We hear so often that church attendance is low and that there is a big vocational crisis. Among other things, there are seminaries with only a handful of students in each class; dioceses that must close parishes because they do not have enough priests to staff them (or parishioners to attend them,) and religious orders that are dying.
At the same time, we know that there are certain orders with an abundance of new postulants, countless young adults working for Catholic mission groups, and overall a deep awakening of young individuals who love the faith.
In my opinion, what is going on is simple. No one wants to devote their life to being an administrator who can’t get married and no one wants to give themselves to an organization that seemingly lacks a commitment to the very doctrine they promulgate. This motivates no one. What motivates the human person is a cause which demands total commitment and holiness.
What do I mean? I mean that the human person longs to give his or her life to someone or something that is worthwhile. Two generations of Catholics in this country have grown up as the Church has attempted to make sense and give meaning to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Because of efforts to “modernize” the Church, the catechesis of these two generations has suffered. While in a certain sense this has created a more accommodating church, many have grown up in parishes that did not speak of Church teaching, did not believe in the power of the sacraments, and claimed mortal sin does not exist. Parishioners were reminded time and time again to be nice. Controversial issues were avoided in order to create a “feel-good” atmosphere. Many met adults who do not believe everything that the Church officially teaches, that is if they even know what it is that the Church teaches! Many also saw- either first hand or in those around them- the devastation of lives devoid of meaning, in which nothing is worth dying for and all morality is subjective.
One could argue that the lack of vocations is a result of this insipid approach to faith. After all, if the Church is just one more community group, another NGO working for social justice, not really inspired by the Holy Spirit, and not a source of sacramental grace, why would anyone in their right mind give their life for it? Nevertheless, while some dioceses and orders are experiencing emptiness, there are many young adults who are committed to their faith. In fact, these young individuals are a source of hope to many.
And what an awakening there is in young adults! One sees how many of them are choosing to attend authentically Catholic universities, participating actively in the Newman Centers of secular universities, attending the March for Life, discerning religious vocations, joining missionary groups like The Culture Project and FOCUS, volunteering at pregnancy help centers, working as youth ministers, forming large families, and studying authentic Church teaching.
These individuals have, by the grace of God, come to know Him. They have become enamored with the authenticity and truth of the Church’s moral teaching and are ready to live according to it. At the same time that many parishes failed in their teaching roles, these young adults heard John Paul II tell them that it is in fact Jesus who they seek, that it is Him “who stirs in [them] the desire to do something great with [their] lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow [themselves] to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit [themselves] humbly and patiently to improving [themselves] and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” These young adults know that something great is at stake, namely their eternity and that of others.
Because of this, many young individuals long to give their lives for a cause that is much bigger than their own comfort. They know that truth, and Christ, demand action and total commitment. They want to answer John Paul II’s call “to believe in Jesus today, to follow Jesus as Peter, Thomas, and the first Apostles and witnesses did [which] demands of [them], just as it did in the past, that [they] take a stand for him, almost to the point at times of a new martyrdom.” The great pope reminds them that perhaps this will not mean that their blood will be shed, though it might, but that they must be “faithful to Christ! A faithfulness to be lived in the circumstances of everyday life,” a faithfulness that demands sacrifice, steadfast loyalty, and an urgency to save souls.
Young adults today seek tradition in the Mass, read Church documents to know what they teach, and make many attempts to bring to others what has first been given to them. The groups and orders that are thriving have something significant in common: they are faithful to the Magisterium and they preach total commitment. They stand with the tradition of the Faith and are bringing many to their door. This shows the importance of authentic Catholicism, one that is in union with the teachings and tradition of God’s Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of 2000 years. With all due respect, the friendly watered-down version has proven to be sterile and empty.
No one wants to be a priest to head a parish as an administrator. No one wants to join an order that constantly disagrees with the Church or that constantly argues that the Church must update herself to be part of the world, that morality is relative, or that the liturgy is entertainment. To claim these things is to claim that the Church is not the guardian of truth. Today’s young adults want to be held accountable, to work tirelessly for the salvation of souls, and to be united to the Tradition of a Church that has existed for two millennia. After all, if there is no urgency to save souls and the Church is just another community group, there is no reason to give up one’s life for it.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.