My 20-year-old Does Not Receive Communion: What Should I Do?
It should concern you, but it should also fill you with healthy pride. It should bother you, because a choice not to receive Holy Communion means one of two things. First, it could mean that your son is having a crisis of faith in which he is deciding anew whether or not the claims of Christ and Christ’s Church are believable, or whether he wants to believe in them. Second, it could mean that he is aware of serious sin in his life, and he is choosing not to repent of that sin, or not to reach out for the help he needs to break away from it. Both of those possibilities will be a source of concern for any parents who love God and their children.
Light in the Darkness
Yet, your son’s refusal to receive Holy Communion, even though he is still attending Mass, also reveals interior depth, moral and spiritual self-awareness, and at least a basic consciousness of what Holy Communion really means. Imagine if your son were struggling with serious sin or deeply questioning his faith, and yet he was still going up to receive Communion. That scenario could be even more concerning. It could imply either a buddying hypocrisy in his life, or a spiritual deadening in his soul, a “devil-may-care” kind of attitude towards what is sacred and transcendent.
What should you do about it? Three things:
First Things First
First, pray, pray, pray – PRAY for your son. He is now a young man. You cannot parent him in the same way that you did when he was a boy. You have to respect his freedom and autonomy more fully. Certainly, he still depends on you for his livelihood, so you can make demands of him and expect his obedience in certain things. But he is beginning to fend for himself, and you have to respect that. You will feel a certain helplessness in his regard that you didn’t feel when he was a boy. And yet, you love him as much as ever! This experience goes with the territory of being a parent. Your reaction to it is crucial for your own spiritual growth. Get on your knees on a regular basis. Pray for your son. And also prayerfully meditate on God’s goodness, love, and power. Go deeper in your own faith. Ask for the grace to know God’s heart and mind in regards to your son. Ask for a deeper confidence in God’s providence and wisdom. The Lord loves your son even more than you do. God will find a way to help him, and your own prayers will be part of that.
Second, build up your relationship with your son. Don’t be satisfied with where it is now. He needs you now, in a different way than he needed you ten years ago, but just as much. He needs you to be a wise and loving presence in his life. Express your fatherhood or motherhood intentionally and boldly, but in ways that respect your son. Build your relationship with him; show that you respect his identity, his growing independence, his own experiences. Find creative ways to father him or mother him. This may be an opportunity for you to read and reflect anew on what it really means to be a father or a mother. In recent years, excellent resources on parenting have been published, resources that take good insights from healthy psychology and sociology and link them to Christian principles, translating them into practical tips and ideas about parenting. Dip into those resources. A good place to start is by listening to some of the interviews with Christian authors at the Focus on the Family website (like this one on fatherhood called “Fighting for What Matters Most”). Or you may want to browse through a list of books on fatherhood and see if one resonates with you (here’s a sample list).
Be Not Afraid!
Third, reach out! Create a situation in which you can engage in a conversation with your son about what’s going on in his life. Do it in a non-aggressive way. Communicate in your words and your manner that you are simply concerned and want to understand. And then really try to understand. You can be sincerely concerned about why he is not receiving Communion without panicking or simply trying to get him to “get back to normal.” Inquire, ask open-ended questions, listen, affirm. If you feel that you need to give him some specific advice, or challenge, only do that after you are sure that you really understand what’s going on and why – and that he is sure that you understand. Reaching out is risky, and there’s no magic formula for it, because your son is free to accept or reject your efforts. But if you make the effort, sincerely and lovingly, something good will happen. You may need to reach out ten times before your son opens up – or it may happen right away. It all depends on how your relationship is going. The key here is not to be afraid. Especially if you are a dad – don’t be afraid to reach out. Dads can often feel uncomfortable in this role. But it’s essential to your fatherhood.
Some of our readers may have faced a similar situation, and they may have some valuable thoughts and advice. I invite them to chime in. And in the meantime, I will say a prayer for you and for your son.
God bless you! In Him, Fr. John
Art: Niño Comulgando [Boy Receiving Communion],, December 11 2011, own work, CC; Praying Hands study for an Apostle figure of the “Heller” altar (Betende HÃ¤nde), Albrecht Dürer, ca 1508, PD-US; Father & Son on the Ocean, StateStreeet, 26 September 2009, own work, CC; all Wikimedia Commons. Hand Reachout2, Estler, own work, 13 September 2014, PD-self.