongoing criticism of church sex scandals, anger with a clergyman from the distant past, slights perceived or real, disagreement with church policy, etc. aren’t valid excuses for avoiding church, in my book. Now I’m sure some people really have a bone to pick — maybe they’ve been personally hurt, or know people who have. But living with that kind of anger can only make them ill. No church is perfect because it’s made up of imperfect people. You can find something to complain about anywhere, if that’s what you look for.
I suspect there are valid reasons for missing church — being in the hospital, or maintaining a vigil at a loved one’s deathbed, are two I can think of. But it saddens me when people avoid the community of church, the nourishment of the Eucharist, the graces extended, and the opportunity to praise and worship.
Freedom of religion is a blessing — just ask someone who doesn’t have it!