I went to the gym this morning. Actually, I went twice, not because I am wildly enthusiastic about it but because I forgot my pass key first time and couldn’t get in.
On the way home to pick it up the temptation not to bother, to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee for half an hour was huge. I resisted – with a struggle – and headed back to the gym. Why? I knew I needed to go. I want to look after myself and the gym is an important part of that. Often however, it is the last place I want to be and I can find plenty of reasons – I’m tired, I’m busy, I need to go somewhere else – to avoid it.
I know also that when I do go I come out feeling better. I have more energy. I have worked out any frustrations on the punch bag! The natural endorphins which the body produces during exercise give me a buzz and I come away glad that I have made the effort.
So, there is the combination of a certain amount of discipline and the knowledge that it is worth it.
I was the speaker recently at a conference in Ballymena which Nuala O’Loan and members of the All Saints Parish organised. Our theme was Faith in the Family and one of the issues which I was asked to address was how we can keep our teenagers and young adults engaged in faith and Church.
I certainly don’t have any magic answers for that. It does seem important to me however, that we explore what it is we want for our young people. I am not convinced that simply insisting on them going to Mass is going to work.
I was very struck by the comment of one woman who said that she was grateful for the rebellion of her teenagers because it has made her question why she does what she does. I think it takes a lot of courage to open up that conversation. It is easier to simply say ‘You have to go because I say so.’ This woman’s teenagers were clearly asking, ‘Why?’
When I was preparing for the conference I decided to get some ideas and opinions from two of our own. I waited until I had put their dinner in front of them at the table – knowing that I then had a captive audience at least until they had finished their dinner!
I wanted to know what was it that kept them involved in their faith and in the Church. I didn’t get much out of them then other than the need for good liturgy, decent music and most importantly for faith to be something that clearly matters at home.
Interestingly my daughter came back to the conversation a few days later in the car (some of our best conversations happen on journeys). She wanted to know how I would feel if I missed Mass.
Thinking about it I told her that if it was for a reason that I had no control over then I wouldn’t feel guilty but I would feel lonely, that I was missing out on something I value. I admitted that there are occasionally times when I am at Mass more out of a sense that I should be there rather than really wanting to be. At a deeper level though, I told her, I know that it is part of who I am, that I am the better for being there, that it is a vital part of how I look after myself.
We all need self-discipline in life but religious practice is not about blindly following rules. It is about living out a relationship in faith that matters to us. When others question us, rather than becoming defensive we could take it as an opportunity to think more deeply about why we do what we do.