Wednesday, August 15, 2012

5 things the Church can do to get and keep it's 20-30 somethings

Christ commands us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. We are to proclaim his Good News to all people, everywhere and at all times. After Christ promises the disciples that the Holy Spirit will come upon them, he ascends to heaven. The disciples, rather than heeding Christ's commands to be his witnesses, stare "intently at the sky." It takes "two men dressed in white garments" asking, "Men of Galilee, why are you...looking at the sky?" for the disciples to begin to realize the meaning of Christ's command (Acts 1:10-11) 

Thus begins "Disciples Called To Witness: The New Evangelization" put out recently by the USCCB. I just read it this weekend. In a brief 31 pages, the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis explains our call to spread the Good News throughout the world. They put particular emphasis on those who were Catholic, but are no longer active in their faith. In this document, there are many practical pointers such as living a life of discipleship (because people respond more to actions than words) and emphasizing the fact that conversion is a life-long process.

As a member of an often neglected demographic in the Church, I would like to share my story and to make some concrete suggestions.

Where are the young adults at?
My Story

I haven't left the Church, but several of my old college friends have and their stories are a lot like mine.

We called ourselves the Newmanites. My friends and I practically lived at the Newman Center. We were active members of the council. We led social events, prayer groups, and retreats. I know I personally spent many, many nights sleeping on the couch there. I even had friends who received mail there. Our Newman Center was our home away from home and all of the students and staff there were our family.

My home away from home as it burned down my Senior year.

No one missed Mass because we knew that our friends were expecting us to be there. I know I tried different things that I wouldn't have on my own because all the other Newmanites were doing it (like going to weekday Mass and Lectio Divina). I also know I had the discipline to, for example, pray the rosary everyday because I met with my friends to pray it. So, in short, we had a close knit spiritual family that we spent pretty much every waking moment with.

And then we graduated and the real world hit.

I've never left the Church, but I've been tempted to dozens of times. All of the parishes I have joined since graduation have not been homes away from homes. And I know my friends have felt the same. The priest didn't know our names. None of the "grown-ups" at the parish even gave us eye contact. Our new parishes didn't have events throughout the week. No one asked us to help with anything. The homilies were no longer relevant and we really missed our best friend who played the guitar at the Masses at Newman. In short, our new parishes were not feeding us both spiritually and literally (we got really spoiled with the free pizza in college).

So we no longer felt like we belonged. There was no longer a sense of peer pressure making us go to Mass. We didn't have a church family to turn to in times of trouble or celebration. So, we left. We had more engaging, enriching things to do.

Like complaining on our blogs.
 So, how can churches get people like me and my friends back?

We had Papa John's pizza. Lots and lots of Papa John's pizza. Some of us are now burned out, some of us miss it terribly
1. Give us a little of what we had in college, like social events, retreats and prayer groups just for us. In general, if you feed us, we will come. If you create something led by young adults for young adults, we will feel more comfortable showing up.

2. Think about us when you plan your Masses and your homilies. Address issues that we deal with and play music that we are familiar with. We like to have a message we can take home and apply to our everyday life. Don't talk in abstract concepts. Talk about the real world. (By the way, this is something that my current parish, St. Micheal's and St. Peter's, does very well.)

3. Some of us have scheduling issues due to work or new babies. Give us an option of attending an evening Mass. When planning social events, etc. keep the new parents and shift workers in mind. We can't always show up right at the beginning of an event and we can't always stay for the whole thing. (One thing in particular that drives me nuts about my current parish is that they schedule events to start at 5 pm on a work night. Those who work 9-5 are just getting home at that time.)

4. Let us ask questions. In college, when we would get together, we would discuss and debate hot button topics like women in the clergy and contraceptives. Through these discussions, we would all learn a lot about what the Church teaches. These discussions would not make anyone leave the Church, but would do quite the opposite. Even though we can't change anything, it feels good just to know that other people have the same questions. There is no harm in asking. And please, please answer our questions when we ask. If you don't know, don't blow us off. Direct us to someone who does. (I put this tip particularly in bold, because I think this one simple change could have kept many of my friends in the Church.)

5. On a related note, we also love to learn about the Church. Don't talk down to us like we have received no catechesis. Let us know about the latest encyclical or the latest in Biblical scholarship. We're fascinated by that kind of stuff. Let us know how we can get involved with the Bishop's latest initiative. And do not be afraid to talk about controversial topics from the pulpit.

95% of my friends can name what Gospel the Bible in the picture is open to.
 At many points in the document, the USCCB talks about how we as a Church need to cater to the cultures we serve. The culture of the 20-30 somethings is under served.

We are questioners and seekers (sometimes to the point of being downright cynical). We do care about religion. We do wrestle with the ultimate questions of identity and purpose. We are increasingly disconnected to each other, leading to depression and anxiety (as one of many articles shows). And once we leave, we do not come back when it's time for our kids to be baptized. So, please, let us question, let us have fun, and give us a home!

Did I leave anything out?  


Friday, August 3, 2012

Jesus would be a Liberal*

Cute sign, but it isn't that simple...wait, are you comparing Obama to Jesus? Oh bother.
* He would be a liberal in the sense that He loves and accepts everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, political persuasion, or religion. He would not, however, agree with everything that liberal politics stands for. Nor would he agree with everything that conservatism stands for. His heart would break over all of the death and suffering in this world. He would hate all the killing, from the baby in the womb, to the man on death row, to those being killed in the middle east and those dying of hunger on our streets. There are many ways of preventing all this death and suffering. Who knows what methods Jesus would agree with?

I can tell you, however, that if He came back today, He would not be complacent. He would not sit as I do on the couch complaining all day on a blog. He would not make a political statement simply by buying, or not buying, a product. He would be an active participant in politics. He would be an active participant in alleviating others pain. Jesus would "be the change he wants to see" just like He was 2000 years ago.

The Corporal Works of Mercy
And He does act in today's world. He acts in the words and deeds of all those who help others. He acts in the woman in China who rescues abandoned babies. He acts in all of those who were hurt or killed in Aurora, Colorado while shielding others from bullets. He acts in those who feed the hungry, who clothe the naked, and who take care of refugees. It doesn't matter if the person doing the good deed is a Christian, a Buddhist or an Atheist. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is God incarnate and all of those people who are doing good work are doing God's work. Jesus has an active presence in the world today.

Seriously, though... Let us pray:

EAR JESUS, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole Return to "Paying Tribute to Mother Teresa of Calcutta"being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. -Blessed Mother Teresa