Oct 29, 2018
As a Catholic mother of five young people, I have been watching the Youth Synod with great interest and praying for its success. My husband and I have experienced just how difficult it is to transmit a joyful and living faith to our offspring in the midst of a hostile culture. A Catholic Church that is capable of listening to and understanding today's youth is critical. But that is not enough. Even more critical is a Church that is able to credibly and attractively propose to them a way of life that allows them to both spiritually and humanly flourish.
Two of the "interventions," or written statements from a synod father about what he'd like considered in the synod, have struck me as particularly wise and en pointe when it comes to the ways the Church must become an evangelical force among the young: Archbishop Charles Chaput's, which focuses on credibility and Bishop Robert Barron's, which focuses on attractiveness.
Archbishop Chaput connects credibility to confidence: "If we lack the confidence to preach Jesus Christ without hesitation or excuses to every generation, especially the young, then the Church is just another purveyor of ethical pieties the world doesn't need." Reading over the Instrumentum Laboris (the working document) myself, I also felt that this is exactly where the Synod could shipwreck. Sociologically sensitive attitudes of "meeting youth where they are" seem to propose accommodation when what is needed is what has always been needed: a radiant faith in the radical hope of the Gospel. While the current cultural moment is in many ways unique in the annals of history (never has the world known the internet, or modern globalization), men of every age have resisted the call to holiness and perfection. They have always, and will always, find it scandalous and ridiculous by worldly standards, which are shaped around power, wealth, and pleasure.
The beliefs of the Catholic Church are powerful antidotes to the emptiness, loneliness and dysfunction that characterizes too many young and adult lives. Our faith proposes that the human spirit is capable of great and sublime things-like perfect, self-abnegating love, and that our noblest aspirations are achievable. Archbishop Chaput points out that elders of the faith community have lost trust in the power of the beliefs they are tasked with passing on. He said that too often Church leaders have "abdicated that responsibility out of a combination of ignorance, cowardice and laziness in forming young people…" This has been my experience in parish schools and during homilies and catechesis over the years. Truths which are crucial for human flourishing are passed on to the young deformed and in a shame-faced way. It is no wonder that as adults they abandon the Church in droves.
Human sexuality is of course an especially touchy subject and there are some in the Synod who would have us capitulate to secular attitudes. Chaput reminds us that what the Church teaches on this subject "is not a stumbling block. It is the only real path to joy and wholeness." As a mother who has shepherded my three oldest children into adulthood, I know firsthand that the Synod fathers must get this right. Catholic teaching on sex is a mercy and a roadmap to a noble life where everyone is treated according to their dignity as children of God. What modern culture offers, in the name of freedom, is nothing but pain and confusion.
Bishop Barron focused his intervention on how beauty must be the matrix of the evangelization of youth. Young people are especially attracted to the beautiful. They are not jaded and cynical like older people often are, but have fresh hearts that can be surprised and enchanted by the beauty of a song, a sculpture or a poem. The Catholic Church has always known the power of beauty, and over its 2000-year history has probably been mankind's greatest producer and purveyor. Its architecture has enabled the souls of the faithful to fly upwards and its paintings have filled hearts with a deep certainty of the transcendent. Bishop Barron reminds us that "the most compelling beauty is that of the saints." I have certainly found this to be true and over the years, each of my children have been thrilled and deeply attracted by the loveliness of one particular saint or another.
I pray that the Synod fathers will carefully address these two wise interventions on credibility and the sure attraction of beauty. The earthly happiness of young people (and their eternal joy) depends upon them learning the eternal truths that belong to the Church and only she can communicate.