Young Adults Discuss How Their Catholic Faith Shapes Their Life and Work

The Catholic Standard, has a story on a recent event sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, which featured Cardinal Wuerl and three Catholic young adults, including Millennial editor Robert Christian. Mark Zimmermann writes:

(Christian) noted that the social media can play a crucial role in the New Evangelization, and Christians shouldn’t retreat from that means of communication.

“We need to be there,” he said. “We need to live out our faith, to stand for the poor, the vulnerable, the excluded. Social media offers us a great opportunity to do that.”

The New Evangelization, he said, offers Catholics the opportunity to offer a countercultural witness, to live out their faith and values, “while being open to engagement and dialogue.”

The full article can be read here.

Evangelization: He’s doing it right

There is a parish down the street from my office that I have been to occasionally, but as I am not usually here on Sundays I don’t regularly attend.  You can find me there most often on holy days, and this was the case on All Saints’ Day.  Or, to be a little more accurate, at the vigil mass the night before.

As All Saints’ Day Eve is also known as Halloween, I took up my regular place in the back pew with my costume by my side.  The celebrant that evening was the graduate student chaplain, a man I have met several times since I first arrived on campus nearly a decade ago.  He clearly did not remember me, although just about every interaction I’ve had with him has been remarkably similar.  This time was no exception, and I imagine for him it’s been repeated countless times with others.

There I was, an unfamiliar face (I honestly don’t expect him to have recognized me after our few encounters), of graduate student age, sitting alone in the back of his church, and he clearly was not going to miss an opportunity.  As he processed out of the church after the final blessing, his eyes locked onto me.  Before the acolytes had even left the nave he had put away his music book, took a business card from his pocket, and was shaking my hand and introducing himself.  Within seconds he had me out in the vestibule, filling out a contact form so that I could be added to the mailing list for grad students and young professionals.

As I’ve said, I’ve gotten this kind of treatment from him before.  I even went to a couple of the events held at the Catholic Student Center when I was enrolled in a degree program, largely because of the way he talked them up.  Before he approached me all I wanted to do was say ‘amen’ and get to the bar, but I departed feeling wanted and welcome.

We didn’t have time for an in depth conversation before the rest of the congregation left the church, but I have no doubt that he was sincerely interested in where I worked and what my degree was in, and that when he said he hoped he would see me again soon that me truly meant it.

In Pope Francis’ remarkable interview in the series of Jesuit journals a couple months ago, he said:

“Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

Later that night I found myself approaching a couple of girls who were hanging out at Faneuil Hall bars for much the same reason as I was.  I went home with a number, but the experience made me appreciate all the more just how much audacity and courage it takes to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself.

This priest got my name and phone number in a fraction of the time that it took me, without the benefit of the liquid courage, and without having to buy me a couple of beers first.  Though it isn’t my parish, he may just see me there again, and mostly because he went out of his way to find a new road.

Fishers of Men and Women, Go to Those You Wish to Catch

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.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

7 Questions: keeping college students Catholic by Michael J. O’Loughlin: “Katie Diller: Young adults are filled with passion and they are thirsty to live radically. Atheism can seem radical to students who might be shrugging off a flavorless experience of growing up Catholic. We have to talk about the mystery of faith in our lives. Pope Francis keeps encouraging us to go out of ourselves, to live mysterious lives in solidarity with the poor. Encounters with that mystery of love and self-sacrifice will always inspire curiosity about the mystery of Jesus and the Church.”

The Spirituality of Sports Fanaticism by Michael Rossmann, SJ, TJP: “But what makes something like the Olympics so beautiful, however, is that it unites people from around the world – athletes and fans both. Even if we might cheer in a special way for our own country, we can all stand in amazement at someone like Usain Bolt. I once watched the World Cup with a group of people from thirteen of the 32 teams that played that year, and while we would give each other a hard time if our countries competed, we were united in watching this display, even when we were not united by language, religion, sex, occupation, or personality.”

Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims ‘like the walking dead’ by BBC News: “A BBC team inside Syria filming for Panorama has witnessed the aftermath of a fresh horrific incident – an incendiary bomb dropped onto a school playground in the north of the country – which has left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies.”

Catholic schools provide a beacon of hope to Washington families by Cardinal Donald Wuerl: “Our faith can never be relegated to just an hour inside church on Sunday. As Pope Francis has urged us, we need to “go out” and bring Christ’s love and hope to our communities and our world.”

Francis’ comforting phone call to Argentinean rape victim Alejandra Pereyra: “The Pope’s telephone call at 15:50 local time on Sunday 25 August caught Alejandra Pereyra di Villa del Rosario – who lives in the Province of Cordoba, Argentina’s second biggest city – completely by surprise.”

Our fantasy: A Congress that gets stuff done by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein: “A little more than a year ago, we published a book about American politics — and particularly Congress — titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” In our book and in these pages, we lamented the ideological divides in Washington, which had become almost tribal in nature, and the skewed nature of political polarization, emphasizing a Republican Party gone off the rails.  Unfortunately, little has happened in the time since to lift our spirits.”

Five myths about millennials by Mark Glassman: “Millennials also set loftier social goals than prior generations. Each year, a survey conducted by the University of Michigan asks high school seniors to rate their life’s ambitions. Data compiled by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, shows that millennials rated ‘contribute to society,’ ‘correct inequalities’ and ‘be a leader in the community’ higher than baby boomers did when they were younger.”

Francis and the Very New Evangelism by Thomas C. Fox, NCR: “The Very New Evangelism preached by Francis is simple, practical stuff. It’s about what it means to live the beatitudes in today’s life.”

How Dr. King Shaped My Work in Economics By Joseph Stiglitz: “Much of my scholarship and public service in recent decades — including my service at the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, and then at the World Bank — has been devoted to the reduction of poverty and inequality. I hope I’ve lived up to the call Dr. King issued a half-century ago.”

Creation Care as a Tool in the New Evangelization

On June 28, 2010, the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI created the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. Although much has been written about the various aspects of the New Evangelization initiative, one element of the Church’s mission that has received significantly less attention is the Church’s tradition of creation care. This is an unfortunate gap in the New Evangelization, particularly with respect to the evangelization of millennial Catholics. This is especially true since a majority of millennials are concerned about the environment, yet are also the least “religious” generation by a number of different metrics.

Given the Church’s rich tradition of caring for God’s creation, this aspect of Catholic teaching can thus serve as a valuable means by which to connect with millennial Catholics and strengthen the New Evangelization. I first heard this observation from Dr. Tobias Winright, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics at St. Louis University, at A Catholic Consultation on Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Assessing Pope Benedict XVI’s Ecological Vision for the Catholic Church in the United States last year. In terms of utilizing the Church’s creation care tradition as a tool in the New Evangelization, the Franciscan Earth Corps project of the Franciscan Action Network—a member of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change—provides an excellent model, showing how Catholic teaching on creation can be used as an evangelizing tool with millennial Catholics.


Much has been written about what the New Evangelization is and is not. In general, however, a careful reading of key magisterial documents reveals three key aspects of the New Evangelization:

1. “The New Evangelization calls each of us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel message and go forth to proclaim the Gospel.” -U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), What is the New Evangelization?

2. It calls us to propose the Gospel “to those regions awaiting the first evangelization.” -Pope Benedict XVI, Homily of First Vespers on the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, 2010

3. It directs us to re-propose the Gospel to those “Catholics [who have] lost a living sense of faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church.” -Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, no. 33

The third aspect of the New Evangelization has been widely recognized as perhaps the initiative’s most innovative aspect, and this element is particularly important with respect to the millennial generation.

According to a number of different metrics, the millennial generation—including millennial Catholics—is less “religious” than any other cohort. For example, the Pew Center on Religion and Public Life reports that millennials overall are generally the least likely to:

–          be “religiously affiliated”

–          identify as a “strong member” of their tradition

–          attend religious services weekly

–          read Scripture weekly

–          pray daily

–          say religion is “very important” in their lives

–          have “certain belief in God”

Millennial Catholics were no exception to this trend.

Although millennials, including Catholics, are the generation that is least inclined towards religion, a large number of millennials are deeply concerned about the envirtnoment and engaged with environmental issues. The Pew Research Center has found that:

–          36% of millennials buy organic foods

–          53% of millennials conscientiously purchase “green” products

–          69% of millennials recycle from home

Similarly, Rock the Vote found that in 2010, 69% of U.S. millennial voters were “concerned that the country is failing to take action on global warming or climate change.”

Given this strong inclination towards ecological concern and a strong disinclination towards religion, it is here that the New Evangelization might draw upon the Church’s teaching on creation in order to re-propose the Gospel to millennial Catholics. The Church has a rich tradition of creation care and attention to climate change, and those who are especially involved in the New Evangelization might use this teaching as an on-ramp to advance into deeper conversation with millennial Catholics about faith and the Gospel.

One of the most basic pedagogical techniques is to “meet people where they are,” and within the context of the New Evangelization, this could take the form of affirming a young person’s ecological concern, pointing out that the Church has a rich body of teaching on the environment, and then proceeding into other comparable areas of faith and Christian life. Pope John Paul II affirmed in his encyclical Centesimus Annus that “the Church’s social teaching is itself a valid instrument of evangelization” (no. 54, emphasis in original), and highlighting the Church’s tradition of creation care as part of the New Evangelization can certainly be used as an extension of the insight of John Paul II in light of the current “signs of the times.”


As with any ministry, the use of creation care as a tool in the New Evangelization will likely look different depending on the particular situation, context, audience, etc. One model of how this tradition might be used to help millennial Catholics develop a deeper faith life is the Franciscan Action Network’s Franciscan Earth Corps project. Through this initiative, a local community first selects a project, charitable cause, or justice activity that is somehow tied to ecology and then registers as a chapter with Earth Corps. Examples of such activities might include urban or community gardening, hiking, advocacy work, ecological restoration, or beautification/landscaping.

Once a project has been selected and undertaken, the Earth Corps initiative then invites the group to engage in regular group reflection using themes from Franciscan spirituality. Ideally this reflection occurs after each period of work, and provides an intentional space in which group members process their experiences and come to a deeper awareness of how their work is intimately connected with their Catholic faith. For example, a group working in an urban/community garden might reflect on the Church’s recognition that the poor are most vulnerable to environmental degradation. A group involved in hiking or beautification/landscaping might reflect on the incarnational nature of Christianity and how this is particularly present in Franciscan spirituality. Groups that choose to work on a climate advocacy project could reflect on the Church’s justice tradition and/or the concept of structural sin.

In order to help facilitate spiritual reflection on a group’s environmental project, Earth Corps recommends that leaders utilize the spiritual resources available from the Franciscan Action Network. In addition, Earth Corps groups might also take advantage of the many resources available from the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, of which the Franciscan Action Network is a member and with whom I work.

Rhett Engelking, Program Manager for Franciscan Earth Corps, feels that this initiative can serve as a valuable means by which to help millennial Catholics make important connections between ecology, faith, and the many aspects of a dynamic Christian life, no matter which ecological project an Earth Corps group chooses and however the group decides to reflect spiritually on its experience, Engelking sees experiential learning coupled with intentional spiritual reflection as a crucial means by which to foster lasting “eco-conversion” in persons and society, and believes that ecological orthopraxy is a valuable means by which to re-propose the Gospel to all Catholics, especially those in the millennial generation.


In Sustainability and Catholic Higher Education: A Toolkit for Mission Integration from the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, the Most Reverend William S. Skylstad, Bishop Emeritus of Spokane, Honorary Chairman of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, and past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointed out that the Church’s teaching on creation care “must therefore be integral to the mission, identity and everyday life of” Catholic ministries and institutions.

Given the fact that many millennial Catholics have a natural inclination towards ecological concern, the bishop’s words are especially relevant to the Church’s New Evangelization. Lifting up and highlighting Catholic teaching on creation care and climate change can be an effective on-ramp by which to invite millennial Catholics into a deeper faith life, and the Earth Corps project provides one example of how to more effectively act on the insight of The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which states that “[t]he Church’s social doctrine is an integral part of her evangelizing ministry.

Updated: Changes have been made to the second paragraph to recognize Dr. Tobias Winright’s observation from last year.

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Subsidiarity and Libertarian “Small Government” by James Baresel, The Distributist Review

“Subsidarity is suspicious of centralized big business even more than it is suspicious of centralized big government. Subsidiarity would, in fact, prefer an expansion of government to the expansion of big business.”

All Good Things by David Frum

“Here are five essential tasks to commence before conservative reform truly rolls forward…Conservative reformers need to do a better job of starting with the problem and working forward, not starting with the answer and working backward…But one of the lessons I think conservatives should take from the 2012 Romney defeat is that the increasing concentration of wealth in America has dangerous political and intellectual consequences…Conservative reformers must not absent themselves from the environmental debate…Conservative reformers should make their peace with universal health coverage…conservative reformers should admit, if only to themselves, the harm that has been done by the politics of total war over the past five years.”

President of USCCB Joins Other Bishops’ Conferences in Letter to Leaders of G8 Nations; Urges Them to Protect the Poor, Address Fair Trade, Transparency

“Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, joined the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the Group of 8 nations (G8) to urge national leaders to protect the poor and assist developing countries at the upcoming G8 Summit in the United Kingdom”

Vatican’s U.N. observer stresses need to eradicate world hunger By Catholic News Service

“Finding a solution to the ‘ongoing scandal’ of worldwide hunger should be a top priority, said the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations.”

Things Modesty Hasn’t a Damn Thing to Do With by Bad Catholic, Patheos

“But almost everyone who has the courage to lift their heads above apathy’s drowning pool and talk about modesty at all — Christian, feminist, atheist, the lot — expresses the virtue as a thing primarily determined by its effect on the other, as if total modesty was, by way of dress, the ability to not tempt a man into lust. Thus seems to me the saddest, most hopeless definition of them all.”

Pope nixes ‘boring’ practice of reading text to students, uses Q&A by CNS

“He urged everyone to try to live more simply saying, ‘In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it’s incomprehensible how there can be so many hungry children, so many children without an education, so many poor.’

Extreme poverty in the world ‘is a scandal’ and ‘a cry’ for help, he said. That is why ‘each one of us must think how we can become a little bit poorer’ and more like Christ.”

Is comic Jim Gaffigan the Catholic Church’s newest evangelizer?  by Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post

“Gaffigan seems to effortlessly embody the idea the Catholic Church and other denominations are desperately promoting: You can be a devout member of mainstream American life. You don’t have to leave God in order to live in the regular world.”

The City of God? by Archbishop Vincent G. Nichols

“Our relationships are an intrinsic part of who we are. As human beings we are not just individuals. We are each born into a human community and find our deepest fulfillment as persons in relationship to others, and I would add, to God. This idea is central to the Judeo-Christian vision of humanity created in the image and likeness of God, who is a communion of persons.”

It’s Cuomo vs. Dolan in NY Abortion Fight by Kevin Clarke, America

“The governor is now set on a course toward an epic confrontation with the state’s leading Catholic prelate, N.Y. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who previously promised Cuomo that he would do all in his power to prevent an expansion of abortion rights in New York.”

Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan, Advocate for the Poor, Dies at 83 by NY Times

“In the late 1980s, as whole neighborhoods were being ravaged by AIDS, drug abuse and crime, Bishop Sullivan went to Washington to testify before Congress about the plight many people were facing.”

Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes by BBC News

“For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates.”