Monday, December 13, 2004

Some Questions for Young Catholics

If you are a Catholic, between the ages of 18 and 35, how would you answer the following questions?

1. In terms of your Catholic faith, what would you say has been the biggest challenge for you as an adult?

2. Do you feel as if you won't be accepted by older Catholics if you don't believe and/or act in certain ways? Explain.

3. What aspects of the Catholic faith do you find most appealing?

4. Do you consider yourself as representative of a "liberal," "progressive" or "conservative" approach to Catholicism? If so, which and why? If not, why not?

5. Will the battles between "progressive" and "conservative" Catholics or between "social justice" and "pro-life" Catholics (sounds crazy to me, but I'm told there is some truth to this) ultimately lead young people to be more committed to the Church or to leave the Church?

That's probably enough for now. I'd appreciate your answers!

Thanks, Mark


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Biggest challenge for me as an adult: coming to terms with the schizoid nature of Vatican behavior. On the one hand, beautiful pastoral visits to the Wailing Wall. On the other, nightmarishly toned missives from the CDF.

2. Definitely. Many issues to explore here, but I'll go right to the big one: sex. Cohabitation, really. This is less of an issue with my family than it is with my older Catholic friends and acquaintences.

3. The liturgy, when done well. I don't do spirituality, generally. The broad theological tradition has been immensely nourishing to me.

4. Liberal to progressive. Here's what I don't buy: the argument that "young Catholics" (I'm in my late 20s) don't line up along the liberal-conservative divide. They do. They may not always use the terminology, but start talking to regular young Catholics, not the ones who join Catholic-only enclaves and run in Catholic-only circles, and you'll find that when you start asking them about the neuralgic issues, they are vastly, vastly more liberal than anything else. Why am I liberal? A lot of it has to do with Niebuhr. That is, my understanding of human sinfulness. This is a sinful church. The "faithful remnant" idea is repugnant and unworkable. We need to acknowledge our own failures as a church, as the people of God, laity and clergy, priests and bishops, bishops and prelates. The arrogance of Rome, the arrogance of many U.S. bishops is shockingly inappropriate, and deeply offends me.

5. This question is too difficult to take up now. Maybe later. Here's one thing to consider: there are liberal prolife social-justice Catholics.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Hey Anonymous!

I agree with you about the whole "faithful remnant" idea, that just isn't who we are as Church. The Church is not an exclusive club fit only for those who've got it all figured out. And, yes, I know there are liberal pro-life social justice Catholics, a lot of them are my friends!!

Thanks for your comments,


2:45 PM  
Blogger Credo said...

Interesting questions. I've tried to answer them at my blog:

7:27 AM  
Blogger Dale said...

I'm at the far end of the sample (35), and a convert, but here goes.

1. The behavior of the hierarchy, first and foremost with respect to the abuse scandals. You haven't lived until you get a letter from your mother begging you not to let her grandchildren serve at the altar. But it goes beyond that, in too many areas to name. Preserving the uniform front and good name of The Club seems to take precedence over serving the Gospel of Christ.

2. No and yes. Nobody's ever said bupkis about my personal behavior, which was...Augustinian...prior to my entry into the Church. Then again, now that I'm at my parish, there's a phobia among a lot of the older Catholics I deal with regarding anything that smacks of traditional devotion/viewpoints. I have to trim my sails accordingly to make any headway on the parish commissions, bible study, etc. They're decent, well-intentioned folks, but it can still be grating.

3. The life of the mind. No other Christian tradition melds faith and the intellect like Catholicism. Also, the testimony of the saints, stretching across time, culture and circumstance, is remarkably powerful. Standing in the same room, so to speak, with Sts. Ignatius of Antioch, Martin de Porres and Teresa of Avila, to name but three, is boggling.
Finally, two millenia of witness, however spotted and stained, to Jesus Christ, is not to be easily denied.

4. Conservative, perhaps borderline traditionalist, in moral, theological and liturgical matters. Much more moderate on economic and social concerns (having been labelled once as a "gulpily emotional New Dealer"--I've always liked that).

5. Hard to say, but I'd have to think that an institution engaged in a kind of low-grade civil war (as a regular sniper in the ruins, mea culpa) would not be particularly appealing to anyone. Eventually, it's going to take a toll.

"What do you stand for?"

"Well, that depends on who you ask..."

4:07 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

4. Oh--"Why?"

Because I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt with respect to the progressive Christian thing as a Methodist. As a Jeremiah warning the indifferent on social justice issues, progressive Christians are an invaluable voice. Everywhere else, the progressive program has been profoundly damaging, to put it mildly. Too much willingness to compromise with the zeitgeist, as opposed to presenting the Catholic truth, on about any issue I can name. Progressive Catholicism veers dangerously close to the liberal Christianity condemned in (ironically enough!) a Niebuhr quote:

"A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

I simply do not have the time, or patience, for that worldview.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


Thanks for your comments! Hard to believe, but I'm already past the far end of the scale (37)! Congrats on the baptism of your child! Father's right, you could smile a bit more! :)

Peace, Mark

3:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Mark, I'm 32. I'm not sure I understand your ?s, but here's a go --

1. The biggest challenge - well, it's all a challenge, and we can't do it without God's unmerited grace. I've been blessed with great resources, great Catholic friends and colleagues. The scandal hasn't really prompted a crisis of faith so much as a crisis of "I can't believe the people who are supposed to be servants of the Church are so self-serving."

2. I don't really care if older Catholics accept me. I'm more pious than most older Catholics I know, so it's not really a question I think about. Most older Catholics are excited to find a younger person excited about the faith.

3. I don't like this question. It's not a matter of it being appealing so much as God giving me a good shake. I'm in this mess for the long haul. I love the tradition, the theology, the art, the history, the music, the beauty, the diversity, the saints.

4. I am trying to be a Catholic in the mold of Dorothy Day. I like Rahner's phrase about "The Christian in the next century will either be a mystic or not a Christian at all." It's not a question of right or left, but deeper -- deeper into the tradition, deeper into relationship with Christ. I find it amusing that JP II enthusiasts call themselves traditionalists, as if he weren't the most modern and progressive pope of the century.

5. The problem with being Catholic is that there are a lot of Catholics, and most aren't very intelligent. This isn't new. It's easy to stick with stock phrases and comfortable categories. Xianity is very hard. If 10% of Americans were committed Xians, our world would be much different. Most people in Church are going through the motions, and I went through the motions for many years. It's hard to be radical, to follow the Gospel. I think people look back at the numbers and think the Church has been weakened. The fact is, most people were going for the wrong reasons, were about five million miles from having a clue about the "call to holiness" that Lumen Gentium calls for, wouldn't have prayed with their spouse or kid in any heartfelt manner unless their life depended on it. The only thing lost is the sheer massiveness of the numbers, and the uniformity (relatively at least).

Case in point: I just talked to an English major who went to Jesuit and then BC. He did JVC for a year in CA and is a daily mass goer. Carries a rosary. He knows nothing, hasn't the slightest idea who Jesus is. He vaguely wants to be a good person, and somehow has a faint notion that going to Chruch might make him one. In fact, he's a nihilist, depressed, Irish alcoholic. (We had a heartfelt talk.) He's nothing more than a theist, at best.

Now this is an extreme example, but it wouldn't encourage or discourage me if he stopped or kept "practicing." I'll stop now.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry if this is a little late, but I think that these are some good questions. To put this in context I am 22.

1. The biggest challenge that I have had is remaining faithful to my prayer life. Every day when prayer time comes, I can almost always find an excuse for not praying. And, after I start praying, it can seem very distasteful at times. But without God, what else is there? So I soldier on.

2. I never thought about this one. I just want to be faithful to Christ, and Christ speaks to us through His Church. So, if people love me for it, that's great. If people don't like me...well, it wasn't about them anyways.

3. Other than the fact that the Church is the mystical body of Christ and the seed of the Kingdom (which is, of course, the best part about Catholicism) I particularly like the following:

--The Liturgy. The fact that Christ allows us to participate in his offering to the Father. The fact
that it is (ought to be?) celebrated with so much
beauty (art, music, architecture).

--The Saints. Enough said.

--Catholic Thought (theology, philosophy, literature, etc.)

--Catholic Culture. Feast days, fast days, ethnic customs, beer, wine, kitsch holy cards, crazy old ladies, etc.

4. The labels are inadequate. They just don't work.
I'll try to explain.

First, a mathematical analogy. The "liberal-conservative" classification system attempts to approximate the space of Catholics' opinions by a 1-dimensional subspace. To see why this is inadequate, imagine a 2-dimensional space (a plane) and a line in that plane. That line represents the "liberal-conservative" classification system. Now try to describe the entire plane in terms of the line. It can be done, but it's a very sloppy approximation. Now, the space of Catholics' opinions is much higher than 2-dimensional. If it is n-dimensional, then every point on the liberal-conservative line represents an (n-1)-dimensional subspace of opinions, and some of the opinions that lie on two different subspaces might be closer to each other than either of them are to opinions that lie in the same subspace! (I'd draw you pictures if this weren't a combox). The bottom line is, that you lose lots of important information by reducing everything to the "liberal-conservative" line.

Second, it's been my experience that people use "liberal" and "conservative" as thought-subsitutes. When someone uses the term "liberal" or "conservative" when talking about the Church, there is a 97% chance that the next thing out of their mouth is going to be really, really stupid. Catholics are human beings, and human beings generally defy such tidy classification. Get used to it.

Third, the perfect example of Catholics who defy these kinds of classifications are the saints, and that's what I want to be. "Aspiring saint" is the approach to Catholicism that I consider myself a representative of. Were St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas liberals? Conservatives? Who would be so foolish to answer that.

Now, if by "conservative" or "liberal" you mean "accepts Church teaching" or "rejects Church teaching", then let me be clear: I accept every last jot and tittle of it. I believe that the Church teaches the truth about the world and the human person, and therefore, living out Church teaching is the only way to be happy. I have seen lives transformed by it. One example: Someone I know wasn't raised religious, and during college got involved in the part scene. As a junior, he asked for baptism. He was received into the Church last easter. What he says now: "I've never been so happy in my entire life." I went to a secular school, and I've seen how unhappy many non-religious students are. When they identified me as a Catholic, they would tell me how unhappy they were. True, there are many young people who don't accept all of the Church's teaching, but how much of that is due to the influence of the culture? How much of that is due to lack of education? How much of that is due to young people taking a Catholic upbringing for granted?5. I really haven't seen "battles" among young adult Catholics. In my experience, that kind of stuff really belongs to a different era. I can't think of a young adult Catholic that would ever pit serving the poor against defending life. In fact, most young adult Catholics I know do both.

I think that part of the problem is created by some Catholic political activists. To some, (for example) if you don't support an elaborate statist welfare system, then that means that you are anti-poor, no matter how many hours you spend serving the poor.
Some "social justice Catholics" have trouble separating Church teaching and public policy.

Additionally, Catholics in the pro-life movement are constantly harassed about not serving the poor in a way that so-called "social justice Catholics" are never harassed about not protesting at an abortion clinic. (Whatever happened to "different gifts but the same Spirit.")

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mine was the 7th comment. There were a few mistakes. My example in question five is a WEEKLY mass goer. And what I meant about "God giving me a shake" was more like shaking me, and NOT like "giving me a fair shake."

1:39 PM  
Blogger jam said...

I'm 33.

1. Biggest challenges:
To realize and truly accept that my church and my faith are not one in the same (I always knew that but I don't think I truly understood the difference until a couple of years ago). To live with the healthy tension of that realization.

2. I used to but not anymore. Connected to answer above. I realized I wasn't very accepting of older, more conservative Catholics either. It's interesting how judgment begets judgment.

3. Not just in Catholicism but all religions in general...myth and mystery...maybe I'm just a sucker for a good complicated story...all things that bridge/connect the man with the divine

4. Liberal and progressive...mostly because of my political leanings...which apply not just to national issues but also issues connected with my faith

5. i honestly don't know. however, i don't think people flock to the church because the church provides political direction. i think if the church (and i do realize the church is experienced in many ways) does a better job at listening maybe younger people will actually listen in return.

5:03 AM  
Anonymous Jim Cork said...

Howdy, all. Wandered over from my brother Bill's blog. I'm 35.

1. Biggest challenge: Taking the Catholic faith that I accept intellectually and allowing it to transform my life. I had a lot of difficulty with this my first few years as a Catholic. Right now it's a matter of not praying as much as I need to, but when my four-month old son starts to parrot everything I do, it's going to take on even more significance. How do I live so as to lead my son to a rich relationship with Christ and his church?

2. Many of the older Catholics I know think it's odd that I find the Holy Father a great role model, and that I believe the teachings of the Church about sex are true. Go figure.

3. Knowing that even though the members of the Church are sinful, Jesus promised to guide the Church into all truth. That's a very powerful concept--especially when I consider that both the priest who accepted me into the Church and the bishop who confirmed me have been accused of sexual abuse. Although they were sinners, God was still able to work through them to reach me. Does that mean He works through me as well? A humbling thought.

4. I converted to Catholicism in 1995. At that time I had to state: "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." If it's not, and people just made it all up, then the hell with it (to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor)!

5. Social justice and pro-life should not be an either-or proposition. We all should do our best to follow all the teachings of the Church, and not to confuse Church teachings with partisan politics. The problem is when we try to manipulate Church teachings to justify our preconceived political opinions (see also "Crisis" and "The National Catholic Reporter"). Our faith can and should influence our political opinions, but politics should not influence our faith.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Gen X Revert said...

1) Biggest challenge is working with people who are prejudice, lie, and generally make life miserable for those around me. How do I act Christian to people when I can see right through them?

2)I don't understand why I should be concerned with "acceptance" by anyone in the Church? This is not a concern at all.

3)Most appealing aspect of Catholicism is the culture! The history, the grandeur, the deep and real spirituality, the theology, the prayers, the people.

4)I would be most similiar to a conservative Catholic but do not consider myself one. I am more of a traditional Catholic, which makes me radical, liberal, conservative and progressive all at once.

5) The "battles" cause young people to be more committed to the Church, particularly the conservative ones. If you love the Church and believe in its teachings, then you want to fight to preserve them.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Mike Roesch said...

I am 22

Biggest challenge as an adult? Not much experience here, but I would say dealing with old friends moving away from Christian faith and adopting unChristian lifestyles as I have grown deeper in faith.

Feel as if you won't be accepted by older Catholics? Yes. Many older Catholics seem to have a set view that we are just like they were at that age, and if we disagree with them on something, they just shrug it off as something that we'll change our minds on when we have more experience.

What aspects of the Catholic faith do you find most appealing? I'm not sure I can give a concrete answer to that question. I suppose that I would say that I'm still Catholic because of the cohesiveness of the Church and the sheer beauty of the liturgy and theology.

"Liberal," "progressive" or "conservative?" Conservative. My first conservative leanings were because of the horrid folk music the older crowd has thrown at me my entire life at Mass. But I also don't like aesthetically the "youth Mass" style of music, preferring country instead for secular music. Since almost anyone would agree that a bluegrass Mass would be absurd, I don't see how folk or rock music is any different. Plus, chant and Latin are just pretty. Once my more traditional view of the liturgy developed, the rest of the conservative "platform" came along with it.

Will the battles lead young people to be more committed to the Church? I think they can lead to commitment. Catholics can't just switch denominations when their church does something they're not sure about, so we must always be thinking about what is going on. The battles have always gone on, and they have always caused people to leave the Church, and even schisms, to a far greater extent than we see today. But they've also been a source for some of the greatest saints.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 29 and a convert.

1. Biggest challenge: Figuring out when to rely on my own conscience and understanding of the Gospel, and when to accept magisterial teaching. I'm in formal dissent on a couple things. I just can't wrap my mind around a lot of Vatican pronouncements and I don't think these papers will defend me before the awesome judgment seat that awaits. More generally, knowing when to get help from the Church.

2. Accepted by older Catholics: Most of the ones with whom I'm friendly have a lot of the same problems I do, and I really don't see them living any differently than I do. If we both act according to our consciences, I usually find that a Catholic three decades older and I are doing pretty much the same thing. Maybe I should point out that I don't find older Catholics that conservative, or maybe I just avoid the conservative ones.

3. The sanity of it all. Catholics are the only Christians who come close to dealing adequately with scripture and tradition. Most "conservative" Protestants are so deracinated that it's hilarious, and "liberal" Protestants may be more honest but ultimately aren't any better. Catholicism says, look, here's our past, here's our understanding of ourselves, here's what the Bible is, here's what our liturgy does, here's where we're going. At every point there are multiple reinforcing explanations, a process of resolving truth, and a set of questions for the future. There's a splendid mingling of the divine and human at every turn. We acknowledge imperfection as we strive with God's help to overcome it.

4. I could play semantic games, since I try to go back to Augustine or earlier for most everything and consider Thomas Aquinas a dangerous radical. But really I'm liberal to progressive: I took some online quiz and that's where it put me. I can see a lot of places where change is needed and I'm a bit impatient for it. I really see 1500-1900 as one of the darker periods in Church history: an unhealthy defensive mentality vis-a-vis Protestantism, a reflexive suspicion of any sort of change, and an unhealthy preoccupation with authority. It wasn't always like that.

5. It's unfortunate that the state of American politics is such that this tension exists. When two Catholics divide over these issues, they are really doing the bidding of political factions, not living the Gospel. So a political question gets a political answer. I don't think abortion is going to be a big political issue twenty years from now. Abortion will be restricted, although not to where Catholic teaching would want it. Most of the pro-life movement--which is much bigger than its Catholic wing--will proclaim victory and disappear. The momentum will die down as soon as there is no further political gain to be made. Abortion will become another niche issue like Third World debt amnesty, NFP, or capital punishment, and will not be part of a practical political agenda. So people will stop arguing about it so vehemently. I think abortion is a serious evil and ought not to exist, but that's not where our political system will lead. It will give us a deplorable compromise. After that evolution occurs, I think the rancor will die down.

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Chastity.

2. I would hope so. In Corinthians, St. Paul tells the local Catholics deliver a man to Satan, "that his soul may be saved on the day of judgement". I would hope that fellow Catholics would admonish me if I went astray from the faith or morals of the Church.

3. The intellectual depth.

4. I am an orthodox Catholic. That Catholic faith is my only reason for living. I better accept it and take it seriously.

5. Like many of the ancient heresies, these distinctions arise from people who emphasize one thing above another. Now, there is a hierarchy of truth; not meaning one thing is truer than another, but that one thing is more fundamental than another. You can't feed and clothe someone if they're being snuffed out in the womb at the rate of 5,000 a day. Thus, pro life efforts are more fundamental than "social justice". The supernatural faith of the jusice is the most fundamental, and should be our preeminent concern. We are called to communion with God moreso than communion with man.


9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous (I'm 29 and a convert"...) You state that you are in formal dissent-you may or may not be, I don't know your specifics. However, you go on to say that you can't wrap your mind around a lot of Vatican pronouncements". If this is the case you may not be in formal dissent. The definition of a heretic is one who "obstinately refuses to accept the teachings of the Church", that is, understands it and still rejects it. Just wanted to put that out there if it helps.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous colette said...

Biggest challenge: Church teaching vs. Church behavior. What a mess! Also not pigeon holing everyone into liberal or conservative. Explain later.

Feel accepted by older Catholics? the older 60's libs get older no. But generally, sure.

Aspects most appealing: Faith and Reason and the interplay. We can understand and the faith is reasonable, but it is faith, therefore we cannot understand all that we believe the mystery, love that we have Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, divinity. Would not give up this faith and it's ridiculous people for all the world.

Liberal? Conservative? I consider myself small o orthodox. I do not want to pick and choose what I will believe in and if I don't understand it, my history tells me 2000 years of wisdom is better than my 34 years, fill in the blank. I am conservative to my liberal friend and liberal to my conservative friends. Sometimes I disagree with my conservative friends, but not on major issues sometimes I disagree with my liberal friends, but usually about bigger issues (voting, laity involvement, role of priests, etc).

Battles: draw young in or lead them out?
Neither. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of Faith and the Grace of God that any of us are here, still in this big messy family. As many as are considering the church, is as many ways to come to the Church. Some will come through intellect, some will come through emotion. We stay or leave based on how deep we connect ourselves, I believe.

Those that leave, did they not understand the beauty of truth? Are they too insecure to know that one priest who yelled at them is one out of thousands of clergy? Raised in a dead church? There are many alive churches.

The pictures on the outside of the Catechism is the answer: Truth is beautiful and it attracts.. Those who seek find. Those who search for Truth will be drawn in and enraptured by it's beauty. Those who stay see the mess of our sins against the back drop of the beauty of the Crucifixion and we know that we stick it out with this family.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

1. Realizing that my faith life is primarily a relationship with a person(s)- The Trinitarian God - and not the intellectual exercise of knowing the human formulations of that relationship.

2. I really don't care what they think of me in a primary sense - I like to think that I care what God thinks of me first. In a secondary sense, I would hope that they would see the light of Christ in me.

3. The fact that I can know by grace through faith, for certain, that what has been handed on to me is truly what Jesus thinks and wants me to believe and do. There is no substitute for objective truth. I hated being my own God -- it was too much work.

4. I am conservative in that I don't want to see the deposit of faith muddled. I am liberal in that where the Church does allow freedom of thought and expression I believe that we should revel in that freedom. If your progressiveness leads to holiness I'm there.

5. Who knows. Ultimately, people will respond to the grace given to them or they won't. Christ has destroyed death and restored true life to mankind. We are all sinners. My prayer is that all of us called to be saints will choose life and not death. I think that this question could be better framed as "What is your personal response to the battle going to be?".

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Ruth said...

1. I think my biggest challenge so far (I'm only 22) has been having the skill to explain why I (and the Catholic Church) believes as i do (she does) to my non-catholic friends. I understand the reasons and agree with them, but I'm not very good and explaining and defending them (you'd think my Enlish degree would have helped in this, but not as much as I'd have liked).

2. It's not that I feel I won't be accepted, but after going to a liberal catholic college I've found many people (particularly ones my parents' age (and particularly women)) who clash with much I believe in and who argue that they're hurt because the church "ignores their viewpoint/experience" (for example many of the sisters working at the school have been heard saying that the only reason they're a sister is because the church won't let them be a priest, - another related example is the experience of one of my friends at daily mass - the sisters in front of her turned around and glared at her when she said "and peace to His people"), but in all of their arguments and complaints seem to be ignoring the experiences of many others. However, in conversations with many of the monks at the other campus (I was at a women's college that works in conjuction with a men's college - we have classes together and are really virtually one school with two campuses) I've found that many of those problems are gone, and they are even less gone when I speak with (or hear about) those who are my grandparents' age.

3. Short answer - all of it. For a longer answer - the entire history of the Church, the connection to Christ, the devotion to Mary and the saints, the beauty, the clarity, the people, Mass, the stories of those that have gone before us and connections to them, the timelesness of it. There were more, my train of thought just derailed and I can't get it back in line.

4. I am definitely in the conservative/tradition category - in opposition perhaps to my mother (while I was watching an episode of Life on the Rock, she came into the room and asked "how can you stand that conservative @*#!") but that's okay. Mostly I trust in and believe what the Church teaches and she disagrees with much of it (which goes along with my experiences at college (she went there too, and fits in more with the general mindset). I have found no reasons to disagree with what the Church teaches and therefore, as a defender (however skilled or not) of this I have been labeled a conservative many times.

5. I feel that the battles may drive some people away, but that in the end Truth is very attractive and as the Church has the entirity of Truth, if this Truth is actually put forward and not watered down, more and more young people will flock to it. In addition, as many have already pointed out, that in all honesty these distinctions (social justice vs. pro-life) should not exist - a true Christian/Catholic is in support of both.

4:53 PM  

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