Young Catholics aren’t the church of the future—they’re the church of now.

A young couple wake up before Pope Francis' celebration of Mass for World Youth Day pilgrims at St. John Paul II Field in Panama City Jan. 27, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

In the central rotunda of Keating Hall on the campus of Fordham University, there is a unique statue that is often overlooked by the the busy students and faculty who walk by on the way to class. The statue depicts Jesus at 18, the average age of an incoming college student. According to Aloysius Hogan, S.J., who envisioned the project when he was the college president in the 1930s, the figure was the first artistic depiction of Christ at the age of a college student.

The life of Jesus Christ as a young person, something not often depicted in art, is one that Pope Francis invites us to consider in his newly released exhortation, “Christus Vivit,” his official follow up text to the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment that took place last October. In this long letter to young people, the pope urges them “to contemplate the young Jesus as presented in the Gospels, for he was truly one of you, and shares many of the features of your young hearts” (No. 31).

Advertisement

What difference might it make to contemplate Christ as a young person?

What difference might it make to contemplate Christ as a young person? What different might it make to consider how Christ is alive in the young, baptized members of his church?

For Francis in “Christus Vivit,” the answer seems to be twofold. First and foremost, by seeing Christ in young adults, the church is called to acknowledge that young Catholics are not simply the “church of tomorrow,” as many will often say, but they are the church of the present. Citing his address at World Youth Day in Panama, Francis describes young people as the “now of God” (No. 178). This is something that was also brought up in the final statement of the synod, which emphasizes that “Young Catholics are not merely on the receiving end of pastoral activity: they are living members of the one ecclesial body, baptized persons in whom the Spirit of the Lord is alive and active. They help to enrich what the Church is and not only what she does. They are her present and not only her future” (No. 54).

To recognize that Christ is alive in the young members of his body affirms both the agency and responsibility of young people in the church and society. In the letter, Francis several times affirms the social commitments of young adults, including the recent “news reports of the many young people throughout the world who have taken to the streets to express the desire for a more just and fraternal society” (No. 174).

For the pope, this is an important gift that young people offer the church and the world. “Christus Vivit” urges young people to continue to deepen this social commitment and to make their voices heard, even if political and ecclesial leaders may not want to hear them. In one of the more approachable sections, he urges young people to be active agents in their world:

Dear young people, make the most of these years of your youth. Don’t observe life from a balcony. Don’t confuse happiness with an armchair, or live your life behind a screen. Whatever you do, do not become the sorry sight of an abandoned vehicle! Don’t be parked cars, but dream freely and make good decisions. Take risks, even if it means making mistakes. Don’t go through life anesthetized, or approach the world like tourists. Make a ruckus! Cast out the fears that paralyze you, so that you don’t become young mummies. Live! Give yourselves over to the best of life! Open the door of the cage, go out and fly! Please, don’t take an early retirement (No. 143).

This leads to a second implication for seeing Christ alive in young people. Youth, campus and young adult ministry must be rethought through a missionary and participatory key. A recognition that Christ is already active in young members of the church calls for a rethinking of youth ministry and a move to more participatory models where young people can become, as the Second Vatican Council called for, “the first apostles to the young” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, No. 12). For Francis, this means moving away from models where young people are passive recipients and a priest, religious or lay minister is the only agent. Instead of top-down approaches, Francis calls for a model based more on synodality, collective discernment and accompaniment.

The church is called to acknowledge that young Catholics are not simply the “church of tomorrow,” but they are the church of the present.

“Youth ministry,” he writes, “has to be synodal; it should involve a ‘journeying together’ that values “the charisms that the Spirit bestows in accordance with the vocation and role of each of the church’s members, through a process of co-responsibility.... Motivated by this spirit, we can move towards a participatory and co-responsible church, one capable of appreciating its own rich variety, gratefully accepting the contributions of the lay faithful, including young people and women, consecrated persons, as well as groups, associations and movements. No one should be excluded or exclude themselves” (No. 206).

Unfortunately, the text offers little in the way of concrete proposals for how to bring about such a change. It seems it will be up to local church communities and young people themselves to bring about new models. Nevertheless, the letter offers an important change in tone.

If we see young people as being baptized members of the community, the church of today, the now of God, then we must open up spaces for their voices to be heard in the life of the church. Throughout “Christus Vivit,” there is a sense that this recognition can be a powerful counterforce to clericalism and models of power that disempower young people. For the pope, it seems, the voices of the young church are one of the ways in which Christ and the Holy Spirit are working to keep the church young and vibrant in a wounded world. This is a message, I hope that all of us, old and young, can get behind. 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
arthur mccaffrey
3 months 2 weeks ago

I hope PF realises he is talking to young folks' backs, for they are all walking away.

John Mack
3 months 2 weeks ago

A lovely sentiment, but only pious rhetoric. The church of now, as of then, is made up of the owners and C level managers of the church, those summoned to Rome for synods and given decision making authority. Everyone else is a customer or guest.

Nora Bolcon
3 months 2 weeks ago

Ohh please! what falsehood this represents.

Pope Francis, had a synod where only the youth who agreed not to speak on the desperate need to end patriarchy and treat women and ordain women priests, bishops, and make them cardinals equal to men can speak before your synod. The synod's final document, and the official statement from the few youth Pope Francis did invite are not allowed to state that the inhumanity of our bias against women is a main item of concern to all youth, if we truly desire our youth to remain Catholic. Even the Pope's own pre-meetings to the youth synod showed young women and men, from across the world angry and demanding to see these misogynistic rules changed but Pope Francis and his synod not only ignored these pre-meeting voices but refused to even recognize they were being brought up to the Synod by our youth.

Pope Francis allows no women a vote at the synod but does allow 3 laymen a vote, and this is after not allowing any women a vote at the synod on the family either, but he allowed a layman a vote at that one too (sure - why should the youth believe women should have a vote on family issues in our church or on youth?). Yet Pope Francis constantly pretends to be wanting to give women more authority - Maybe he should try giving them equal votes at bishop's synods and maybe we will start to believe he means anything he says.

Pope Francis demonizes the word Feminism, like republicans demonize the word Obamacare, as they try to hide the good of the Affordable Care Act, he tries to hide Feminism's real meaning, the good purpose of merely promoting same and fair treatment for all people and same sacraments for all people called to them in our religion. Pope Francis patronizingly "explains" to these feminist women how irrational and arrogant they are for simply wanting to be treated the same as men in our church and offered all the same opportunities, sacramentally and otherwise, that men have. Meanwhile, these young women think to themselves, I thought that was the golden rule that we are to hold above all other rules? Treat all the same, love and treat your neighbor as you wish to be treated? Do not show partiality or bias or condemn anyone as less than yourself in any way, either by intent of heart, law, words or treatment?

Pope Francis needs to use his God given authority to rid us, as a church, of all hate and bias rules against women, and LGBT, or get used to seeing only white haired men and women until there are almost no men or women.
He needs to end the sanctions against debating freely the issue of women's same and equal ordination immediately and publicly, and at the Vatican, at meetings with him, and at synods, of all varieties, and he needs to allot same voting rights for men and women and same voting portions for men and women at all synods.

Pope Francis needs to convert his own heart and soul away from the sexism he has allowed to develop within himself. This sexism is corrupting him as a Christian and as a pope and it is truly sad. Even popes must repent if they have professed or supported or not stood against oppressive bias and discrimination. All sinners must repent - even papal ones.

Pope Francis needs to cease from claiming that he wants a bottom up rather than a top down rule, as he has proven to us continually this is simply untrue. Pope Francis wants the bottom to tell him that they want only what he wants, and as long as they do, the bottom is ruling! Just don't you bottom people tell us you want something we don't personally like, no matter how righteous your requests, because that is not what we mean by synodalty.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
3 months 2 weeks ago

The young - in their hands lies the present and the future. The days of the old are numbered.

malkova mali
3 months 2 weeks ago

I think that today's young people believe less in Christ and are interested in the Bible! 192.168.1.1

Ray Berthiaume
3 months 2 weeks ago

As usual nothing is said of human sexuality. Young folks are very aware & conscious of this. Who speaks in the Church of the harmony between the gospel and human sexuality? Not one solitary soul.

Mark M
3 months 2 weeks ago

Where are the Catholic young? In the beautiful traditional parishes with large families. Also, with beautiful church buildings, beautiful sacred art and beautiful sacred music. All these attract young people and young families to Mass and the sacraments.

pqickelly@gmail.com
3 months 2 weeks ago

I have been searching without success for the statue of "Christ the Teacher" which is located on Fordham University's campus. Could you please provide a picture or a link to the picture? Thank you.

John Chuchman
3 months 1 week ago

Church is dying
and it’s not a particularly slow death.

It’s members are aging
and once they are dead,
will the church die too?

Is the answer is to attract young people,
more young families,
children,
youth
and vitality?

Unless church figures out how to attract young people,
will the church die?

Face it,
Church, as it is,
is not attractive to young people
and to date,
efforts to be hip,
to get down with the program,
and move with the times
has only exposed church hierarchy and clergy
as the aging frauds that they are.

Whatever you say about the inexperience of the younger generation,
they are smart enough to spot a fake or an imposter
and so
programs and youth outreach,
or even pub nights, movie nights,
and even more contemporary worship,
have for the most part failed
to produce the kind of results church needs in order to survive.

The younger generation
will not be bound by man-made
doctrine and dogma,
rules and regulations,
rites and rituals
as we were programmed to do.

For the most part churches seeking to grow their numbers
have become obsessed with trying to figure out
what to do
to bring in a younger crowd.

But, youth are not the future of the church.

Look around.
The silver-haired aging population of this planet
are the future church.

I too had been fooled
into thinking that the future of the church is to bring in a younger crowd.

But the real solution lies more in a reality
to which many of us have been blind.

The fastest growing part of our population is seniors.
By the year 2030 – 25-30 percent of the population
will be made up of senior citizens.
By 2050 that number is set to rise to 35-40%.

The even better news is that as we live longer
and are enjoying better health;
the vast majority of seniors
can expect to live healthy and productive lives.

It gets better.
Our aging population is better educated
that it has ever been before
and despite most of the dire predictions,
the vast majority of seniors are better off financially
than seniors have ever been in the history of humanity.

Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges
or that some of our seniors aren’t living in poverty.
It does mean that we do have the wherewithal
to ensure that seniors can live vitally rewarding lives
and contribute to the health and wellbeing of our society
in ways we are only beginning to tap into.
The future has so much potential.

When the fish who have been caught by Jesus’ compelling good news
swim off to other shores,
when we are gone,
there will be plenty of more fish in the seas.

Think long and hard about this.
Why aren’t we casting our nets where the fish are?

Has church become so obsessed with youth
that it is willing to let schools and schools of fish
swim past
in the vain hope that minnows are more attractive
because they alone can save church?

When did any of Jesus’ Good News become about
saving an institution?

We have Good News to share with people of all ages
who have ears to listen.
And that Good News
is that we each have within us
all we need to be fully human
as was Jesus.

The Good News
is that we do not need
approval of some external clergy,
regular attendance at some temple, aka church
or some deep dark secret hidden in sacred scripture.

Most of us are getting up there in years
know the importance of dwelling in the questions of this life.

Who are we?
Where did we come from?
Why are we here?
Is there a Creator, or a god, or a source,
or a reality that we are somehow connected with?
Where are we going?
What is justice?
How do we stop the violence?
What can we do to ensure peace?
What happens when we die?
Where are we going?
Are we going anywhere?
Is there life beyond this life?
What is love?
Who am I?
These are the questions that haunt our very existence.

We have a contribution to make
to conversations about the very nature of reality.
We have wisdom to share.
We have love to give.
We have a hunger for justice and peace.
We can continue to be obsessed with youth
or we can embrace who and what we are
and live fully,
love extravagantly
and become all we are created to be.

We have the grey hair and balding heads, old bones,
wisdom, generosity,
and love.
We also have what so many people wish.
We have an appetite for learning
and we are not afraid to dwell in our questions.
We have the courage to try new things
and to fail if need be.

We have a passion for life
and we sure know how to play.

We can find the courage to play to our strengths.
We can meet our financial challenges
and solve our accessibility challenges.
We can be a vital community.

If we be authentic to who we are;
if we play to our many strengths
we will continue to be the kind of Gathering
which is attractive to all ages.

Healthy communities are attractive.
Communities who know who they are
and who they serve
are healthy communities.
Healthy communities are able to play to their strengths.
We don’t need to become what we are not
in order to survive.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to challenge ourselves
to be more than we are.
It does mean that we need to remain open
to the challenges of the world in which we live.

But we need to hold up a mirror
and celebrate who we are together.
We have so much potential.
So many strengths.
Yes, there is so much more that we can be.

I love spreading the Good News.
There are so very many fish in the sea.
All sorts of varieties and ages
so let us follow Jesus
and cast our nets widely.
Let’s play to our strengths,
for we are great fishers
and we the most precious bait,
the Good News
that at the very heart of all
that is the Divine Reality that
God is LOVE.

For everything there is a season,
this is our season.
Let’s embrace it.
Let’s live fully
and Love extravagantly
to be all that we are created to be.

Let’s do it together
in the midst of the One
who is
Our Lover, Beloved and Love Itself,
the real Trinity.

The Good News
has absolutely nothing to do with
saving an institution
or an institutional religion.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Catholic leaders and advocates protest the Trump administration’s handling of detained immigrant children during a “Day of Action” on July 18 in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Being arrested at a U.S. Senate office building, writes William Critchley-Menor, S.J., was an act of sincere resistance to a state that enforces the horrific treatment of children we have seen in immigrant detention centers.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans joined one of the biggest protests ever seen in the U.S. territory, with irate islanders pledging to drive Gov. Ricardo Rossello from office, in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 22. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
The bishops said in a statement on July 19: “You, Mr. Governor, bribed and attacked people and groups that participate in our democratic coexistence and therefore cannot continue to exercise your role.”
America StaffJuly 22, 2019
Of course, the train ride was the highlight of his day. But I am hopeful he learned what it means to welcome the stranger.
Kerry WeberJuly 22, 2019
It is worth taking a closer look at the role of compassion and empathy in journalism, Richard G. Jones writes.
Richard G. JonesJuly 22, 2019