I’ve been spending some time reading through the “Instrumentum Laboris”, the working document for the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on Youth to be held in Rome in October. (A synod is a gathering of Catholic bishops from around the globe who come together with the Holy Father to discuss and debate on a chosen topic. It has become customary to release a working document prior to the gathering that outlines some of what they’ll be working on and talking about.) This particular document isn’t a terribly uplifting read, but it is helpful and eye opening, especially for anyone who is in ministry, to form a clear understanding of the present moment.
First and foremost, the Church has an image problem. A massive PR problem, honestly. And it deals largely with Her members. This line, among the many, stood out to me with utter clarity: Young people are attracted to the joy which should be a hallmark of our faith.(pt. 7, paragraph 2)
Are you a joyful Christian? When people find out that you’re Catholic, are they shocked because you seem so fun and so…normal?
Do they widen their eyes in surprise because they didn’t realize that someone could profess a sincere and orthodox faith and also drink wine/smoke cigars/run marathons/attend concerts/work with the homeless/throw great parties/produce incredible art?
I remember when I started my first semester at Steubenville as a very jaded party girl transferring in from a state university, I was shocked when I discovered not only was there a vibrant (perhaps occasionallytoo vibrant) off campus party scene, but that the parties were more fun than the wildest ragers I’d attended in Boulder.
A lot more fun, now that I think of it. People were drinking beer and playing guitar and flirting and even (gasp) smoking the occasional cigarette and they were genuinely enjoying their lives and the company of their friends.
Typically, at least in our circle, nobody got drunk enough to throw up or lose control of their faculties (of course there’s always an exception, Franciscan is not some shining city on a hill where nobody sins), and more often than not, a party might end with praise and worship music around a bonfire, a robust discussion of Thomistic philosophy at 1am, or somebody ducking out before midnight because they had a Holy Hour they’d committed to.
It was really weird.
Imagine my surprise when I realized life could not only still be “fun,”but that life was, in fact, better with Christ.
When I realized that I could live without throwing an artificial barrier up between my “religion” and my “real life” and that, in fact, it was actually pretty hypocritical to do so, it was immensely freeing.
I have never stopped relishing in that freedom.
Finding a community of joyful and like minded Catholics has proven absolutely essential to growing in and nurturing that freedom.
I first found “my people” during my time at Franciscan. And I’ve found my people over and over again since then. Some of us served as FOCUS missionaries, some of us went to grad school and studied theology, some of us work for the Church in some capacity, some of us graduated from a completely secular university and found Jesus after college, some of us were strong enough to keep hold of His hand all throughout…but the unifying factor in our friendship is the pursuit of holiness through living in fidelity to the Catholic Church. We are artists, businessmen, nurses, engineers, stay at home moms, home educators, public school teachers, and work from home moms. There is no one size fits all to our makeup, beyond Christ.
The joy that unites us is, I hope, authentic and approachable and always, always welcoming to outsiders.
There is not much point in grimly gritting your teeth and trudging through the Christian life resentful of the perceived shackles of the Church’s view of morality and human nature. Either reject it outright, or embrace it to the full and believe that God knew what He was doing when He laid down the (natural) law, and pick yourself up and get to Confession when you do fall short again (and again).
I think often of the GK Chesterton quote that “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been f0und difficult, and left untried.”
I think there are plenty of young people who think they know what Catholicism is all about, or at least have a pretty good idea of it, either from their own upbringing, a lackluster experience in a lukewarm Catholic school, or a grumpy, aging relative who doesn’t like the way they dress.
They hear “Catholic” and their brains automatically jump to the “shalt nots” rather than to the joyful “fiats.” So instead of Mother Teresa’s joyful smile and fruitful mission springing to mind, they go directly to all the things that popular culture tells them the Church finds Herself on “the wrong side of history” from.
How powerful if you could turn that tide for someone.
How incredible if you and your family, if you have one, could single handedly help rewrite someone’s script of what it looks like to be Catholic.
There was another line from the document that stuck with me, and I’ll paraphrase, but it’s that the Church is not merely an institution or a building, but is people.
When non-Catholics and even non-practicing Catholics think of “the Church” they aren’t usually thinking of “the Vatican” or even “the Pope”…they’re thinking of Mrs. so-and-so who taught 4th grade religion, or of that one bad priest they ran across in their youth, or maybe even of an estranged family member.
As individual members of the body of Christ, we have profound power (and a grave responsibility) to transmit the joy of the Gospel to the people in our lives. And not just those with whom we share a pew on Sundays. With our atheist baristas, our gay neighbors, our Protestant mail carriers and our Jewish pediatricians. With our ex-Catholic orthodontist and our nothing-specific business contact.
There should be no sphere of life that is “safe” from your Catholicism.
That illusion of faith belonging to a specific and finite aspect of your life has done more harm than good in our rapidly-secularizing culture.
The more that Christians retreat in reticent and so-called politeness, shying away from bringing their relationship with Christ into every aspect of their daily lives, the darker and less humane our world becomes. It is up to us to bring that transcendent joy into our offices, our driveways, and yes, our happy hour meet ups.
Let your joy be cause for someone else’s head scratching. Lead with joy. See what follows.