June 18, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Young adults are eager to learn more about the faith

The February poll of the values of young adults compared to other generations of Americans conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and sponsored by the Knights of Columbus indicate some markers that help us focus some of our planning.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, some of the poll indicators point to positive values embraced by Catholic millennials while some are negative. The message is mixed.

Because of various archdiocesan activities, I have had the opportunity to spend some time getting to know young adult Catholics during the past year. My experience, admittedly limited, tells me that many do not espouse some of the negative aspects embraced by the millennial generation.

The executive summary of the Marist Poll stated that nearly two-thirds of Catholic millennials would like to learn more about their religion.

Over the last several years, I have participated in the Theology on Tap program sponsored by local young adult Catholics. The format in which I participate is that of responding to questions concerning Catholic doctrine and morality.

The questions of the young adults are important and focused. The attention to the responses is respectful. In other words, my experience affirms the results of the Marist Poll on the question of Catholic millennials wanting to learn more about our religion.

Since beginning to intensify our archdiocesan presence in ministry on our university campuses in the last year or two, the response of young adults has been better than we expected. This would seem to affirm several other poll findings as well.

For example, the finding that one in five Catholic young adults said their long-term life goal revolves around spirituality and closeness to God. Attendance at weekly Mass, prayer services and even adoration count increasingly larger numbers.

According to the Marist Poll, most Catholic millennials, along with non-Catholic peers almost without exception, believe marital infidelity is wrong. This is an encouraging statistic.

On the other hand, the poll indicates that only 20 percent consider sex outside of marriage morally wrong. In fact, 42 percent do not consider it a moral issue.

During Lent, leaders of young adult ministry sponsored a series of Friday night presentations and opportunities for discussion on the topic of positive (and moral) relationships. I am told the attendance at these programs at St. John the Evangelist Parish in downtown Indianapolis was encouraging.

It is clear that we have to find effective ways to provide fundamental catechesis for our young adults. The desire to learn more is there. The opportunities apparently were somehow inadequate or not frequented by many millennials in the recent past—or maybe what was learned about the Catholic faith got lost in the day-to-day wash of our secular culture.

It should not be surprising that Catholic millennials, like many of the older generations, are profoundly influenced by the secular values of our culture. The fact that in the societal context of a democratic mindset there is a prevalent conviction that there is no definite right or wrong for everybody affects virtually everyone.

The secular philosophy of our times relegates God and morality to individual piety, and the private sector makes the concept of moral absolutes seem oppressive to many Americans. This becomes particularly difficult for young adults who wittingly or unwittingly seek mentors and models that influence them for a lifetime.

This is a clarion call to lay, religious and clerical leadership of our Church. The call specifically lifts up the need to find ways to be present with our young adults, and to affirm and welcome them as important members of our communities of faith.

Indeed, we adult leaders of the Church are challenged to provide positive examples of our convictions about truth and moral responsibility by the way we live what we believe. If we do not practice the faith with a positive attitude, why would a young adult want to join us or follow us?

It is important for both secular and religious leaders of our society to realize that our millennials are a generation of talented young adults who have generous hearts and contribute to the well-being of our society. One need only study the statistics that refer to volunteerism and their de facto participation in service projects to sense a hopeful reality for the present welfare of society as well as our future.

It is also important to pay attention to the contributions that our millennials make to the common welfare of our society now. It is not right to think of young adults only in the framework of their potential for future developments.

It is my experience that, given the opportunity to participate in the activities and worship of our local Church, our Catholic young adults show up. This is a strong and wholesome message. †

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