"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why do young people leave the Church?

Because it is True

Katie Peterson Warner | October 19, 2012

Photography © by Andy Coan

The only reason to believe something is because it is true.

I am Catholic, not because it feels good to go to Mass on Sunday, or because it helps me cope with suffering in my life, or even because I was raised that way. I am Catholic because Catholicism is true.

Unfortunately, my generation has taken truth and flipped it on its head, or for many, worse yet, thrown it out with the garbage.

Next year, I’ll be speaking around the country giving talks on “The Faith of Young People… And What You Can Do About It.” I’ve already given the talk a few times, and after a talk in Colorado Springs, I had a little epiphany, and I realized I was missing the boat on a few of the biggest issues facing the upcoming (mine and the following) generations of Catholics.

I’ve spent the past couple of years doing research into trends in youth and young adult culture and faith practice. I’ve read numerous articles and books, detailing some of the most pivotal factors in a young person’s faith formation — parents, culture, youth ministry, etc. I’ve also learned about reasons why young adults are leaving Christianity in masse—shallow experiences of Christianity, churches apparent ‘antagonism’ to science and ‘judgmental’ attitudes toward sexuality, and Christians’ supposed ‘unfriendliness’ to those who doubt their beliefs, to name a few. (Sadly, 85% of teenagers going to Mass in high school will stop going in college. Yikes.)

But recently I decided I needed to gather more anecdotal evidence, specifically among Catholic Christians. Some of the reasons why young Catholics leave the Church are, well, nuanced from those reasons that they’re Protestant brothers and sisters may report. Don’t get me wrong — there is a lot of overlap, but I realized it was vital to look into the differences.

One example, of course, is marriage. I know from the experiences of personal former Catholic friends and from many Catholic parents that many young Catholics leave the Church when they fall in love with and marry a non-Catholic. Though many Christian denominations intermarry with no objection or tears from the couple or parents, this is not so with many Catholics. Often, parents are heartbroken to find that their child has tossed away their Catholic upbringing to follow their new spouse’s more “encompassing” Christian faith. Perhaps you have lived through this.

As I was explaining, I needed to gather more anecdotal information from my generation of young Catholics. So in my simple and unscientific attempts to garner more details, I reached out to the graduates of my Catholic high school, my own former friends and classmates, asking them to answer one question:

Do you still practice the Catholic Faith? (If yes, why? If no, why not?)

I could write numerous articles (and perhaps I will) on the results of my findings thus far from those who practice, marginally practice, and no longer practice at all. I most especially appreciated the honesty I received in their responses.

But one thing I noticed across the board was the emphasis on feelings. Many young adults site feelings of frustration with the Church’s teachings on various moral issues or the way the Church has handled the abuse scandal. But, more enlightening to me, were the young adults still practicing the Catholic Faith who are doing so because it feels good, feels like they should, for reasons of finding comfort, peace, staying in tune with their Catholic family heritage, etc.

Of course, these are all beautiful benefits of practicing the Catholic Faith, and I am so grateful that many of my former classmates are reaping the treasures that the Catholic Church has to offer them. But I realized that the great deficit of objective truth in our secular society is penetrating the Church, and that young Catholics no longer confess that the reason why they are Catholic is because Catholicism is true!

What a tragedy! Not all creeds can profess to be the fullness of truth…but the Catholic Church can. And the Church will be empty of my generation if you and I don’t start proclaiming boldly and courageously and immediately to my generation and the one to follow that Catholicism is TRUE.

And now we know what happens when young Catholics start measuring their faith according to feeling. They leave.

I have received countless emails in the time I have worked for Catholics Come Home® from people describing their reasons for leaving the Church: a priest was terribly unkind to them, the parish community was very unwelcoming, the music was a disaster, and the list goes on. These are all serious issues that need to be addressed…but none of this makes Catholicism untrue.

What happens when you accept something to be true? You are faced with the decision, opportunity, or obligation to conform your life to it. The law of gravity is true, the mathematical equation 2+2=4 is true, and the fact that my body needs food to survive is true, so my life conforms to these truths.

We must again convince young Catholics that Catholicism—just like any of these laws of nature, science, biology, physics, etc.—is true, and the only way they will find real happiness, peace, and live according to right reason is to conform their lives to it.

With your help — yes, you (it can’t happen without you) — I hope to discover, when I ask future generations the same question I asked my classmates, this simple response:

Do you still practice the Catholic Faith? Yes. Why? Because it is true!

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