One of the sad realities of our time is the number of young people who have left the Catholic Church. Some, like so many young people in the past, have simply put church-going on the shelf for the time being and plan to return when they settle down and get married and start raising families. But increasingly, we are seeing those that leave do not choose to return. Some have drifted into one or other of the so-called mega-churches or the non-denominational churches. Many have simply become part of the secular culture, who do not believe much of anything spiritually or religiously.
Of course, there are many other young people who remain faithful to the Catholic Church, and we want to give thanks to God for helping them to find His love and presence here, and in the sacraments.
In every age, there have been older people who have looked at younger people and despaired. “What’s the matter with kids today?” as Paul Lynde sang so many years ago in the play Damn Yankees. Adam and Eve were probably asking the same question as they watched the tragedy of their sons Cain and Abel play out. The father of the Prodigal Son and his hard-headed and arrogant elder son agonized over the same problem. It has ever been true.
Is there something wrong with the younger generation? Are they just not as good and faithful and generous and kind as we were? Are they really as narcissistic as some accuse them of being?
I need to say that I know and have known many incredible young people. Just before coming to Mother of God, I was teaching at St. Patrick High School in Maysville. My students were extraordinarily good young men and women, whom I loved spending time with. Over the past four years, I have given senior retreats to young people from Holy Cross and St. Henry High Schools. Again, I have met wonderful young people in those encounters. Recently we have begun a Young Adult Group here at Mother of God—wonderful young men and women. I have 19 nieces and nephews who are deeply faith-filled men and women, and so are their spouses. I am deeply proud of all these young people and profoundly inspired by them.
I believe with all my heart that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus founded and intended and that the Catholic faith is the fullness of truth that Jesus handed on to the Apostles, which has been faithfully passed down throughout the centuries, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As such, it deeply saddens me when these young people whom I love and respect so much have felt that they needed to go to other churches to come to know Christ in a way that they could fall in love with Him and with His Gospel.
I have asked some of these young people why they left the Catholic Church and joined Crossroads or Vineyard, or one of the other churches which attract so many of our youth. Some of the things that they say attracted them were: community with faith-filled people of their own age who were excited about Christ and the Gospel, a focus on learning to read the Bible and growing in the Word of God, spirited praise and worship of God, a focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, sermons directed at them and their questions, issues and problems, and a sense of participation in the mission of Christ to make the world a better place.
It is not that these things are not in the Catholic Church. They are. In fact, they originated in the Catholic Church. But at this moment in our history, we are not doing a good job of helping young people connect with these things, and despite many great Catholic schools, we are all too often not successfully bringing our young people into a meaningful and positive encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. In many ways, we are failing the very best of our youth, and they are seeking Christ elsewhere. I am sure that, like me, you are heartbroken about this.
I hear people complain about these young people, claiming that they only go to these other churches because they have a coffee bar or rock music. They can get better coffee at Starbucks and better rock in any number of bars or clubs. They are seeking Christ, and I commend them for that. I am grateful that these churches are successful at helping many of our youth to come to Christ. And I pray that we will learn how to do that better. I also pray that many of these youth will return to the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith, equipped with what they have learned, and will help us do a better job of reaching our own youth.
I hope that one of the results of the synod will be a deeper understanding of the longings of our youth.
–Fr. Mike Comer