“Ann” shared with me a concern regarding her young adult children. Although raised in a committed Catholic home, they have recently been left feeling “cold” with the hypocrisy they see in the parish they attend. The son works in a club and regularly observes a lay church leader acting un-Christian-like in the bar — hitting on women, using profanity, and then sitting in the front pew at Church on Sunday and lecturing him on why he didn’t see him at Mass more often. The daughter also mentioned feeling painfully scrutinized at every move. She told her mother that “religious people are the most judgmental people I’ve ever encountered.” A peer, a college student, felt frustrated at being preached at and condemned for some minor offense, by a person who didn’t know all the (justifying) circumstances surrounding it. This was done all in the name of “the faith” of course. And it really turned the young adults off, as one could understand.
The dilemma and frustration of Ann’s children is a common one, and it is not new. The truth is, ever since the Pharisees in Jesus’ time there have been hypocritical religious people. This is not a “faith-problem.” It’s a “people-problem”: an issue with how some people are or are not applying their faith. We all struggle with it to some extent because we are all sinners.
A judgmental attitude, even among those who are not hypocrites, is still also prevalent today, as it has existed for centuries. Those who have found great solace and strength in their religious faith can still be tempted to intolerance of others. It’s difficult for all people when they feel unfairly judged. However, the late teens and early twenties crowd seem particularly adept at recognizing hypocrisy and are especially sensitive to harsh judgment. This can easily turn them away from those they perceive as judgmental, and sadly sometimes, even turn them from the Faith.
What is the remedy?
First, we must recognize the importance of being specifically encouraging and interested in this group of people. The age from 18 to 24 is when young people are evaluating their early family experiences, primarily defining who they are going to be as adults, and choosing to embrace or reject the values with which they were raised. It’s a critical time for encouragement in the Faith.
Second, we can take positive steps that will help ease the frustration and aid in faith-life growth. Simply talking to our young adult children is a good start. When they point out hypocrisy, recognize their astute perception. Jesus Himself admonished the action of hypocrites. (See Matthew 23). Then discuss how we all fall short of an ideal at some time, but that we are to stay in the race, which is a marathon, after all, and not a sprint.
Forgiveness is a key concept here, but only after a validation of the feelings of justified frustration. (Jesus Himself experienced justified anger. See John 2: 12-13.) We can remind them that our purpose of worshipping God each Sunday is not to impress or please others, but to be God-oriented. The sacraments provide all we need. We focus on our own path to holiness and must not be concerned with what others think of us or how they are living or not living up to virtue themselves. Like an athlete with his eye on the goal line, we need to “just keep going” despite annoyances and distractions, and problems with others struggling, like us, in their faith.
An article entitled “The Young Catholic Church: Roots and Wings” by Robert McCarthy in Church Magazine indicates that the number one influence on the faith of young people is the faith life of their parents. That’s good and bad news. The good part is that if we “just” live our faith well ourselves, our children have an excellent chance of retaining it despite any “people problems” they encounter later on. The bad part of this piece of news is that living our faith well is easier said than done. It takes daily effort and constant vigilance to make sure our youngsters learn the creeds and tenets of our Faith, are exposed to the traditions and sacraments regularly, and live in a home where a faith-life is vibrant, joyful and ever-present. Many families around us, luckily, demonstrate that it is very possible!
An English writing professor once told our class, “When you write, SHOW, don’t TELL.” He meant this in the context of story-telling. We were not to write “The girl was happy”. We were to show her happiness by writing something like, “The girl smiled to herself and hummed as she retrieved the mail”, thus indicating her happiness through her actions.
Likewise, in our faith, it is important to show it not just talk about it. Certainly, we need teachers (particularly parents and grandparents) to instruct the faith to their progeny. However, especially in dealing with other people’s children, and sometimes in dealing even with our own, the best “sermon” is a good example.
Even so, “calling people out” is sometimes necessary. Then what? We Catholics must remember first Matthew 7:1-3: Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
But when correction must be done, Jesus instructs us how we are to do it (Matt.18:11-14) : “If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Respectfulness is a key, and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to humiliate someone in a public setting. It’s humbling to remember that God is the only truly qualified Judge.
Consider these wise sayings of Mother Teresa:
If you judge people you have no time to love them.
Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.
Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.
This is all good food for thought… and application.
We can’t prevent our young adult children from seeing hypocrisy in life. We can’t shield them from harsh judgment. And ultimately, they have to digest everything they have been given in youth and make their Catholic faith their own. As they are doing this, however, we can certainly aid them by offering love, encouragement and by living a good example. And we are doing a special kindness when we offer other people’s children these things as well. A smile in church, an encouraging word, demonstrating interest in their lives and pursuits — all go a long way in helping young adults become mature Catholics and a make it easier for them to make the choice to stay faithful.