It’s easy to get bogged down by all the bad news in the Church the priestly sexual abuse scandals, the dissension and division, the crisis on Catholic college campuses, cafeteria Catholicism. Yet, such a view is quite myopic, for the Church is so much larger than all of its human problems.
Teens Taking Up the Mission
Such a view is like seeing the Church as half-empty rather than half-full. It was a similar lament that led me to research and write Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow’s Church, which was recently published by Sophia Institute Press.
Day in, day out, our family makes an honest effort to attend daily Mass. It’s something we’ve done for several years. At Mass, however, I noted that our family of seven, which makes up one-fifth of the congregation, is the only one below the age of 40. It made me wonder where the young were.
More than 300 interviews and a year and a half later, I’m encouraged that there are genuine reasons for hope. While the young may not be sitting next to us in the pews at daily Mass, they are often active in the Church in a variety of other ways. Here are seven signs of hope for the future of the Church.
1. Teens on Fire
Sure, the pews may look like they’re graying, but teens are often active with the Church outside of Mass. They’re filling up LifeTeen Masses in Phoenix and Atlanta, gathering for worship by the thousands for Net Evangelization Team’s LifeLine Masses in St. Paul, Minnesota, and serving as missionaries both at home and abroad.
2. Pope John Paul II
The most effective youth minister in the world isn’t a fresh college graduate, it’s an 84-year-old man. Youth and young adults are often attracted by the pope’s travels and media appearances, but later begin to read his work. This generation and their children to come will be mining the wisdom from the Holy Father’s writings for the next 100 years.
The Pursuit of Holiness in Every State
3. The New Breed of Priest
He’s not your mother’s priest. Vibrant young priests are on fire for their faith and love the Church. Cut from the same cloth as Pope John Paul II, many say that they owe their vocation to his example. In 2004, more than 550 of them signed a letter supporting the practice of priestly celibacy. The number of diocesan seminarians has increased 14 percent since the late 1990s. Priestly vocations are coming from some of the most unlikely of places Bismarck, North Dakota; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Atlanta, Georgia.
4. Theology of the Body
Papal biographer George Weigel has described the pope’s “theology of the body” as the time-bomb set to go off in the new millennium. The pope’s teaching is the antidote to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Young adult groups from Manhattan to Denver have ignited the fuse through dynamic discussion groups that gather to understand the pope’s thought.
5. Burgeoning Convents and Monasteries
Not attracting vocations in your local diocese? Fear not. Young men and women are filling some convents and monasteries to overflowing in New York City (Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Sisters of Life), Ann Arbor, Michigan (Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist), Toronto, Ohio (Franciscan Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother), and Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville Dominicans).
A New Springtime is at Hand
6. The Wired World
Television was the medium of choice for the previous generation, but the young are wired. The X & Y generations are learning the true meaning of Catholic universal by connecting and evangelizing their peers around the globe using the Internet. Some are even meeting over the Net, getting married, and raising new Catholic families.
7. World Youth Day
For nineteen years, more than 11 million youth from all over the globe have accepted the invitation to spend a week with the Holy Father at World Youth Day the epicenter of the Catholic youth movement. They gather not only to pray together, but also to show their love for the pope and their devotion to Jesus Christ.
Do not be afraid. Don’t let the media doomsayers allow you to believe that the young are abandoning the faith wholesale. The Church’s New Springtime is at hand. Its seeds have been sown, have taken root, and are beginning to sprout. The Holy Spirit continues to work much as He did when He overshadowed a young Jewish girl in Nazareth more than two thousand years ago.
Tim Drake is the author of Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow’s Church (Sophia Institute Press, 2004). He serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Magazine. He writes from Saint Cloud, Minnesota.
Young and Catholic can be ordered by calling 1-800-888-9344 or visiting Sophia Institute Press.