Getting young people excited to be Catholic, I mean. Whether they’re teens or in their 20's and 30's, faith talk is totally foreign to them. I fall squarely in this demographic of young people who think faith is too hard, and I want us to work as a Church and figure out how to make faith a bit attractive for my friends who don’t care.
It’s been almost 35 years since the bishops of the United States have formally spoken about the best ways to bring young people to faith (“Renewing the Vision”, 1976), and it’s past time to have this discussion again. Pope Francis has called a Synod—a meeting of bishops—to discuss faith challenges young people face today. To prepare for the Synod, the bishops have been listening to some of the greatest pastoral minds share ideas at pre-Synod conferences. The Pope himself has called young adult delegates from around the world to Rome so that he could hear directly from “the sheep” what the Church can do to better welcome the younger generation into the Church.
A few weeks ago, I attended one of these pre-Synod conferences called “Cultures of Formation” at the University of Notre Dame. I sat alongside bishops, theologians, diocesan and parish leaders, and we discussed things like the effect of technology on faith, the reality of uniting the multicultural parish, and the alarming statistics that show young people are leaving the Church earlier and earlier.
Amid all the pessimism, I heard the beginning of an answer. Bishops and theologians alike said, “We want to make it easier for our young people to be Catholic.”
At first, I sort of balked at this statement because I thought “easier” meant ignoring certain Church teachings in order to appear more welcoming. But, as Lenny DeLorenzo writes, “This does not imply that we ought to water down the Catholic faith to make it less demanding, but rather that we want to rebuild the kind of environments and ways of being that surround young people with a Catholic worldview, and offer the benefit of the doubt, towards the life of the Gospel.”
That’s it. That’s what we need. A rebuilding of the environments where our young people are formed. Rebuilding the environments where they are growing. Think of it this way, if my grandparents had spoken their native language in the home when my parents were growing up, it would have made it easier for them to speak Italian. If we’re not speaking about faith or living faith in the home, how much harder is it for our children to live faith outside the home? It’s not about doctrine, primarily. But if we create authentically Catholic cultures of formation in our homes, schools, and youth ministries, doctrine will find its way.
(By the way, our pope shares the name of the saint who heard God say, “Go, rebuild my Church.” Intriguing.)
Church, we’ve got to look to where our young people are being formed and do all that we can to ensure they’re exposed to a Catholic worldview. A worldview that says we are One (united under a Father’s boundless love), Holy (we pray and give thanks to God), Catholic (little c Catholic, we are united worldwide, no matter race or culture), and Apostolic (we are grafted to Jesus, the Son of God who gave his life for us and we encounter him in every sacrament).
The pre-Synod conversations stirred some questions up in my mind, and I’ve been reflecting on how we can work to answer for young people at St. Louis. Questions like: How do we engage rapidly growing technology? What’s the best approach for uniting a multi-cultural parish and youth ministry? And, what are we going to do about the “nones” who are leaving the Church younger and younger, preferring a “meh” religiosity instead of being convinced by religion?
These are tough questions to answer, but I don’t think the answers have to be complicated. We tend to over-complicate things as Church. I don’t want to do that here. The goal is to make it easier for young people to be Catholic. To make Catholicism so attractive, seen as so worthwhile, that our youngest brothers and sisters want to rise to the challenge of being living saints instead of us forcing them to rise to it.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post on those three questions above. My answers won’t be complete, but this process of proposing and testing hypotheses is evidence that the Church is alive and well.
If we want to fix the problems it’s going to take everyone’s effort, not just the young. We need help creating Catholic cultures of formation. As a united Church, let’s make it easier to be Catholic together.