'The Symphony of Ecclesial Life'

The recent Fordham Conference brought to everyone's attention the divergence of young people's lives from church attendance and Catholic beliefs. Reading through the comments section of different blogs here suggests many different hypotheses and it is interesting that a common theme is lack of connection of young people at the parish level. We hear of young people searching for a parish where they might feel "at home" or "comfortable" and learn at least one young person spent two years unable to accomplish this task even in a big city surrounded by many parishes. We note many complaints about music, sermons and liturgy. We may even know from experience that at many Masses, most heads are grayer than President Obama's, and this is especially seen if you sit in the back. One regular commenter quotes another in asking about the structural role of the parish itself:

I think things are really happening in the various movements that move beyond (or span a variety of) parishes. Catholic Underground, Charismatics, Neo-cats, Focolare, Communion and Liberation, the Catholic Worker, and in some cases, college campus ministry engage Millennials in profound ways. At Fordham (I graduated last May), we enjoyed great liturgies, great preaching, great retreats, and many communal meals. It makes me wonder if the future will involve less emphasis of identifying with geographic parishes, and more with these general movements.


Although not focusing on young people, Vincent Gragnani called lay movements and their specialization of focus "A Symphony of Church Life." (America, August 14, 2006). Modern day movements display a spectrum of Catholicism and include Focolare, Communion and Liberation, Regnum Christi, Cursillo, Catholic Worker, Opus Dei, or even Courage. Members may become more involved in such a movement than their own parish and their major emotional investment may be to the movement. Then-Cardinal Jospeh Ratzinger wrote about the history of these movements in the church and stated: "The pope has to rely on the ministries, they on him; and in the harmonious interaction between the two kinds of mission, the symphony of ecclesial life is realized."

On the other hand, some of these groups become controversial and some such as Legionaires, Regnum Christi, and Voice of the Faithful have even been refused permission to use church property. Gragnani says the experts agree that the sign of a good lay movement is that the person is encouraged even more to invest in the life of the parish:

Lay movements always bring challenge to the church in at least two ways,” said H. Richard McCord, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth. “They represent a certain amount of new energy, new insight, a pushing out of the edges of mission. That’s a challenge probably in a good sense. But they also bring a challenge in that they need to be tied to the larger community of the church, which is institutional and hierarchical.” Most of the movements he encounters meet that challenge, he said. “None try to claim you body and soul,” McCord said. “They keep releasing you back to your parish for service.

Ratzinger's research amply indicates that, when there has been a specific spiritual gap, movements have arisen in the church to meet this need. Perhaps it will not be the parishes that are the key players in keeping our young people in the church but rather new movements—yet to be imagined and put in place—that will engage them and challenge them with the Gospel's call. An important task—each young person is a potential mustard seed from which great things might grow. As you read this, the beginnings of such a movement may already be flourishing...maybe on a Jesuit college campus near you!

William Van Ornum


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Mike Evans
7 years 11 months ago
When my wife and I were in our 30's with young children at home, we were caught by the Marriage Encounter and Cursillo movements. Together with other couples who shared the same experience, we embarked on a new and more deep connection with our parish and its sometimes grouchy pastor. He soon came to understand that these movements were transformational experiences and that they provided a new energy and enthusiasm in our parish life together. Perhaps what we lack today is such vibrant movements that appeal to the young and young marrieds. Perhaps we also need a more flexible, less rigid liturgical posture that appreciates variety, energy, enthusiasm community building and even holding hands!
we vnornm
7 years 11 months ago
David, excellent questions....thanks. bill
Juan Lino
7 years 11 months ago
I am one of those young people that follows Christ in an ecclesial lay movement and so I want to share my experience with you.  Most pastors seem to be happy with having a young person volunteer to be a Lector, Extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, Minister of Hospitality, etc. – that is, something kind of activity around the liturgy.  But if we want to organize a conference on “why marriage should not be redefined to fit today’s ideology”, or a conference on “Is It Worth it to Follow Christ”, all of a sudden there’s a lot of resistance.  And so, we say, why bother and I walk away thinking do they really believe what they are saying?  
However, I find that there is a tremendous amount of openness in the Movements that’s not found in a parish.  
Lastly, just a point of clarification - Regnum Christi is an ecclesial lay movement; Voice of the Faithful is NOT. 
P.S. I am involved in my parish as a catechist and as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist and so I do technically participate even though I wouldn’t call that “participation.”  I am more interested in showing the relevance of the Faith to life!!!  
7 years 11 months ago
First, you can see videos of the conferenceat the Commonweal blog. Transcripts of the conference will soon be available at the Confernce website.
I think they probably will offer the most enlightment about the issues raised there.
Obviously this thread sees the furture in movements, but...
at this same site is a piece on the German theologians and the Irish Church calling for broad lay particiaption and voice.
That seemed to me to be in tune with the America (current piece Fr. Crowley, chair of religious studies at Santa Clara) on young theologians  and the perspective of not taking top down  perscriptions as the answer (say whether groups are banned from Church meetings. I must say I found the coupling of VOTF (which I see as a moderate voice of reform) with the Legionairres this way to be a strange way of looking at group dynamics of what's happening in the Church while controversial groups like Opus Dei, which some think cult like, are yoked with the "movements"  that are acceptable to approved authority.
Moving forward, I think reaching the young in the Church  will need fresh eyes and perspectives and be more congruent with view that the young students Fr. Crowley talks about bring to the table.
we vnornm
7 years 11 months ago
Thank you, Juan!
we vnornm
7 years 11 months ago

One obvious advantage of "movement" (or whatever term one uses to classsify them) is to be able to associate with people of like-minded ideas. This can lead to comfort and belonging-good things.

How one decides when one group "does" or "doesn't" belong is a difficult decision and it appears there can be different levels of "inclusiveness".

The young people will bring fresh perspectives but they in turn need to bring an attitude of some humility and willingness to learn and adapt, too? Yes? 

Tx very much for the link to Commonwseal and the website. bill
Michelle Russell
7 years 11 months ago
"each young person is a potential mustard seed from which great things might grow"


And Juan said: "And so, we say, why bother and I walk away thinking do they really believe what they are saying?"  

I apologize up front, as this is not directly related to Bill's post, but maybe it points somewhat to the need for these "lay movements". We are a very small parish (35 or so "families") of mostly older, retired, members, so I hope my experience is not reflected in other parishes. 

My boys are younger than the group addressed in the Fordham conferences, but I often see the few young people in our parish joining our local Community Church which has a very active youth ministry.  I don't blame them.  I have actually considered getting my teenage son involved as well.  At my parish, I attempted to enroll him in the Bible study group (which he loved, talked about all week, and was excited to go back), but we were politely told it was only for women.  I can understand having a women's Bible study group, no problem - BUT what are we to do with the young people who want more?  There is "kids club" (their term for religious ed) once a month and nothing else.  We pray each week for more vocations to the religious life, but how do we plan to encourage those vocations?  I spoke to the church office, and said I thought we needed a Youth Ministry of some kind(and volunteered to do this once my youngerst was older), and was met with an awkward silence and was in effect told "we don't need that here."  I was shocked.

How do we engage our young people, our children, in our Faith?   Study at home is great, but what about community?  What about finding that fire that is kindled in the presence of the Spirit?  What about finding out that others closer to your age are alive and active in Christ, too?  The youth can bring new energy, openness, freshness, etc...  Why don't we tap into that potential and in so doing perhaps unleash some energy in our (older) selves?

I am frustrated, and I wonder if frustration is some part of why young people don't often stay with the Church of their parents.  I, too, am often left wondering, "do they really believe what they are saying?"

Crystal Watson
7 years 11 months ago
Is there something in the psychology of young adults that makes organizations attractive to them - from gangs to  religious lay groups? 
Juan Lino
7 years 11 months ago
To address your question Crystal - I think that young adults are more in touch with the fact that, ontologically speaking, we are made to be in communion.  After all, aren’t we made in the image and likeness of God, who is Himself a community of love?  Perhaps as people get older they kill that original desire.
To address Michelle’s comment – yes, I too have found the same “clique mentality” and it’s a turn off.  In my case, I went to the “minister’s lunch” the pastor had and as I was trying to find a place to sit with my plate of food most people's  comportment made be believe that I would be most unwelcome to sit at “their” table.  So yes, I think there should be a blend (old with young, men with women, those in “Courage” with those who do not struggle with SSA, etc.) in parish activities like Bible study.  I am sorry your son had that bad experience.
david power
7 years 11 months ago

The psychology of the young is where the Jesuits started.
 People are seeking answers and if they are not happy with those the Church give they will go to the world and if they are not happy with the common mindset they will go to the Church and seek out what is most coherent to their vision of life.
With all of its limits. 
I know people from all of the movements except Catholic worker and have to say that I have found elements of groupthink in all of them.There is also groupthink in the Jesuits and the Franciscans and all of the others. Those, like Julian Carron of CL, who attack the groupthink in their own movement are open to the future but others like the Legion want us all to look and act like we are in a movie from the 50's.  "Sanctity as sideparting" will not wash anymore. There are of course great people in the Legion but they are now all on the way out. The NeoCats are supposed to be great heretics but in person turn out to be just nice people with a passion for life ,but bad guitar music.   All of the movements though can learn a lot from the Orders especially the Jesuits. The one thing they all lack to my eye is the discernment of the sons of Ignatius but they in turn lack the fire and wonder of the movements, at least in my experience. All of these movements were up and running by the end of Vatican 2 and some of them such as Communion and Liberation, Community of St Egidio and The Neocathechumanal way  started just after it.  Pope John's little bird appears to be dying. 
Winifred Holloway
7 years 11 months ago
You won't find many 20-somethings at Mass on the weekends, because there are no 20-somethings there.  I know how this reads.  However, my youngest daughter in her former parish was a eucharistic minister at liturgies and nursing homes for a few years and always at sunday Mass.   The only one.  This, I believe, has left her disheartened and hesitant about joining another parish in her current city. In her previous and  I thought quite vibrant church,there were older people and young families with children and young teens.  And that was it.  This is also true of my parish and doubtless many, if not most, others.  One begins to feel odd and alone with no one from one's own generation to connect to.  And no, I have no idea how to solve this.
Crystal Watson
7 years 11 months ago
I was thinking more about the research that shows young adult brains are different than adult brains  :)   http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/

alpha kilotango
7 years 11 months ago
“All of the movements though can learn a lot from the Orders especially the Jesuits. The one thing they all lack to my eye is the discernment of the sons of Ignatius but they in turn lack the fire and wonder of the movements, at least in my experience.” Well said.
From personal experience, the very theology of some modern day movements seems to be more about worship of the founder/Guru, with efforts directed at growing the movement, not the Church (“theologies of self”, or “theologies of bamboozling to advance the movement”). Yet, on the positive side, they are dynamic. If only Jesuits could recapture this dynamism. The Spiritual Exercises are innovative even by modern day standards, yet time tested instruments of Faith, relevant to this day. Most importantly, they are Christ/Bible centered, and not personal, modernistic, musings of a modern day movement “Guru”. The problem, from personal witness, is that extreme ‘60s style leftist “historical context sociology'', with sloppy ministry of Sacraments (“we don’t kneel, we are way too intellectual for that”), are a real turn off for the young. If only “Opus Dei” would let go of their “founder’s” 3 “holies” (“shamelessness, coercion and intransigence”), and, along with other groups, adopt a spirituality focused on what the Spiritual Exercises mean (naked honesty in front of God, with virtue based conduct), that would be great. If only Jesuits returned to basics, they would have retreat houses and seminaries full of young people, it seems. AT.
Bill Mazzella
7 years 11 months ago
Older people attend yet how is the quality of their faith. One might easily deduce that something is wrong with it if they do not attract the young to follow. Should that not be where they start. Groups that Juan found unfriendly do more harm than good and indicate they attend parish functions for social power rather than community caring. All the studies show that Catholics have no problem with the God of Jesus but with the hierarchy. Archbishop Dolan of New  york is disturbed by this. He would do well to do something about it so that Catholics would get good rather than bad example by their leaders.
Juan Lino
7 years 11 months ago
Good point Bill.  The entire People of God - not just those called to Holy Orders - should radiate the joy and openness to all aspects of reality generated by the encounter with Christ.  So yes, ALL OF US must be witnesses of the encounter with a totalizing Love that has fulfilled the deepest desires of the heart.  And it is this encounter that has given our lives a new and decisive direction.  Trust me, that kind of witness has a magnetizing beauty!
Stephanie Waring
7 years 11 months ago
"Perhaps it will not be the parishes that are the key players in keeping our young people in the church but rather new movements—yet to be imagined and put in place—that will engage them and challenge them with the Gospel's call. An important task—each young person is a potential mustard seed from which great things might grow."

I feel that young people going to church or not going to church and being religious is their own choice and revolves all around our upbringing.  Some people are raised without a God in their life, and some others are raised in catholic schools, receiving the Sacraments, etc.  It is true that "each young person is a potential mustard seed from which great things might grow" and each individual has something else to offer than another may not.
Growing up Catholic, I went to religious school on Sundays, followed by a Sunday mass. I went to Catholic High School as well, which was mainly my parents' choice for me. I wish I was a better Catholic and attended church all of the time, but sadly I don't whether or not it may be because of laziness, I'm not sure.  My parents both raised me well as a Catholic, and were with me every step of the way through communion, confirmation, etc.  I love my religion and my faith, and although I may not go to church every Sunday, doesn't mean that still do not believe in my God or that I am a "bad" Catholic. 
7 years 11 months ago
This is a great article and a great topic of discussion. I believe there are a number of reasons why ''young people'' do not attend church. Firstly, the whole ''cool factor'' seems to simply not be there in many cases. Personally, this has and never will be an issue for me, but I know plenty of people who wouldn't attend church because they felt like it was ''lame.'' Another reason likely has to do with the shifts in the values of society. Many aspects of culture have become much more provocative over the years and social media is constantly adding to this. In general, there seems to be less of a focus on the importance of moral values. Lastly, at this time during their lives, many young people seem to be in a severe transitioning phase. Many people go away to school, travel, or even move out of their homes and get their own apartment. When all this physical movement is taking place, there seems to be little time for church, let alone the selection of a church that would feel like home. It can be argued that many colleges do offer different types of ministry programs, however the lack of a significant cool factor that I mentioned before comes into play, as well as the fact that young students seem to have very hectic lives as it is.
Alyssa Cariani
7 years 11 months ago
I am basically the only Jewish student at a predominantly Christian college. I can tell you that the same pattern exists on our side as well. 
Although I was not raised to be religious, the passing of my Jewish grandfather inspired me to become a "better" Jew. Judaism was so important to him that i began attempting to explore the reasons for his passion. In his honor, I began to set up some sort of Jewish organization on campus. As soon as I was able to establish a small group, i began to realize that i was not the only one!
Our group's goal was to set up a chapter of Hillel (a national Jewish organization for college students) at Marist. Eventually, our hard work paid off. We had about 30 members at the time, which was astounding for such a small school.

After we accomplished our goal, we became a much more well-known around campus. I was selected to speak on behalf of the group, as well as to organize events to celebrate the holidays. Oddly enough, as more and more people became aware of our presence, our members slowly began to drop out.
I did my best to salvage the group, especially after all of the hard work we put into its founding, but eventually i gave up. This year, the group has 2 members.

i can't help but wonder why this happened. Perhaps it is because of the "coolness" factor mentioned above. In my experience (which is not my belief at all) being called "devout" or "religious" at a Liberal Arts college is just another way of being called closed-minded. As young people, we strive to become accepted as a part of something from clubs and sororities to friends and significant others , but why not religion? Why is it that my fellow students turn up their noses to those who strongly express their love of God? 

Maybe it is because we are convinced to have an answer to everything (as a result of the current cultural zeitgeist of endless information and technology) that we find it difficult to accept the presence of something above us, a greatness we will never achieve. Perhaps the fact that some things cannot be rationally explained frightens us in a time of seeking explanations for everything. To me, being able to accept a power greater than me is comforting, but for some, acknowledging this greater Being simultaneously displays our inability to ever measure up.
Alyssa Cariani
7 years 11 months ago

Thanks for taking the time to consider solutions to my problem...

I feel as though I did everything I possibly could, including asking the students what they would like to do. The aspect of my group that most students had difficulty with (myself included) was that it had to be run underneath Marist's Campus Ministry (the on-campus Christian group). According to the Director of Campus Ministry, I was not allowed to do anything without having his approval, which I was okay with, until he began making extremely negative and condescending remarks about Judaism as a religion.
I think most of the group members were ultimately frustrated with this, which is completely understandable. Also, Marist operates under a system of Priority Points, in which the more clubs a student is involved in, the more points they get. High points allow students to live in the better housing arrangements on campus. They believed that establishing and participating in a Hillel chapter would eventually win them these points. Once it was clear that was not going to happen was when the students began dropping out. To them, it seemed as though the rewards of Judaism itself weren't worth the fight.
Lia DeGregorio
7 years 11 months ago
David, I think the social media has a lot to do with what is portrayed as cool. Take the religion of Scientology for example, which involves the power of the human spirit to heal and fulfill. Celebrities like Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, and Lisa Marie Presley follow this religion and make this known by wearing their red Scientology bracelets. It comes as no surprise that the religion has gained many new followers simply because of the celebrity attention. With that said, I don’t believe this is a good way to go about gaining followers, since it makes the religion seem more like a fad. I don't believe the idea of going to church is outdated or should be replaced, however, it is likely not for everyone and religious movements may make their way through our culture. What many young people may not realize is that there are still many, many people their age who go to church. This just isn't a common topic of discussion nowadays, as it may have been in the past. People who do go to church should just embrace their beliefs and hopefully others will learn to see that more people actually attend church than they may have realized.
Juan Lino
7 years 11 months ago
Quite a few of the comments hint at a very important reality that’s often overlooked: We must witness to the fact that there is a symbiotic link between Christ and the religious sense because if we don’t then Christ will always be a name that has no impact on life.

Alyssa – Brava!  You should be very proud of yourself and not be discouraged about what happened – which was that you confronted the mystery of this thing called “our freedom.”  In the end, all we can really do is offer/propose what we hold most dear to others.  
Daniela Pereira
7 years 10 months ago
I grew up in a home where I would go to Church every Sunday from the time I was born to the age of 16. No matter the circumstances, my brother and I had to attend church Sunday mornings. It wasn’t until High School that my family and I slowly moved away from attended mass regularly to only going on important holidays. The truth is, I am not sure what caused such a gap between everyday life and the spiritual connection with God each Sunday. One of thoughts as to why younger people do not attend may be the idea that it’s monotonous. At young age you tend to say the same prayers over and over again and tend to not understand the truth behind the words. When you get older you may have doubts on what the prayers signify and how they pertain to your life. Another reason as to why younger people do not go to church as often as they have in the past is due to the idea of how “busy” life can get. Our everyday activities have become much more important to people, especially young adults. Our lives tend to revolve around friends and we go from one activity to another; which can lead to forgetting to make time for activities such as going to church.
maria martin
7 years 9 months ago
Like many others who have commented on this blog, I too grew up in a household where it was mandatory to attend church every Sunday. When I was younger I would go to church just because I had to and not listen to anything the priest was saying. Now I am 20 years old and can safely say that if I were needed to say an entire mass, I could. I wouldn’t consider myself especially religious, however I do consider myself a practicing member of the Catholic church.
You might think that since Marist College was once catholic, still has catholic affiliations and has a chapel on campus, student would be somewhat religious. However in my opinion that is wrong. Most of the members of campus ministry simply belong for the priority points. Sunday mass is less than half full with students. And on ash Wednesday I couldn’t find one person who was willing to attend the 45 minute mass to receive ashes with me. I think it is sad how much of a gap our age group has with their attendance to the catholic faith.


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