The Views of Catholic Youth

It will be an early night tonight -- I'll probably be in bed before the "Fireworks Over the Fox" begin. Normally, Saturday nights are pretty quiet for me as my nerves kick into gear in anticipation of the Sunday Mass; but the day will end early because of tomorrow's early start with the blessing of our parish students taking part in Young Neighbors in Action who will be headed out for service work in Cincinnatti, Ohio with a departure at 5:00 AM. I'll be there to offer my annual blessing for all those involved. Feel free to set you alarms for 5 AM so that you can be in prayerful solidarity with us, ok? ...Well not necessarily 5 AM for each of you; by the time you wake up on the 5th, they'll still be on the road, so you can offer a prayer for the kids at that time -- prayers studding the entire day for safe travels and a great experience at work this week would be a blessing to our parish youth to be sure!

Now let me shift focus to slightly older youth, our college students. Late last semester I received a personal letter from Bishop David Ricken in which he addressed the spirituality -- or specifically, the religiosity -- of students attending Catholic colleges in America. Included in his letter was an article that included some startling information about the trends of Catholic college students. The article begins,

"Catholic students are confused about their faith and acting out in ways that most parents and university administrators would find shocking." It continues, "The poll surveyed Catholic college students' behaviors and beliefs. Among its findings: Most students reject key moral teachings of the Church and significant numbers engage in premarital sexual activity and regularly view pornography. Attending a Catholic institution of higher education made no difference in their view of the Church or their participation in the sacraments, said respondents."

At a glance, the study -- conducted by the Cardinal Newman Society -- which gauged the responses of 506 respondents who represented 128 different Catholic institutions -- found... ...


60% say abortion should be legal.
60% say premarital sex is not a sin.
57% say same-sex "marriage" should be legal.
39% saw officials or staff encouraging contraceptive use.
31% saw officials or staff encouraging acceptance of homosexual activity.


50% of college women engage in premarital sexual activity.
41% of college men engage in premarital sexual activity.
23% of college women are drawn to the sacraments.
40% of men are drawn to the sacraments.

SOURCE: Center for the Study of Higher Education, QEV Analytics

Bishop Ricken seemed to be both saddened and concerned by this information, as was I. Wondering if this information would be similar to my findings at Saint Norbert, the Bishop asked if there was anything that he could personally do to address this situation with me at Saint Norbert, if we shared a common experience with the results found in the study.

What about Saint Norbert? I can tell you that the numbers of faithful -- including students at our Sunday and weekly Masses -- has risen consistently over the past several years. I take that as good news, indeed. I suspect that if I would share with our students attending our offerings the information found in this study, I am not sure that our Saint Norbert students as a whole would skew the statistics in one direction or another. With this specific group of SNC students, however, I would be preaching to the choir if I took the opportunity. The challenge for us in parish ministry at the college -- and at any Catholic parish -- would be to sustain those who are coming and do whatever you can to reach out to the under served. (That seems to have worked here rather well.) In other words, if we want them to come to our liturgies, then perhaps we as Church need to show up for their athletic events, their musical or theatrical performances, their capstone presentations... ... We need to take an honest interest in their lives if we would want them to take interest in the life of the Church. And then what?

As I'll address in Sunday's homily tomorrow, we need to bolster the courage to offer our folks the TRUTH! In his addresses to the original faithful, Jesus had the ability to both affirm and challenge his disciples. Affirmation: we need to build our people up; compliment them for their achievements; offer support; give praise where praise is due -- this is so sorely lacking in family life, college life, religious life. Sadly, I wonder why. But if all we do is affirm, where does the growth come; how do we raise the bar?

This is where challenge must come into play. In our challenging, are we willing to raise the standard in our own lives, or just point fingers at others? Challenge: kindly let a person know when we see him or her falling through the cracks, making poor decisions; remove ourselves from activities and conversations that disparagingly take life away from someone else; tell others the ruin that results when we choose to 'pick the locks' on moral issues and sexual purity. If all we do is challenge, though, we get beaten up and it's difficult to see the light in the midst of such heavy darkness. Jesus was able to combine the two, affirmation and challenge, in such life-giving ways -- truly, Good News!

I'll take the good Bishop up on his offer. He came for his first pastoral visitation of the college parish back on February 10th. (I'll search for a few pictures of the event to show you later.) He was fantastic! His words and his manner of speaking were so strong, but so lovingly shared as well. I think our students -- this diocese -- could stand continual doses of similar episcopal visitations. Summed up, like Christ, when we consistently try to offer clarity with charity, then perhaps we can start to see the statistics shift -- in a direction that embraces the Church and all that it stands for. "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"


Anonymous said...

Very good post Fr. Jim! I remember when Bishop Ricken came to St. Norbert in February.

Everything you said regarding the approach of this situation was spot on. I wish I could be there for tomorrow's homily.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised at the results, being in the area of education...and perhaps a college student myself.

And I'm sure a fair few of my fellow students would fall under those numbers. I admittedly would fall under a couple myself.

The Church is dealing with a very accepting, rather liberal (not necessarily politically left-winged) generation than those of their parents and grandparents. Students like to mix pop culture with religion. As a result, it gets very messy.

There's not a clear way to "fix" this, except how you suggested in your blog. Your Homilies are very captivating, and I'm guessing many of us need to hear what you have to say!
You know the saying, "It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it"? I think that correlates well with the priesthood.


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