The Fourth Sunday of Easter
2018 – Cycle B
This is Part III of a continuing reflection of John 20:19-31 begun on the Second Sunday of Easter.
“Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”
Last week I presented the subjects of evil, suffering and prayer in relation to situations that occur in our families. Situations like divorce, frequent moving, long-term illness or the death of a family member which young people have no control over yet can nevertheless negatively impact their faith and cause them to leave the Catholic Church. I continue this reflection…why is Thomas not present?
A loving family striving to daily live out the Gospel values of service, prayer and hospitality is essential soil in which the Christian Faith takes root to grow and mature. During the celebration of infant baptism, parents are called to the vocation of teachers of their children in the ways of faith and the church prays that they be the best of teachers by what they say and do. In that vein, sponsors, the wider circles of family members and the parish need to understand that our actions and attitudes do make a difference.
When my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary my gift to them was a letter of memories. It was filled with stories, teachings and examples that my parents passed on to my brother and me. And these lessons were not hammered into us; most were seemingly said once or a few times in passing. Children are sponges. The experience of dad and I worshiping at Saint Agnes Church in Lake Placid at 6 am on a fishing weekend. (Fathers, in adolescence, your example to our boys may be far more important than that of their mothers.) My love of the liturgy which led me to priesthood, my sense of responsibility to financially support the works of the church and charities, and to trust in God when you seemingly had nothing, grew out of the stories and example of my parents. Respecting full disclosure, I am a priest of the Catholic Church; my brother has had nothing to do with us for decades. Like your families, my family is also a complicated story.
Regretfully our impact can be negative as well as positive as the study, Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics reveals. Listen to Amy: “Although my grandparents took me to church every weekend, I don’t think they were very Catholic. We found out that my grandfather was having an affair on my grandmother for most of my childhood. Generally, I felt pretty welcomed at the church, but when some members began to find out some of the things that were going on in my grandparents’ life they judged and did not make everyone feel welcomed.
Fran remembers, “My doubts about being Catholic, guessing it happened a little bit before high school. It was just like the feeling of not feeling like you are part of something because sometimes you have these people that are extremely religious and then they become extremely hypocritical. And they think they are better than everybody else. But they do these bad things and it’s, like, how could you be part of that?”
We encounter in the reflections of Amy and Fran the issues of inauthenticity, hypocrisy and a lack of hospitality and welcome within family, parish and church life. Young people innately know we are to be their teachers and when we fail? I recall the words of 17–year–old senior, David Hogg, after the Parkland, Florida school shooting, “We’re children. You guys are the adults.” That cry echoes through many aspects of life including faith.
Young people unconsciously absorb parent’s attitudes and practices and do so beginning at a very early age. It disheartens me when parents do not bring their infants and young children to worship. It saddens me more when parishioners are unwelcoming to families. It just takes a judgmental look. Where else and among whom will children learn our Catholic forms of public prayer, our hymns, and our stories? The community should welcome parents, take note and be playful with their children, offer an assist to parents when appropriate, and watch over our children during services. Parishioners among us who are disturbed by the cries of babies, the laughter and walking around of children need to remember what it was like when they were a young parent.
So, if parents and the community are the teachers in the ways of faith for our children and young people, what are our attitudes toward faith, religion, Jesus, the church, worship, Catholic moral and ethical teachings, service, and prayer? What are your attitudes toward the presence of infants, young children, teens, college students and young adults?
The layers of life that my brother and I have lived are radically contradictory. And all parents including ours make the best decisions for your children at the time. Yet there are no guarantees. Having said that, another experience of many young people that causes them to leave the Church is that though parents are called to be the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith many young people experience religion as being forced on them. Recall our culture’s emphasis on “choice”. Our young people have been programmed very well from an early age by advertisers into the universe of consumerism and that now includes religion and faith. We are living in an era when we can no longer expect the culture to embrace or support Christianity. We never should have – beginning with Constantine in the 4th century.
“My name is Dianne, I was born into [the Catholic Church], that was forced upon me. I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school. That was something that I did not have a choice either. I received the sacraments, First Communion, Confirmation and all that, because my parents made me.”
Holly remembers, “[Catholicism] was forced on me as a young child. It was not something that I ever wanted to do. It was just something we were forced to go to.”
There is good reason why the first question asked of a couple who presents themselves for the Sacrament of Marriage is, “Have you come here…without coercion, freely and wholeheartedly?” I had to sign an oath of freedom at ordination to diaconate and again at ordination to the priesthood. Freewill is essential in the reception of all the Sacraments. I wonder what the answer would be of many of our candidates for Confirmation and Eucharist if we asked them, “Have you come here…without coercion…?” As our parish approaches the Sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation these reflections need to give parents, families and all of us cause for pause. This is a quandary because if parents are to be the primary teachers in the ways of faith that role is being fiercely rejected by many young people today. Why the push – back? Is it that young people perceive many of us as not being committed to our values? Is it the influence of choice and individuality rather than community and shared belief?
In an odd twist it is the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an that may shed light for us Christians at this time in our culture. The Qur’an teaches, “Let there be no compulsion [coercion] in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error…” [Surah Al-Baqara 256] In other words the truth is plain and clear. There is no need to force anyone to embrace Islam…or Christianity? In our Christian tradition we have a story that may be difficult to hear but apropos. Jesus tells a rich, young man who is keeping the Mosaic Law to sell everything he has, give the monies to the poor and follow him. Do you remember the response of Jesus to the young man when he sadly walks away from Jesus? He lets the young man walk away and continues to love him. [See Mark 10:17-31; Matthew 19:16-30] The ultimate story of the young man’s life remains unknown. Might this be an example we need to contemplate? We invite, we love but not coerce. Truth stands out clear from Error…”
In conjunction with the experience of religion being forced on them, many young people express disagreement with church teachings on many social issues, particularly same-sex marriage, abortion, and birth control. Diane: “I believe in birth control, I had sex when I was 17. I am a complete supporter of gay marriage and being able to choose who you want to be with. I am fine with priests being able to get married”. Barb perceives the church as unwelcoming. “[T]he whole issue with LGBT people being stigmatized… using Catholicism as a reason to say that people who are LGBT shouldn’t have rights.”
I expect many adults among us agree with them. Young people are experiencing a dissonance between their contemporary personal lives and church teaching. That is not necessarily an undesirable experience. As in music, dissonance tends toward resolution. Dissonance in life can force us to clarify what we believe and why.
Inauthenticity, hypocrisy, lack of hospitality, inconsistency, dissent, and coercion are not light matters.
Where is Jesus in all of this?
As many people leave the Catholic Church, again I ask, why do you and I stay?
[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.]