I’ve spent the last couple days with nearly 75 young adults, mostly college seniors, who are participating in a new program, ESTEEM, at Catholic campus ministry centers across the nation designed to empower them with the tools and skills to be leaders in the church.
Following a panel of young adults addressing the transition from college life to young adulthood, I was intrigued by some of the questions a few students asked. They were concerned about the encroachment of secularism and its impact on Catholic identity; the lack of catechesis among their Catholic peers; and how young people lack significant spiritual knowledge to operate in a hostile world.
Most of the students seem open to the world and the beauty that animates it, but I was struck by the sense of fear that seemingly compelled some of these questions. Just as a strong leader is comfortable in asking for help and seeking out constructive criticism, I wonder if strong, confident faith lends itself toward more openness toward exploring and engaging different values and ideas. The notion of retreating from the world into a sort of Catholic ghetto is not new, but I was surprised to hear this articulated from fellow young adults.
By equipping young adults with solid foundations in Catholic theology and ecclesiology, we can prepare them for the challenges they will undoubtedly face from the world, but also make them more open to it. Throughout much of its history, the church excelled in being open to the wonders of the world, and engaging those who approach life differently. There is much to learn from the world, and the church has much to offer to it as well. By forming strong and confident Catholics, we are preparing leaders to be prophetic and engaged, faithful and open. With so many challenges in the church, it is refreshing to be around so much vitality and energy from Catholics who, at this seminal time in their lives, have so much optimism and hope about their future and the church’s future.
Michael J. O'Loughlin