The room had a circle of chairs. It was practically empty when I got there, save for a few Missionary Sisters of the Most Precious Blood sitting in the back.
People trickled in over the next half hour for the listening session for the 2018 Synod on Youth or as it’s properly called, Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. The idea, as I understand it, is that the bishops want young people to have input in the upcoming 2018 Synod on Youth, to help guide and direct it. This is for the “good of the universal Church.”
It seems that the leaders of the Church are worried, what with 85% of young people leaving after Confirmation and worryingly low numbers of seminarians in America and the world.
As everyone settled in, the priest led us in prayer and began the discussion.
For an hour and fifteen minutes I listened as young adults (19 to 29ish) talked about the Church and their Faith, their thoughts on the world and social media and how great it is to be Catholic.
Finally, I raised my hand and asked to speak.
“I’m pretty nervous, so pardon me,” I said as my face turned red.
“I put together some thoughts today as I took the online survey from the Vatican. The English was horrible, so I didn’t understand all of the questions, but it seemed to focus on the idea of The Social Network, so my thoughts are to that point.
“My understanding is that you collect our thoughts, send them to the USCCB, who then sends them to the Vatican, correct?”
The priest and representative from the Diocese nodded together, eyes wide, unsure about what I was to say.
“Great, with that in mind, please bear with me, this will take a couple of minutes to articulate and I know you don’t want us going too long.”
The young priest nodded again.
I pulled two rough pages from jacket pocket and took a deep breath. Then I began…
Addressing the youth as the focus of this Synod is a very nice idea, and it’s also very revealing of the problems of the modern Church.
The first, most glaring problem with the modern Church is that she is trying to hard to be modern.
Young people today are not hungering for modernity. We hunger for Truth. We do not need to be told what is right where we are right, we need to be told what is right where we are wrong.
“The Social Network” as the Vatican website survey called it, must not be the focus of this Synod. Yes, social networks are the public forum of the day. Yes, we are practically irrelevant in the modern dialogue as Catholics. But the issue is not the forum, nor the channel. This is an issue of the messengers and the message.
Christ formed the 12 for three years. One on one and in groups, He formed them in His Truth and in His Eternal Word.
We young Catholics are poorly formed in the Faith.
The issue of Catholic relevancy has nothing to do with social media or the web, it has everything to do with poor catechesis and loose theology.
Too few young people have their hearts set on Christ, too few seek to do the Lord’s Will.
But those who ARE good-hearted Catholics are often misinformed or uninformed about the Timeless Catholic Truths and are therefore not ready to evangelize, in the real world or virtual.
If the Pope and the bishops want to set the world on fire, they must first focus on setting the hearts of the Church’s children on fire.
This cannot be done through guitar or polka Masses, nights out at the bar, or social media.
This can only be done through Truth. Through the home by well-formed parents. Through orthodox Masses and orthodox preaching.
We need to focus within the Church if she is going to stay relevant these next 100 years.
It’s time for the Faithful, the clergy and Holy Mother Church to pause for introspection.
The Church in America and in the world is sick. She is very sick.
Sick with well-intentioned heresy. Sick with broken families. Sick with bad liturgy and nearly-empty churches, filled only with grey hair and the sound of Protestant hymns.
The time will come for mobile responsive websites, social media, Super Bowl commercials inviting back fallen away faithful and national door-knocking campaigns inviting new people in. The time may even come for SnapChats from the Pope.
But right now, we must heal.
We must heal our broken families.
Heal our broken clergy.
Heal our fallen away young.
We will find that Holy Mother Church has been holding her own medicine this whole time.
That which is old can be made new, while that which is new cannot be made old.
Her medicine is love.
Her medicine is Tradition.
Her medicine is Truth.
The medicine of good formation and uncompromising catechesis.
The bishops and the pope will find that THAT is what the world hungers for today.
We hunger for Reason.
We hunger for Tradition.
We hunger for Truth in a world that is devoid of it.
If the Church can provide that, she will flourish for another two millennia.
If she cannot, the Church, and the whole world, will not survive.
I looked up, redder than I was when I began, unsure of how this group would react.
Everyone started to clap, the only time that happened that night.
I was happy to have shared my piece, and I share it with you now in the hopes that it can start a discussion. Maybe even get in front of the Bishops before the Synod begins.
But I’m nevertheless discouraged. Another priest in the back of the room, the chaplain for the local colleges, spent the entire night with his nose in his phone, scrolling along, oblivious to the discussion.
The whole listening session just felt like a sham. On the one hand, it IS nice that the Church wants to know what young people see as the problems with the world. On the other hand, if the bishops across the globe were doing their job, they would know already.
Young people are suffering from lack of purpose. We are ignorant of the beauties of our Faith in an increasingly secular world.
Furthermore, most of the discussion seemed to point the blame outside. “The world… money… opportunities… we aren’t being taken seriously… the world…”
The issues aren’t out there somewhere. They are within us, as individuals, families, parishes and the Church on earth. “The world” may seem inherently evil, but we belong to the largest organization on the face of the earth. Surely, we can do SOMETHING to combat the evils of the world. Yet, we cannot do so by ignoring our own issues, insecurities and divisions. We need to own our responsibility.
What I mean to say is that we as Catholics (and truly, Christians in general) need to stop playing the part of victim. Victims are at the mercy of those who are victimizing them. Victims have no control. We do have control over the situation and the reality of the world today.
A victim mentality breeds victimhood.
We need to adopt a mentality of heroes.
The faithful have always been at war with the world around them. Look at St. Paul, for crying out loud. Sometimes we are winning, more often we are losing. Don’t be mistaken, though, it is a war.
Our thoughts should not be that of commiseration, but of that of first Thessalonians
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
I implore the bishops. Focus on building up the faithful during the 2018 Synod on Youth. In the business of saving souls, that’s just what will do it.