“The Church is in turmoil.” Archbishop Charles Chaput
Today begins a multi-week convergence in the Eternal City of some of the best minds from around the global Church. Laypeople, seminarians, priests, bishops, and the Holy Father are coming together to discuss that which is the future of the Catholic Church in a very literal sense: her youth.
The working document for the 2018 synod on young adults, the faith, and vocational discernment is, one can only hope, a jumping-off point from which deeper conversation and consideration will flow. It touches nicely on some of the sociological and psychological needs shared by youth the world over, but is light on faith and belief. It misdiagnoses the illness, if I may be so bold. Allow me to explain.
I am the young-ish mother of five little kids. A millenial by the skin of my teeth and 10 calendar days, I’ve observed – and participated in – the digitalization of life and culture. I’ve participated enthusiastically in the social media revolution. I have friends of all stripes and types. I like pourover coffee and locally roasted beans.
I also recognize that we are hemorrhaging believers, and belief. That our modern way of living lacks a depth and breadth that once rooted people deeply in their communities and in their families.
Young people are delaying or forgoing marriage. Couples are refusing to have children. Mothers and fathers are losing a sense of the deep sacrificial identity of parenthood, and how it disciples us to become more and more like God our Father. And no wonder, since many young people can’t look to an earthy father – or mother – for an example. Increasingly, there are fewer spiritual fathers that can be trusted, as this summer has shown us in spades.
As I read through the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for this gathering, I kept coming back to the idea that “you can’t give what you don’t have,” and there’s the rub: I don’t think the Church is living in a way that is sufficiently attractive to most young people.
Simply put: holiness is attractive, and examples of authentic holiness, both within and outside of the Church, seem in short supply.
If the Church is wrestling with attracting and retaining young believers, it is because she has too few saints perfuming her earthly body with the aroma of sanctity.
JPII had no trouble drawing crowds of millions. Mother Teresa, too. Were the times in which they lived any less complicated?
I look into my kids’ faces and think about their futures, and my larger concern beyond all the talk of identity and accompaniment and inequality that I found in the IL is this: “when they are mature, will they find that our Church that is sufficiently attractive to capture their hearts?”
Only Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, can do this work. To the extent that we preach the Gospel and allow Jesus to transform our lives, we will evangelize the culture. Including the youth culture.
It’s ridiculously, pathologically simple.
Young people need priests who would die for love of the Eucharist. Who spend hours a day on their knees in prayer, celebrating the sacraments for their flocks. Who shun political and social media hyperactivity and draw deeply into the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament every single day. Who are intensely masculine in the sense that their capacity for self-sacrifice grows and grows as they enter more deeply into their identity of being an alter Christus.
Young people need mothers and fathers who prioritize faith above all else. Who would sooner miss a season of soccer games than a Sunday Mass. Who spend more time praying for and over their children than they do checking social media and the family activity calendar. Who prioritize their faith lives above all else, including their professional lives.
Young people need to be exposed to a radical idea: that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the deepest longing of the human heart, and that Jesus Christ alone can give them true freedom.
No focus group can come up with a better form of accompaniment. No clever theologian can sufficiently modernize the Gospel to make it the most compelling choice in an endless buffet of attractive offerings.
This was the most disturbing section of the IL for me to read:
Consequently, the Church “is brought into being” with young people, by allowing them to be true protagonists without telling them “it has always been done this way”. This perspective, which determines a pastoral style and also a way of internal organisation for the institution, is perfectly in tune with the request for authenticity that young people are addressing to the Church. They expect to be accompanied not by an unbending judge, nor by a fearful and hyperprotective parent who generates dependence, but by someone who is not afraid of his weakness and is able to make the treasure it holds within, like an earthen vessel, shine (cf. 2Cor4:7). Otherwise, they will ultimately turn elsewhere, especially at a time when there is no shortage of alternatives (cf. PM 1.7.10).
This fundamentally misunderstands what the Church is doing wrong, if I may be so bold. She is not failing to fragrance the modern world with sanctity because she is “unbending judge” or “hyperprotective parent,” but, rather, because she is a neglective mother and an absentee father.
We are in a crisis of parenthood. Nowhere is that more brutally evident than in the Pennsylvania report. In the McCarrick story. In case after case of Fathers failing their children utterly, destroying their lives when they should be offering their own as a willing sacrifice.
The Church will continue to fail to compete with “no shortage of alternatives” so long as she is playing on the same field as the world.
We can’t win in any other category but holiness.
It is our smallness, our seeming weakness – perhaps especially financially and politically in the coming decades – that magnifies the largeness of God.
These weeks of discussion and document drafting in Rome would be well spent hemmed in on all sides by deep, authentic and personal prayer on the parts of every participant. Would that the Holy Father would lead a public, global day of penance, on his knees, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, exposed for all the world to see on the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, or out in the Square.
Therein lies our hope. There could be no more powerful witness.