Last night, I read about two-thirds of the document produced by the Pre-Synodal Meeting of young Catholics in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment coming up in October. This morning, I read the rest.
Many bishops love being around young Catholics because often their faith is so fresh, many having had a new encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ and in the midst of their first love experience with Him. Having witnessed this, especially among the young people touched by Catholic Christian Outreach, I can understand why.
That first love is infectious and reminds us of our own first love and can help rekindle that fire if it has grown a bit cold. Alas, I did not detect that joyful passion of first love inspired by Jesus Christ in this document. In fact, I had to read nearly half of the document before Jesus was even mentioned. The document mainly seemed to refer to the Church as an earthly institution.
Most of the young people meeting in Rome are very active in the Church and were named delegates to the meeting by their national bishops’ conference or by the Catholic movements to which they belong.
But the young adults in Rome and those in the Facebook groups recognised that like in society at large, they have different opinions on a variety of issues, including “contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church.”
Some, the document said, “may want the Church to change her teaching” or, at least, they would like “access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions.”
However, they said, even “young Catholics whose convictions are in conflict with official teaching still desire to be part of the Church.”
So, here are young people who are engaged with the Church, active, and chosen by their respective institutions yet their opinions about the Catholic faith are so varied. This is disturbing. Where is any sense of young people being taught the importance of assenting to what the Church teaches as revealed to be true? We had that drummed into us in order to become Catholic and we had lengthy exposure to all the tough doctrines, that some of my cradle Catholic friends tell me they were never taught but had to discover on their own.
Here’s what the document says about Jesus (my emphases):
The relationship of young people with Jesus is as varied as the number of young people on this earth. There are many young people who know and have a relationship with Jesus as their Savior and the Son of God. In addition, young people often find closeness to Jesus through His Mother, Mary. Others may not have such a relationship with Jesus but see Him as a moral leader and a good man. Many young people perceive Jesus as a historical figure, one of a certain time and culture, who is not relevant to their lives. Still others perceive Him as distant from the human experience, which for them is a distance perpetuated by the Church. False images of Jesus that some young people possess often lead them to be unattracted to Him. Erroneous ideals of model Christians feel out of reach to the average person and thus so do the rules set by the Church. Therefore, for some, Christianity is perceived as an unreachable standard.
I hope the drafters of this article are speaking about youth in general and not expressing the differences among themselves as the committee drafted the text, but Cindy Wooden’s article seems to indicate the latter. If that’s the case, this paragraph represents a catastrophic fail on the part of the Church in the countries where these youth come from.
This paragraph is more hope-inspiring by virtue of the fact Scripture is mentioned, as well as the need for an encounter with Jesus Christ.
One way to reconcile the confusions that young people have regarding who Jesus is involves a return to Scripture to understand more deeply the person of Christ, His life, and His humanity. Young people need to encounter the mission of Christ, not what they may perceive as an impossible moral expectation. However, they feel uncertain about how to do so. This encounter needs to be fostered in young people, which needs to be addressed by the Church.
There are many more concerning sentences in the document, such as this:
We strongly feel that we are ready to be leaders, who can grow and be taught by the older members of the Church, by religious and lay women and men. We need young leadership programs for the formation and continued development of young leaders. Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the Church and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the Church.
Why would the Church ask young people who mostly do not seem to have much understanding or depth when it comes to the Catholic faith, even with the myriad resources that explain it that are available through their smart phones if they care to look, to take leadership roles? To say nothing of an admitted lack of a prayer life. Thankfully, the document does note the importance of the sacraments in spiritual growth. And, yes, leadership training and mentorship, and ongoing formation are all good ideas.
I can think of plenty of leading female role models, such as theologian Tracey Rowland, lawyer Helen Alverez, moral theologian Janet Smith, Catholic Christian Outreach co-foundress Angele Regnier–I could go on—but they are not trying to do what Father does around the altar. Their apostolates are out in the world, where women are giving their intellectual and professional gifts to the Church.
Then this, I’m sad to say:
There is often great disagreement among young people, both within the Church and in the wider world, about some of her teachings which are especially controversial today. Examples of these include: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church. What is important to note is that irrespective of their level of understanding of Church teaching, there is still disagreement and ongoing discussion among young people on these polemical issues. As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching or at least to have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions.
How Anglican in that aspect we are so relieved to be free of in the Catholic Church. We’ve seen this movie and we know how it ends if the last part of the sentence “to have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions” does not prevail.