The following came in an August 19 email from Casey McCorry, who is an MBA graduate of John Paul Catholic University, a former employee at the National Catholic Reporter, and the author of Defending the Devil’s Children on July 11 in California Catholic Daily.
The summer marked by great cultural shifts is coming to an end. Gay marriage has been legalized, the transgender movement has taken center stage, and Planned Parenthood videos have been leaked and ignored. Steady attacks on religious liberty and culture’s growing suspicion of organized religion have flamed an anxiety in faithful Catholics. Looking at the dwindling numbers of millennial Catholics leaves much to fear for the future of the church in growing opposition.
Yet what media has silenced hasn’t failed to exist. In the same summer of national shifting values roughly 50,000 highschool students have sought a deeper relationship with Christ by attending one of Steubenville’s 21 summer conferences all across the country. Over 2,000 alone attended the conference in San Diego. These Catholic conferences invite students to embrace their Catholic faith over a weekend of praise and worship, daily mass, confession numerous talks about living their Catholic faith, a powerful Eucharistic adoration experience, commitment to chastity until marriage, and a blessing for those discerning religious vocation. Students alive and impassioned by their faith run around the conferences with “free hug” signs, “viva cristo rey” on their tshirts and a constant praise song streaming out of their mouths. It’s a Catholic Lollapalooza, a moment where Catholic teens can realize, “we’re not alone in our beliefs.” This hidden grassroot pulse of millennial Catholics is alive albeit small, but one need only to step into a conference center on a Steubenville retreat and see the fiery passion in the hearts of these millennials to know the faith’s not lost on them. The generation many feared to be too apathetic is contrarily exactly what the church needs. This small group of Catholics has the power to drastically empower the future church, and they’re starting in their own pews.
Millennial Catholics have grown up in a time of increasingly partisan politicians and polarized segments of Americans. The Catholic faith that once stood as a stubborn cultural anomaly has slowly ingested these same divisions. Since Vatican II Catholics have created two governing ethoses. Members of both parties neglect sides of Catholic teaching in an attempt to characterize themselves differently from the trademark issues of the other side. In this fractured church millennials have grown up beckoned to choose a side, but neither seem to fit the bill.
As a Catholic journalist and High School Youth Minister I frequented CARA statistics and catechetical conferences where everyone wanted to know who these ever elusive young adult catholic were. In short, which Catholic “team” were they on?
The most valuable insight I gained from the studies is one from Fr. Robin Ryan C.P. a speaker on “Young Adults and the Catholic Church”, “Young adults speak of feeling disheartened by the polarization they perceive among middle-aged and older Catholics.” A Boston College survey actually showed this as one of the primary challenges faced by younger Catholics. “Young adult Catholics do not always fit neatly in the ideological categories that are familiar to Catholics of the ‘baby boomer’ generation. This is where many active young adult Catholics register their protest explicitly or silently and feel disconnected from the older generation of Catholics.”
The new evangelization inspired by Saint John Paul II is proof of a slow shift taking place in the church to fully educate its believers and ground them in catechetical teaching. Privileged to be born after Vatican II with a liturgy in English, a Catechism ten times the size of the Baltimore version, and in the cusp of the Youth Ministry movement, millennials have been blessed with a much more intensive understanding of the teachings of the Catholic faith than their parents. These changes have more forcefully demanded a decision from young Catholics. Statistics may reveal this generation to be the weakest of all generations of Catholics but this is due in large part to the fact that millennials have grappled with church teaching in a way that either persuades or repels them. Young adults who find issue with church teaching no longer have the ethnic or cultural pressure to maintain their faith and thus convert or fall away. Cradle Catholics who take issue with the church’s stance on gay marriage may become Episcopalian. Youth bored by “boring services” become Evangelical. And most become Agnostic or apathetic to religion at all. Those left are small in numbers but are powerful, unique, and outside the scope of babyboomer ideology. They are a generation previously unmatched.
Young believers are neither traditional or progressive, liberal or conservative, they are Catholic. A label as profound as it’s practice. Millennials cherish the broad spectrum of faith practices disregarding the invisible labels that such a practice may imply. Living with Catholic labels rejects the fullness of the faith, and to reject the fullness is why Catholicism is a weak argument in a secular world. Each teaching is integral with every other teaching and to remove one is to deny the whole powerfully persuasive truth. We see this with the question of gay marriage. How can Catholics persuade a nation of the significance of a free, total, fruitful, marriage when most married Catholics use contraception. Similarly how can pro-life petitioners plead for the lives of infants and ignore blatant warwaging or the death penalty? Each teaching is like a marble stone that altogether make the grand altar upon which we celebrate the Eucharistic feast.
Pope Francis spoke to millennials this summer in Brazil saying, “Make a ruckus, but do a good job of it! A ruckus that brings a free heart, a ruckus that brings solidarity, a ruckus that brings us hope, a ruckus that comes from knowing Jesus and knowing that God, once I know him, is my strength.” This millennial generation is the one God has been molding to answer for the church in this specific time. We have great opposition and seemingly no success but we’re madly in love with Christ and thus will make a ruckus in a misguided world, but also, in a severed church.
We practice NFP in the height of contraception usage and love Theology of the Body in a nation of porn. We value marriage and courtship in a culture of one-night stands. We read encyclicals in weekly Young adult groups and enact Catholic social teachings at soup kitchens on weekends. We are Jesuits and Carmelites. We practice Leccio Divina and pray the Divine Chaplet. We admire Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. We make a ruckus in the streets of D.C. whispering Hail Mary’s in the March for Life. In the hush that falls over the room as the Eucharist is processed in the Steubenville Conferences. We face the homosexuality issue with love, as brothers and sisters with warm embraces and not solely a battle. You’ll hear our voices sing in small college chapels with FOCUS missionaries, and Salve Regina’s at the Catholic Underground. This ruckus will empower us through the inevitable future of our faith: the friendships we will have to end, the jobs denied, rights revoked, laws created. We will stand with the truth.
Christ prayed for his disciples in the Gospel of John,
“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Our unity alone can testify to Christ being the truth. We must speak with unity on the teachings God has given us all the teachings. We must remove prejudices and politics and resentment and toss it over our shoulder like nets to follow our Lord like loving children. The survival of our church demands our unity. It’s time this world met the fullness of our Church.