A Return to Faith

Each year at Christmastime, the 35 or so of us who comprise my extended family gather at an old mansion of sorts on the Rhode Island coast to celebrate the season, spend time with one another, and as we grow a bit older, catch up on what we are doing with our lives. As many headed to bed and the rest finished the wine remaining in our glasses, discussion turned to religion. My cousin, a bright sophomore at a small liberal arts college, surprised her mother by seemingly losing her faith while attending a Catholic school. I tried to reassure my aunt by suggesting this is a healthy, and common, part of one’s faith formation. My aunt offered me a glimpse into her own beliefs, which seem tempered, open, evolving, and perhaps a bit unsure. In short, they seem very Catholic. I then listened to my cousin, who was simultaneously defensive and aggressive in asserting her distance from the Church and rejection of its teachings. She expressed some surprise herself at the quick 180 she experienced in only a few years; she had been heavily invested in her own confirmation process during high school, and now in college, she wants nothing to do with the Church. I listened attentively to her reasons, which include a stronger focus on reason and her rejection of what she sees as the reactionary and narrow views of some loud lay and ordained Catholics. In fact, she cited specifically the irony she saw in a candlelight vigil at her school’s chapel for bullied gay teens from an organization that she believes perpetuates bullying itself. Having gone through this period of Church rejection myself only a few years earlier (I was somewhat of an agnostic for a few months in college, then Episcopalian for a couple more in grad school), I understand her thoughts, ideas, frustrations, and feelings of “meh” toward the Church. Still, I listened respectfully, and I spent more time asking questions than offering answers.

Reflecting on this exchange over the next few days, I thought about the phenomenon of losing one’s faith in college, even at, or especially at, Catholic schools. It happened to nearly all my college friends, and now, much of my family. This doesn’t seem particularly troubling; an unexamined faith might not be much faith at all. And if one does reflect critically on Christianity, it can be baffling, mysterious, and perhaps sometimes even ridiculous. Though with experience and age, rejection often can soften into doubt. Can this doubt transform into belief? Of course, and for many it does. But for the Millennials, those born in the 80s and 90s, the odds don’t seem especially high. Childhood faith sustains us for a bit, but it cannot meet one’s increasingly complex challenges as they transition into adulthood.  When and where does a needed adult faith form? The institutional Church is losing relevance and respectability among my generation, and society offers many other ideas and ideology for happiness and fulfillment, some sound and some scary. What are we missing if we estrange ourselves from the Church? How do we as Catholics effectively relay the gospel message? Are we using the right vocabulary to reach 20- and 30-somethings? When people leave the Church, do we invite them back in? If they accept our invitations, what do they find?

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Over the next couple days, many of these younger people will attend Masses with their families out of a sense of tradition or familial obligation. What messages will they hear? Does the Christmas story speak to their reality? Can one homily a year, if that, begin to address these questions? There are no easy answers, and there are increasingly fewer and fewer people even asking the questions. But if we hope for a strong and relevant Church over the next couple decades, we have to find ways of addressing them.

 

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ed gleason
6 years 10 months ago
I don't think it's off topic to mention that t?he bishop of Phoenix issues an ultimatum a few days before Christmas. ??C?a?n?'?t? ?w?a?i?t? ?f?o?r? ?t?h?e? ?n?e?w? ?y?e?a?r?,? ??????? ?s?o? Phoenix Mill??enials?????????? ?h?a?v?e? ?t?h?e????????? Christmas message???????????? ?d?r?o?w?n?e?d? ?o?u?t???????????????????????
ed gleason
6 years 10 months ago
what was deleted above.. 'Can't wait for the new year so Phoenix Millenials have the Christmas message drowned out?
6 years 10 months ago
I don't think it is really all up to the Church - the Holy Spirit also plays a big part, as well as culture. 

I came back after my liberal/hedonistic college years through reading, of all things.  I read Kerouac, then Dostoevsky, Graham Green and Flannery OConnor.  The characters in Dostoevsky especially highlighted the modern plight - chasing after abstract ideas, the "beautiful and the lofty," frenetic searching and copying of men and women around them.  This process of deviated metaphysical desire and madness leads the character to "continually turn back into himself, and threatens, at last, to enclose him entirely in the solitude of his own heart."  Out of this darkness and atomization they characters are save by a conversion process - by faith and truth of Christ.

So, I recommend some Dostovesky and then a trip to the Latin Mass for your cousin.  We young ones want profundity and tradition and converstion - not accommodation and self-affirmation or "political correctness."
Bill Mazzella
6 years 10 months ago
God works through many avenues. There is no specific way. The point that Michael is making is what does one find when one does return? It is also a marked gratuitous assumption to posit that the pre-Vatican II church was ideal. In fact the hierarchy as lost the idea of community as church for centuries. The growth of the Monastic community in the fourth century is directly related to the lack of of community. People wanted a community life which as a result of the profanation of Christianity was lacking in the churches. What was a close knit community became church approved by the empire and to join it became political correct. Catholics began to have the government kill other Catholics.

The establishment of the physical parish church is not enough. Where are the pastors who can bring the people together so we can live St. Paul's exhortation whereby we all feel when the other is hurting. In theology it is called the Body of Christ. Where is it? 
6 years 10 months ago
"Where are the pastors who can bring the people together so we can live St. Paul's exhortation"

True, Bill; but is this not a phenomon strictly associated with the Church - there is lots of talk about Putnam due to the release of American Grace - yet his book Bowling Alone is much more prophetic in terms of the disintergration of American communal values.

I think the issues is the radical enlightenment values that America clings to - that of radical individualism.

The Church should not try to adapt to the morality of this modern individualism because it is alien to the human condition - it should rather resist the modern tide.  This is how the church will grow and maintain its identity in the face of deracination all across the landscape.

Just look at the traditional Dominican sisters featured on Oprah to see this in action.
Knud Rasmussen
6 years 10 months ago
Bill,

"It is also a marked gratuitous assumption to posit that the pre-Vatican II church was ideal."

Is this a response to Brett Joyce's comment about the Latin Mass? If so, I think it's overreaching quite a bit to take any positive reference to the Latin Mass as a de facto "assumption . . . that the pre-Vatican II church was ideal." In observing these sorts of debates, I have noticed that older Catholics often fail to understand that younger Catholics attraction to the Latin liturgy and other aspects of tradition is not a form of nostalgia or a statement that the pre-Vatican II church was perfect.

Young Catholics are not hobbled with the sort of baggage that leads some in the Vatican II generation to respond to any positive comment about the Latin Mass with comments about how bad the Church was before the Council. Thankfully, young Catholics are free to appropriate tradition on their own terms, and the choice to do so does not per se indicate a rejection of Vatican II or a desire to turn back the clock. 

Bill Mazzella
6 years 10 months ago
Knud,

I appreciate your observation. I take it you are aware that many who trumpet the Latin Mass do it as a knock on Vatican II. Glad to hear that this is not the case with many young people. I enjoyed the Latin Mass and many of the Gregorian Hymns. But I understood the Latin. I do agree that we have not developed enough English liturgical music which matches that of Gregorian.  Latin was originally the language of the people and in that spirit Vatican II reverted to the language of the people. The pre-vatican church was not ideal as the post V2 is not. At the same time John XXIII brought much life into the church which was not there before him.
Bill Mazzella
6 years 10 months ago
Knud,

I understand your wanting to keep me focused. Even though I understood the Latin I prefer the vernacular since that is the language I communicate with those closest to me and the language I think in. So the dabbling into Latin appears to me a curiosity or a fad at best. Language is an accident as any scholastic knows. To make it holy or sacrosanct is an aberration which too many did for centuries. latin was the original vernacular. Language does not make the faith. Following the gospel does. To make accidents essential is a basic philosophical error which many ecclesiastics did for many centuries and upheld by abused authority rather than reason. Vatican II simply restored the liturgy to the people. John Paul made a critical error when he allowed the Latin Mass. Unlike you many people consider themselves superior because they attend the Latin Mass. It is a divisive practice and contributes to the polarization of the church. I would like to see young people devoted to the beatitudes and generosity than attached to a cause which is decidedly unessential.
Knud Rasmussen
6 years 9 months ago
Bill,

"Even though I understood the Latin I prefer the vernacular since that is the language I communicate with those closest to me and the language I think in. So the dabbling into Latin appears to me a curiosity or a fad at best. Language is an accident as any scholastic knows."

As David Smith points out, this is a statement of opinion rather than fact. That being said, it also strikes me as patronizing and perhaps fallacious to boast of one's own understanding of a language and then to presume that others who are also understand it are merely "dabbling" in a "fad."

"Vatican II simply restored the liturgy to the people."

Again, this is a statement of opinion - one that condenses a lot of complex history in a way that misrepresents facts. The documents of Vatican II say a lot about the liturgy (including that Latin should be retained), but one cannot say that the current form of the liturgy was precisely mandated by Vatican II - the Council initiated a historically contingent process of reform that led (five years after the close of the Council) to the adoption of the missal that is now normative, but that's not quite the same as the Council Fathers coming up with a new liturgy, which they did not do. To say that that process "simply restored the liturgy to the people" also ignores the complexities of the historical process of liturgical reform, including misunderstanding and opposition on the part of many laypeople. Some welcomed the changes, but others did not.

"John Paul made a critical error when he allowed the Latin Mass. Unlike you many people consider themselves superior because they attend the Latin Mass. It is a divisive practice and contributes to the polarization of the church."

Again, that's your personal opinion - it's not a fact, and you shouldn't posit it as a normative statement. With all due respect, it strikes me as rather narrow-minded to presume that it is 'polarizing' for some to prefer the older form of the Latin liturgy while not considering whether it might also be 'polarizing' to argue that the same form of the liturgy ought to be prohibited even though some of the faithful want to be able to attend it. If the Second Vatican Council was meant to bring about a climate of greater freedom and openness in the Church, then why not allow both forms of the Roman Rite to flourish side by side?

As an aside, I should also note that I do not attend the Latin Mass regularly and that I am not a member of the Millennial generation. Even so, I do know many Catholics who belong to both of these groups and I don't think that they fit into the boxes you want to put them in.

"I would like to see young people devoted to the beatitudes and generosity than attached to a cause which is decidedly unessential."

This, again, is a bit fallacious. Why must it be an either/or? If you suppose that devotion to the beatitudes means sharing your own particular view of the Church, then you're presuming too much. If you suppose that devotion to the beatitudes precludes a love of traditional liturgy or other "decidedly unessential" aspects of Catholic life, you're seriously mistaken.

My experience with Millennial Catholics suggests that many feel a real disconnect with the "Spirit of Vatican" Catholics who lament the current direction of the Church. To the young Catholics I speak with, talking ad nauseam about 'Good Pope John' and the unrealized vision of the Council isn't prophetic or attractive - on the contrary, it's a way of living in the past that seems irrelevant to real life.

I'm not saying that the trads have all the answers, because they don't. What I am saying is that 'Vatican II progressives' need to be self-aware enough to realize that their self-presentation has become ineffective and needs serious revision if it's going to provide a compelling vision for the Church of the future.
Knud Rasmussen
6 years 10 months ago
Bill,

Thanks for your reply. I didn't say anything about liturgical music, Gregorian or otherwise, so I won't get into that issue. Based on what you've written, it would seem that you would have no problem with young Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass provided that (a) they understand Latin (and many who are into Latin liturgy actually do - people who choose to attend the Latin Mass nowadays are often very well-versed in the language and ritual, unlike most Catholics before Vatican II); and (b) they don't see their participation as a "knock on Vatican II." Is that a fair characterization of the position that you're taken?

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