“…I think I’m at a point where I think religion is more about spirituality and my own prayers and thoughts,” she said, “and I don’t necessarily have to actually go to Mass or be Catholic to be spiritual.”
I must once again ask tolerance of my readers who are not Catholic because this blog is, even more than usual, written from the Catholic perspective. Still, a lot here would apply to people of any, or no, faith.
Not For Lack of Faith?
I’m returning to the subject of the flight from religion among young people because of a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter called “A Church to Believe In.” The subtitle is, “Young adults are leaving Catholic parishes, but not for lack of faith.”
The article refers to various surveys that find that young Catholics, especially, are leaving their church in significant numbers. Most of the article is based on a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center. I’ve found that most surveys on the subject in the last 10 years show pretty much the same.
When asked their reasons for leaving the church, 56 percent cited unhappiness with the church’s teaching on “abortion/sexuality.” Another 48 percent said they disliked teachings on birth control. Other important reasons were the perception that the church is “too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues” and “the way church officials treat women.”
The article’s author, Nicole Sotelo, cites a 2013 book called “American Catholics in Transition.”
“Even among Catholics who continue to participate,” the article says, “a large majority would like to see changes for women. As an example, 65 percent of millennial (generally considered those born in the early 1980s) Catholic women, both Hispanic and non-Hispanic, support women’s ordination.”
People who go to Mass regularly can see for themselves that fewer millennial and Generation X (the generation following Millennials) occupy the pews. And there’s no reason to doubt the reasons cited in Sotelo’s article.
But I doubt these reasons are at the heart of the problem. If these were the principal reasons young people are staying away from church what accounts for a similar flight from traditional Protestant churches? Most of these faiths have views on abortion, sexuality, homosexuality, mixed marriage and the role of women with which many non-practicing young Catholics say they agree.
No, I believe there’s a deeper, genuinely spiritual problem here, and Sophia may have put her finger on it when she acknowledges in the interview, that “as far as the Mass itself, I don’t think there is anything there that draws me to it.”
The heart of the Catholic faith is the liturgy, and the liturgy – including homilies as part of the Liturgy of the Word – is at the heart of young people’s defection from the faith.
Many Catholics lack an appreciation of the liturgy, aka the Eucharist or Mass. This is nothing new. It’s just that former generations felt more compelled to attend Mass, which kept attendance numbers up. Young people raised Catholics today feel no such compulsion, which isn’t necessarily bad. They shouldn’t attend because they feel compelled.
But wouldn’t it be rational to ask why Christians have met for the Eucharist since Christianity’s start? Why this form of worship has persisted among Catholics through the ages? Why millions of persecuted Catholics in centuries past met in secret to celebrate Mass, risking and often suffering death?
Could it be that no vague form of personal “spirituality” captures our proper response to God’s extraordinary generosity? As human beings we have absolutely nothing worthwhile to offer God except to join our offering to that of Jesus’ life and death as we do at Mass. And we have no better way of expressing our solidarity and unity as brothers and sisters in the Lord than to share the Eucharist with one another as Jesus commanded.
Some young people get it, of course. Writing in the “Young Voices” feature in the National Catholic Reporter, Sotelo says that despite the data showing more young Catholics defecting from their faith, many others are staying.
“The reasons we stay are many, including our love for the faith, our gratitude for the tradition, and the knowledge that if we work together, we can create a better church,” she writes. “…Perhaps never in my lifetime have I felt such a desire to stay united in Christ’s legacy, working toward a society and a church we can believe in.”