I’d like to think that when my now-brother-in-law asked me to stand by his side at his wedding it was to show off what a good looking family he was marrying into, and that my sister wanted me to offer the Prayers of the Faithful to display what an excellent speaking voice I have. Sadly, even in my wildest moments of delusional self-aggrandizement, I can’t make either of those claims.
I can’t even though they could have gotten any warm body to fill these roles and picked me instead. They didn’t, and for the same reason they didn’t go to a wedding chapel in Vegas, or a beach in the Bahamas, or any number of other places to say their vows. They picked the parish my siblings and I received all our other sacraments in, asked the pastor to officiate, and included only siblings in the wedding party. Why? Because, unlike the Elvis impersonator they could have found on the Strip somewhere, we were all relevant to their lives and their marriage.
Too many of our fellow Millennials fall away from the Church not because of any major disagreement on Church teachings, or because they no longer believe in God, but because they do not see any relevance to what the Church has to offer them in their daily lives. This was hammered home for me over the summer when I was away on vacation and listening to a white-haired priest try to apply the lessons of the Gospel to modern life.
His overall message was fine, but in the course of the homily, after talking about phone calls and emails, he said, “I think the word used today is ‘texting.’” I sat in the back thinking to myself: Is this guy for real? Did I cross over the Cape Cod Canal or back in time to 1998? Is texting really such a novel technology that you are unfamiliar with how to even talk about it? It is no wonder that I was the youngest person in the church who wasn’t driven there in the back a minivan.
The reason I was in a church at all that weekend can be traced directly back to my junior year of high school. As a sophomore I made my confirmation, not because I wanted to, but because it was what I was supposed to do. In that sense, it wasn’t much different than going to biology class.
Then junior year, a new parish priest came in with a wave of energy and swept us all up in it. He instituted a LifeTeen program and got hundreds of teenagers to participate by running programs we wanted to attend, played contemporary music instead of songs composed either by Mozart or for hippies, and consistently preached about issues we faced every day in high school. Now, more years later than I care to admit, the program is still going strong. It has lasted all these years because it has remained relevant to kids’ lives, even as times have changed.
After high school I went on to college and found a community there that was not only engaging academically, but uplifting spiritually. I wasn’t particularly active in campus ministry, but I think a large part of that had to do with the general sense of Catholicity that pervaded the school. My faith remained relevant throughout what I still refer to as the best four years of my life.
It has been more of a struggle post-college, however. The Archdiocese of Boston does a pretty good job of putting on regional events, but I haven’t found a parish near me that does much in the way of young adult ministry.
When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, he told them that he would make them fishers of men. We need more fishers of men, and fishers of women, young people, CEOs, electricians, and every other demographic out there. However, as any good fisherman will tell you, you need to go where the fish are. You can’t bring your nets to the desert and expect to bring in a haul.
To catch us, the Church needs to offer a vision of Catholic Christianity that has bearing on our lives. My parish has a number of ministries, including special masses for children and teens, but nothing for young professionals like myself.
The Church needs to teach us, challenge us, inspire us. Give us a reason to get out of our beds on Sunday mornings. Better yet, recognize that we might be hungover on Sunday morning and in no mood to be listening to screaming babies at the family mass. Instead, give us a liturgy a little later in the day with music composed in this century and a homily that speaks to the issues we are facing in our lives. And, if it isn’t too much to ask, try not to sound too baffled at the latest fad floating around on the interwebs, or whatever it is you kids call that thing with the computers.