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How the Church can "deal" with us 20-somethings

February 6, 2011
A few days back, Fr. Tom sent around this article from Catholic News Service. The article presents an overview of a recent conference at Fordham University. The goal of the conference was to come up with ways of reaching the Church’s “20-somethings” in order to better meet their (our) needs.
For a few reasons, some which I can’t yet explain, the goals and the emerging “tactics” from the conference upset me. It seems we (the youth of the Church and Her more mature members) are missing one another in our communication.
The point was further solidified Friday afternoon when Father Tom approached a colleague and I as we were discussing our most recent “Catholic fellowship endeavours”.
Here in Toronto, there is a group called 808. It began as a small group of Catholic young people (maybe 6-10 of us) who met each Thursday to pray and to share a meal together. The name’s significance you ask? 808 is Joshua Lanzarini’s apartment number. Joshua, our web designer here at Salt + Light, saw a need for fellowship among Toronto’s 20-something community and he simply opened his doors and offered prayer, food and fellowship. It was that simple. That group has since evolved into a group of nearly 100-rotating members. Now, every Thursday, we meet here at Salt + Light’s studio chapel (Holy Cross Chapel) where we have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament followed often times by Holy Mass and then a dinner at 808.
So are you looking to get 20-somethings excited and involved in the life of the Church? My advice to you is simple: Let them hear that you believe what you’re saying… with a living and passionate faith. You don’t need to “pitch” the Church to us--there is no marketing campaign needed, no planning committees. We just need to know that you’ve bought into it…otherwise, why should we? We love the Church, but many of us just don’t know Her yet. It really is freeing for all of us; we need to focus on coming to know Him and in doing this others will, by default, come to know Him as well.
In fact, I think we have more in common than both of us would care to admit. Both you and I are driven and inspired by: Truth, Beauty and Goodness. But, because this is a vague response and because “sales tactics” are much easier to enforce, we don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on this point. Or maybe we’re afraid to do this. But let’s take a tangible walk down memory lane.
Remember when you were our age and you got excited about the thought of boundlessness? Remember falling in love for the first time? Remember the boundlessness of your joy when you became engaged to the one you loved? Or what about the boundless hope as a career goal was unexpectedly realized ahead of schedule? This boundlessness, this life in abundance that we all experience and then promptly forget about later is characteristic of the full flowering of youth. Youth is newness. Eternal newness is God. “Behold, I make all things new,” he says in Revelation.
Now let’s transfer this feeling or this sense of awareness to the life of faith.
The only reason anyone continues to approach Our Father in prayer is because at some point, that person experienced the boundlessness of believing in Him. Your mind was opened and your heart soared with the certainty that God (and His Love) was really not too good to be true.
Once we catch the “boundlessness fever” the natural response is to try and hem it in. To capture it and do our best to preserve it (and maybe try and sell it bottled for the years to come). But, we all know what happens when you try and hem in boundlessness--it is no longer boundless! It is something else; you lose the sense of awe surrounding it. The mystique, the draw, the majesty is sometimes lost. By being too safe, too engineered, we lose something and I think that something is the freedom that comes from being a child of God.
So, after Father Tom approached us and listened to us talk about 808 for a while he said, “So why do you think people come every week? What is the Church doing or not doing to reach out to this very important part of the population--the twenty somethings? How can we reach this group?”
I couldn’t answer right away but now I know: it’s not that the Church is without content and a message to share with this part of the population. We simply have trouble in telling our story, clearly, cogently, thoughtfully and attractively. We have much work to do together to inspire future generations… especially the one of which I am part right now. And thankfully, all we have to do is ask in prayer and know that we WILL see an increase in Faith.
So, “when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth?” (Matthew 24:37)
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