Young Adults and the Weary Church

The 40th Chapter of Isaiah talks about depending on a God despite weariness and that God never grows weary.

That would include growing weary of us.

What do we grow weary of? For me I grow weary of the constant infighting in the church. Here’s one good example:

There were two stories written of late about young adults in the church, young adults being defined as people in their 20s and 30s.

The first was called The Church Young Adults Want, by Annie Selak which makes several good points and takes many issues that divide young adults who have been distanced from the church. Issues like interfaith dialogue, the ordination of women and homosexuality. She cites the need for the church to be relevant. Calling the reason that many fall outside of the church the fault of a church that is out of touch with the concerns of younger Catholics for inclusion. But I fear that there’s still many more young adults who don’t fit into her categories for many reasons.

The second one is The Church Young People Really Want by Bad Catholic, a patheos blogger, an often funny, too often mean-spirited and most often one that tried way too hard to be what he thinks is clever.

Much like Ms. Selak, Bad Catholic uncovers some truth (emphasis on some). He describes a group of young adults who want a different kind of Church. Bad Catholic makes the case that young people want what he terms the transcendentals, the mystery that life is not about us, but rather about the mystery beyond us. He goes on to say that the young are actually attracted by “the good and the beautiful” a centerpiece of Balthazarian (Hans Ur Van Balthazar) theology.

Ms. Selak would tend toward Rahnerian (Karl Rahner) theology which responds to the “signs of the times” and engages science in dialogue and admits that they have something to contribute as opposed to being diametrically opposed to their school of thought.

And I don’t doubt that in the circles that each of these authors run in, that these are the types of young adults that they find. But I believe that young adults are far more varied than either of these articles make them out to be, especially when you look outside the usual Catholic enclaves of Catholic Universities and Catholic parishes. Bad Catholic describes young adults who show up at mass each week and have grown up in Catholic enclaves or have had serious conversion experiences. Selak describes Catholics who find value in the church and probably have grown up in the church, but find it hard to square their youthful religious formation with adult critical thinking.

But few young adults fall into these groups directly.

Sociologically speaking, many young adults are at best nominal Catholics. Some not only find the church irrelevant, they find it ridiculous. Many are frustrated with what they find to be the hypocrisy of religion, or better stated, religious people, who claim to follow the gospel and yet most often, disregard the needs of others. People they perceive who represent religious entities in general are often looked upon as mean-spirited, awkward, or just plain goofy.

Most of them are not concerned about the relevance of Catholicism, most are unconcerned about religion in general and don’t plan on seeking out a religious path anytime soon. I’m finding more and more Catholics within this circle and my colleagues are finding that this is true as well. The truth they seek comes more from Richard Dawkins than Rahner or Balthazar.

But they are not necessarily hostile towards religion, they just don’t want to be part of an institution that lends itself to so much hypocrisy.
The sex abuse scandal didn’t help and the fact that often we seem less likely to dialogue with others who are in their world (in science, politics) only seems to exile religion farther away from the mainstream.

Simply put, most young adults simply don’t want a church that makes them weary. The endless arguing internally in the church divides young people further from us. The constant focus on one issue, abortion, isn’t beyond their respect for our tenacity, but also falls short of their holistic expectations of caring for mothers beyond birth, pregnancy prevention, the danger of AIDS and STDs and the need to openly talk with teens and young adults about the power of sex and how it may hurt them if they take this too lightly.

The Catholic focus on freedom is something that widely attracts them once they find out about it …the freedom needed to become the person God hopes we cooperate with–that frees us from our prejudices, biases, bad experiences and most of all, our fear. Our fear that God may not really love us because of our failures. Our fear that God may not exist at all and that the neo-darwinists may be right. Our fear that God isn’t enough for us and so we turn to sex, consumerism and anything else that we think might fill that hole in our lives. But instead, what is most often found is the minutia of political infighting.

And that friends is the stuff of weary young adults. And it makes the church they want an impossibility. A church where they can overcome fear through dialogue and searching for answers to age-old questions. They seek a church where all are welcome and gifts are honored. They seek a church that spends more time outside the four walls caring for those most disenfranchised in society than inside caring for themselves. And yet they want the freedom to talk with spiritual mentors about their journey, fears and questions and they hope they’ll have patience and time for each one of them.

But right now, those we’re not reaching that we are called to inspire are not finding us. Because most of the time we’re too busy with maintenance of a church that doesn’t speak to their experience or inspire them greatly and a church that doesn’t listen to all of them, but only those in the club who tend to make the most noise.

I’m most weary of that. And soon we won’t have to worry. Because young Catholics aren’t choosing between Rahner and Balthazar…they are choosing between religious practice in a community and chucking a spiritual search altogether in frustration. We spend too much time talking about those on the extreme ends of the Catholic Young Adult Spectrum. In doing so, we miss the vast middle, who long to be inspired.

And that, friends, makes the church a weary one.

Tweet

Post to Twitter

Leave a Reply

  1. It’s even bigger than what you’re saying. It seems like the young adults you describe gave at least some halfway decent thought about Christian faith and either said “yes please” or “no thanks”. What about young adults who haven’t really thought about Christian faith (or faith at all)? It’s hard to fit them in with your discussion.

    What of young adults who don’t know a whole lot about the theology or the politics of the Church, who aren’t exactly opposed to it or possibly even attracted to it, but find it “awkward” or feel like they’re “doing it wrong”? Where do they fit it? The answer is: they often don’t. At least not today. They could, but the outlook is not good. That’s for a number of factors: (1) they can’t handle feeling awkward, so they do nothing, (2) if you want to know “how does Church work?”, you’ll probably die before you get a satisfactory answer and ain’t nobody got time for that, (3) the local parish for them may not be equipped to handle their needs, (4) they need guidance, but don’t have any (either due to lack of trying or lack of resources or both), and probably a bunch of more reasons.

    There’s a whole slew of other issues, but I’ll just leave it here with bringing up “not well educated young adult Church seekers” and “shy/awkward young adult Church seekers”. Better titles would be much appreciated. It’s a two way street: young adults have their issues (a lot) and the Church has its issues (a lot) and the approach of “let’s not get too involved, at least not now” is taken.

    And if this Year of Faith and New Evangelization mean anything, I hope they help out with this problem and all the other ones.

  2. Thank you for sharing. This is the voice that is so often missing in our churches and campus ministries. There is a lot of weariness going on, not only among young adults, but also among lay and ordained ministers doing their best to not get caught up in this minutia of political infighting.