Have We Lost a Generation?

The conference titled “Lost? Twenty-somethings in the Church” co-sponsored by Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies is getting a little blog time among us Catholic weblog editors. This conference was held a few days ago, January 28-29, and included a wide range of participants.

It is widely thought that the Catholic Church has lost a whole generation of Catholics who were born from 1980 to 1995 due to poor catechesis and sociological concerns. This conference called into question this belief.

Keynote speaker James Davidson suggests that we no longer have a social situation that demanded affiliation with organized religion like we did in the first half of the 20th century. The Catholic Church has lost more people in sheer numbers than any other religion. Yet we have the opportunity to win them back, he says.

Presenter Melissa Cidade suggested the “lost generation” has lost interest in the institutional church but has retained many of our most precious beliefs such as the Eucharist, and seeks moral guidance from the Church. They feel a disconnect between their beliefs and the Church as an institution.

Presenter Robert Putnam of Harvard University called both Cidade and Davidson’s analyses too optimistic. He called young Catholics who are Catholic in name only as being “doctrinally unfaithful.” He said that these Catholics are not raising their children as Catholics, and this portends poorly for the future. He suggests the Catholic Church runs the risk of becoming indistinguishable from the mainline Protestant churches.

You can read a synopsis of their comments at www.fordham.edu/Campus_Resources/eNewsroom/topstories_2028.asp

This topic is one of my greatest areas of concern. Common experience seems to indicate a mass defection from practice of the Catholic faith, especially among the 20-40 year olds. The manner in which faith is inextricably connected to a moral life style and a culture of prayer has not been faithfully handed on to many of our children. 

Any of us who have studied religion or any sort know that a religion has a creed, cult and code. In other words, to be a member of a religion, there is a body of tenets or beliefs, a common way of praying, and a code of conduct (or morals) to which its members adhere. This is true for Catholicism. It is difficult to separate the three and adhere to the Catholic faith and identity.

Perhaps the millenial generation hasn’t been “lost” but they are wandering. Not all, but oh so many. There is no doubt that the Church as an institution needs to reach out to them in more effective ways, but I don’t think this occurs when you disconnect what the Church believes from how she prays and what her beliefs require in terms of life and behavior.

What we need are bold witnesses to the truth. Just look at John Paul II…. he boldly proclaimed the truth to our younger people and they came back by the thousands. It doesn’t require papal stature  to boldly proclaim Jesus. It requires me and you.

Let’s do it, and do it now.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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