The Second Sunday of Easter
2018 – Cycle B
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
“Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”
The Gospel is silent as to why Thomas was not present on Easter Sunday evening. Why did he separate himself from the community of disciples? This is an issue that is very prevalent in our time as more and more people of various ages and generations have and are leaving our Catholic Christian community. Good people, why do they no longer gather for Eucharist? Often living lives of service and volunteering, why do they not root such service in the Christian community of faith? Like Thomas, they are not present among us. Why? And why is this exodus from religion in general so predominant in the first world of North America and Europe?
In response to this issue I would like to share with you over the next weeks insights and life stories of young people who are departing the Church from the study Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics undertaken by Saint Mary’s Press of Minnesota in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
How many of us have heard parents lament that they raised their children as Catholics but they no longer practice. Children either linger on the fringes of Catholicism, believe in God but…, no longer believe in God or live another religious tradition. Barb related: “I don’t remember when I started having doubts…probably about the fifth grade.” Chuck said: “By ninth grade I was identifying myself as agnostic…by age 16, 17, I stared identifying myself as atheist. I think I am not anti-people who believe in God. I just personally don’t believe there is a God.” Another student: “By seventh or eighth grade, I was officially out.” Often the least common denominator is offered as a consolation: “they are good people living good lives” or “as long as they believe in something”. What is the “something” they believe in?
Maybe we need to ask, what is the “something” we believe in. For those of us gathered here, the departure of many people, especially our young people, may cause us to as “why” but must also cause us to ask why do we stay? I expect many a tears have been spilt, prayers offered and arguments had within families over the living out of our Christian faith. Thomas is alive and well in many of our families.
The St. Mary Press and CARA research have revealed that there is no single reason why many young people raised as Catholics no longer identify with the Church. There seem to be a myriad of reasons and paths that lead young people to separate themselves from the Church. The reasons must give us pause to reflect on what we believe, the depth of our faith, and other aspects of our tradition.
The departure from the Catholic Church is largely a thoughtful, conscious, intentional choice made by people in a secular society where faith and religious practice are seen as one option among many. Is not “choice” a major aspect and understanding of freedom within our American culture? From the vast varieties of food items we expect on our supermarket shelves to the music and media choices we can access on Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, and Netflix to the moral issues of abortion and euthanasia. Our lives have all been couched in terms of “choice”. Grace related: “There are different things out there, a lot of religions, and I am just trying to be open and able to choose what I want to be.” Chris stated, “I began to realize there were so many other religions, each teaching something a bit different. Who is to say this one is right, and this one is wrong? Thus religion, belief, and spirituality have also been “consumerized”, characterized by choice. It is a world we all participate in.
Consider what the primacy of individual choice does to the communal aspect of life. Prior to the 18th century Enlightenment the community was primary over the individual, that equation has now been over turned. Thus sociologically, young people are characterized as not being “joiners”. What effect will that have for any group rooted in the gathering of community as is the church? Jesus taught, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” [Matthew 18:20] Consider why Thomas does not believe when he is separated from the community. How important this communal aspect is, is revealed in the practice of the church to proclaim this Gospel of Thomas every Second Sunday of Easter. How important is gathering for you? How easily any of us dismiss ourselves from gathering for Eucharist every Sunday can give us some insight into our young people.
Unresolved discrepancies lead young people to conclusions such as: “none of this makes sense” or “I just don’t buy it anymore” so “why stay?” Have you ever had those thoughts? Bill states, “I never felt like I was receiving satisfactory answers from my CCD teachers.” “I don’t know if Jesus was a real person. It is not that I don’t believe, I am just not sure about it”, says Diane.
The secularization of our culture has impacted religious belief with greater emphasis placed on the here and now, the observable, and directly experienced.
Consider Thomas’ demand: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Thomas’ remark could easily be made today as it was two millennia ago. In our scientifically based world, there is little to no room for the transcendent where mystery and trust in the unknowable is accepted. This is not an indictment of scientific research. I believe science opens us up more to the mystery and beauty of the universe that God created and sustains as the Hubble photos on my office door testify. In addition, an emptying and misunderstanding of the concepts of myth and mystery to something that, respectfully, is false and will eventually be solved like a murder mystery have only added to the demands for proof.
Consider how many things you and I have never seen or been shown direct proof of that we believe in every day: the atom, antibiotics, DNA, the communication between whales and dolphins. Science and faith are not in opposition to each other. They both reveal transcendence and mystery but from different models, concepts and language. And we do an injustice to our young people if we do not include ourselves in this world view. We are all products of the 18th century Enlightenment and science.
Thomas is among us in every person who questions, separates themselves or departs from the community of the Church. In the next weeks I would like to continue this exploration of the reasons that people, young people in particular, are leaving the Catholic Church. It is essential for Easter Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the faith of our young people and ours.
[Information, passages and quotes are from Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, A Study by Saint Mary’s Press of Minnesota, Inc., Winona, MN. In collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., September 2017.]