This may seem like a bold position to take, but I assert it nonetheless. I believe that American Catholicism is experiencing a Renaissance similar to the explosions of culture of the past.
In America, there is a convergence of vigorous debate, deep intellectual and theological reflection, and strong religious life that is providing a powerful moment for the Catholic Church that I believe will ripple out and nourish the world.
Look at the incredible output of American Catholics. On the artistic front, there are great musicians such as Matt Maher who are making genuine advancements in our understanding of music’s role in worship. In terms of theological reflection, there is a depth to the more popular writers such as Dr. Scott Hahn and Bishop Barron that is difficult to match. Very simply put, Bishop Barron’s Catholicism series is a modern masterpiece that will most likely be a digital version of the greats of old such as the Imitation of Christ or the Dark Night of the Soul.
This is not to mention the explosion of new religious charisms that are nourishing our Church with strong formation and incredible witness. There is just not enough space in one article to describe the many avenues of vitality that have arisen in 21st Century American Catholicism.
Yes, there is a certain amount of turmoil, but the kind of turmoil that marks all great moments of transition and growth. This is where St. Thomas Aquinas comes into the conversation.
Like his time period, we are experiencing a convergence of knowledge and study that requires Catholic thinkers to dig deep and enter into a new, missionary dialogue with non-Catholic culture. In the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, this involved a dialogue with pagan and Muslim philosophy. In our time, it involves several layers of human inquiry stretching from advances in the human sciences to the amazing progress of modern technologies.
In this midst of such an incredible transition in human history, Catholics need not be afraid.
Our religion has all of the resources needed to provide a robust answer to the questions that plague the human heart and the modern spirit of inquiry. However, people must be willing to dig deep and to ask deep questions.
If there is one way that young Catholics need to be challenged is not to set aside their questions, but rather to learn how to truly seek answers that go beyond quick solutions and easy prescriptions for modern living. If our age is to continue to flourish and mature, then our young people must be given the tools needed to explore the complex realities that they face.
Simply put, they must be allowed to enter into the life giving stream of thought that is currently flowing on a national level. Thus must be connected to the best of what American Catholicism has to offer.
How does this Renaissance, as you put it, affect our beliefs and Catholic teaching as regards to homosexuality, abortion, infidelity, the death penalty, etc. and are you saying there are gray areas now in regards to what we have accepted as very rigid rules?
Fantastic points, and organized well.
This article helped to cement my belief that we must engage our youth or the very future of our Church will be in jeopardy. For too long, I (as well as many others, I suspect) have taken the Church’s future for granted.
Three questions formed then, “What are these new tools needed by our youth, how can we provide these tools and how can we assure the youths connection to ‘the best of what American Catholicism has to offer?'”
Father Ian, I do admire your boldness, and am heartened by your hopefulness, however I am having difficulty reconciling your position with the cold hard facts that I am reading and hearing.
In a Pew Research Center report issued on May 7, 2015, it was reported that the fastest growing religion in the US was “unaffiliated.” This group grew more than 40% from 2007 to 2014. These are persons who define themselves as atheist, agnostic or nothing. And the greatest leap in those who identified as having no faith was in the millennials, with greater than one third of those born between 1981 and 1996 stating they had no religion.
And a more recent article in America Magazine (Oct. 12, 2016) states:
“A recent Public Religion Research Institute study, “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back,” contains grim statistics about the ever-growing religiously unaffiliated population. These so-called nones constitute the single largest ‘religious group’ in the country (25 percent); among those 18 to 29, they number nearly 40 percent.”
I am in total agreement with your statement that “If our age is to flourish and mature, then our young people must be given the tools needed to explore the complex realities that they face.” I simply am not sure how we give them the tools, when they are not attending church.
Perhaps this is the new springtime!
Fr. Ian, I sincerely hope you are right. I hope that we are seeing the seeds of a great resurgence in the church that will reach out and change the world. The Pew Research results (cited by Monica) certainly provide much evidence for despair.
Using the right tools is a good step, but we must also focus on what the goals and purpose should be. Do we merely want to get all the kids confirmed or do we want to lead them to a life of discipleship? Are we content to let confirmation continue to be seen as a graduation from the church? Or do we want to teach them the value of their Catholic faith and motivate them to apply the truth to their own lives with commitment, enthusiasm, and faith?
One, throw out the insipid, comic book style catechesis materials that too many parishes are still using. Catechesis should let the kids know that the God they worship really is there. Kids are not too young to be touched by reality in a way that changes the course of their lives.
Teens and adults should be reading the doctors of the church, the popes, the church councils, church history, and yes….teach the actual scriptures. Fr. Barron’s materials point us in that direction. Let’s go!
Two, evangelize within the church. There are still many catholics who grew up in the turmoil of the last forty years, have been confirmed, attend mass regularly, yet have somehow escaped an understanding of their catholic faith. Excellent adult catechesis is vital. We don’t come to mass to be an audience, we come to participate in an incredible supernatural event that changes people, equipping them to intervene in culture, business, government, We “go out” afterwards to make history.
Three, go out and evangelize in the marketplace. The people who need to hear the truth don’t come here looking for it most of the time. They are out there waiting. Let’s go!