Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hope in an Increasingly Faithless Culture

Hope in an Increasingly Faithless Culture

We’ve all heard the statistics. People (and youth in particular) are leaving the Church at alarming rates. It seems like the message of Christ’s saving power is either falling on deaf ears or teenagers feel that Confirmation is a graduation from the faith. I have struggled with the fact that at an ordinary Sunday Mass at St. Benedict, there is an unbalance in the age pool of people regularly attending. And even then, the youth aren’t the only ones to blame as I’m sure that if all the adults who claim they are Catholic really showed up, there would be standing room only (think Christmas and Easter).

            Many people have hypothesized about the reasoning for youth leaving the Church and others have spent time pondering ways of bringing youth back. I am unable to, at this point in time, express any consequential statement on either of those ends. Rather, this blog post is one of reassurance that in fact not all hope is lost.

I am not proposing that the statistics lie. I am not living on a cloud of naivety that says that there has not been a change in youth attendance in the Eucharist over the past fifty years. I am writing though, to state that I don’t think the Church is going to disappear anytime soon. There are still enough of us out here that will never, ever reject our faith and turn away from our Savior.

This August, World Youth Day was attended by approximately two million youth from around the globe, making this youth day in Madrid, Spain the third most highly attended. In November the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis will have about 25,000 youth in attendance. And even closer to home, this year’s Buffalo Youth Convention welcomed 720 teens to the Adams Mark Hotel in February. I was in attendance at that Convention and can say that it truly was hope-inspiring for the future of our Church… the teenagers present were excited to be there.  

As I write this blog post, I have just returned from an event on my college campus as part of the Crusade for Christ. “Cru” as it is better known around here, is a student-run organization that is exactly what it sounds like… a group of students that speaks of Christ’s presence through their words and actions. It is interdenominational, meaning that it supports a belief in Christ that is not necessarily pigeonholed into a particular sect or denomination. Tonight, we all met in the Student Activities Center (an old gymnasium from the ‘40s) and had an evening with food, music, and prayer. The attendance was remarkable. For a fairly small college (roughly 3100 undergraduates) we packed the gym and upper balcony. Midway through the event, a minister (I am not certain as to what denomination he is) spoke quite eloquently to all of us about the goodness of God. Following this “sermon” we all stood together and sang some spiritual songs led by a quite talented Christian-rock band. That experience of uniting together in prayer-song filled me with hope.

As I sat in this meeting I began to think about the fact that maybe things aren’t as bad for our Catholic Church after all. Despite large quantities of people moving away, there are still so many that are faithful. Granted, not everyone at the “Cru” meeting is Catholic but all Christians are united in common faith and maybe one day we can all be united in one Church. As a side note January 18-25, 2012 will be the week of prayer for Christian unity! As I joined in the songs and the prayer and allowed myself to be open to the Spirit, I began to think that the future of our Church isn’t so bleak after all.

Last Sunday, my first Sunday here at school, I attended the Mass hosted by the Newman Center on campus and was very impressed. I went not expecting many people to be there but I was quite surprised. The youth are out there! Once students get to college, no one is forcing them to go to Mass, especially if they are away from home. Students have the opportunity to just sleep in on a Sunday morning if they so choose and no one need ever know. Yet, students come. They are moved by the Holy Spirit and convinced that receiving the Eucharist is essential to our existence; our Catholic Mass was filled with students. And I did notice that everyone sang the hymns that were lead by the music ministers. Perhaps the reason many youth and young adults don’t sing in most home churches is because they take their cue of silence from the older generations around them!

As a closing thought I’d like to mention that my hope in the future of our faith is coming from a lot of external sources… my campus Newman Center, the Crusade for Christ, the Buffalo Youth Convention, the National Catholic Youth Convention, and World Youth Day.

Yet some may be asking, “What about St. Benedict?” I think that our beloved parish will very soon be making the list of places that instill hope for the future. This summer, our parish hired Mr. Matt Smith as Director of Youth Ministry and Religious Education. Through youth programs, Religious Ed. classes, and the Generations of Faith program I imagine that many exciting things will come from him and his staff. In addition, Mrs. Jennifer Scalisi has been hired to be the 6th-8th Grade Religion teacher in the school. Hopefully, that program will encourage youth to stay active as well. Finally, as we speak, an action plan is being put into place by the parish in order to build “Evangelism through Technology,” an initiative that very well could make our parish one of the most youth-friendly and technologically advanced parishes in the diocese. I’m sure that details will be more forthcoming in the months to come!

To put it simply, I am very excited. I am excited for our Church as a whole. I am excited for our diocese. I am excited for St. Benedict Parish. While evangelization is something that each and every one of us needs to value, I don’t think we necessarily need to look at it as an uphill battle. God will provide!

God, we pray
for youth who are searching for your love. Help them find you. “For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Matthew 7:8
-David Croglio