Wednesday, June 15, 2005

La Chiesa e' Giovane?

Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here....

I was sitting in the sun today -- it was 900 degrees and disgusting in Philly, but I have to be a good Italian and get my bake on. Listening to The Shins on St. iPod (my 40gig wonder), the words of Benedict XVI's inaugural homily kept echoing in my head: "La chiesa e' viva! La chiesa e' giovane!" -- "The church is alive! The church is young!"

But I had to ask myself, "E' giovane la chiesa?" -- "Is the church young?"

I was compelled to focus on this point as I don't see all that much to prove it. And, no, a biennial World Youth Day is not sufficient evidence in its defense. Even the Pope, this Pope, would agree -- mass sporadic manifestations of faith do not a Catholicism make, he has said. It's like sending all your seminarians and third-graders to the March for Life, and then they come back home and dither for the other 364 days of the year. Don't tell me that doesn't happen.

A correspondent was kind enough to write the other day, "You may be 22 years ordained, but you can't be 22 years old." Well, I am. But it's a bit of a sad commentary on the state of youth in the church, no? There is no curiosity, there is no attraction, there is no desire on the part of most of my generation to be part of something they feel doesn't want them because they can see that it is so God damn self-absorbed.

More than just sometimes, I feel as if it doesn't want me, either. But I stay because someone's got to inherit the shop, right? And, despite my many faults and weaknesses, I'd rather it be me than some Pseudo-Catholic for a Free Choice or Lawlerite who would replace "They'll Know That We Are Christians By Our Love" with "They'll Know That We Are Catholics By Our Anger," or however the hell that translates in Latin. (Surprise! The cons abhor the St. Louis Jesuits.)

John Allen, in his Rise of Benedict XVI, spoke of the tsunami of young people who overtook Rome for the funeral of John Paul II. "They came out of the conviction that this was their pope," he said, "that he believed in them, loved them, and sacrificed for them in a way few adults of his status ever did." And when I read those words, I started to cry, because I had known and experienced this in my own life. It's why, despite having laid out the logistics of the moment for years, I sobbed for the better part of an hour when death came to the Apostolic Palace.

But let's be real. We hear so much of the infusion of John Paul's spirit in the church, of his cultivation of the young, but was that carried out effectively on-the-ground? The answer is a resounding "NO."

You could see flashes of it at Steubenville conferences, at the WYDs, in the ministry of those handful of priests and parishes so genuinely Christ-like my generation could not help but reach out and touch it, and be immersed in richness. You can see flashes of it in Denver, in the seminaries of Padre Nuestro (nee' Marcel Maciel), in Newman Centers and prayer circles which have sacrificed much and invest everything not in the vestiges of a faded past, but in the promise of a vibrant future.

For the most part, however, the dominant attitude toward young Catholics has been one of window-dressing, sloth and fear of a culture which confident faith need not fear.

It is a recipe for disaster, and the wider church has no one to blame for the failure of cultivating its next generation but itself.

My generation is an optimistic one, but also a deeply intuitive one. It seeks good "buzz," and where people seem happy, and fulfilled, and enthusiastic, they will gravitate. But when we descend into internecine squabbling, some start mouthing off about unleashing the "nuclear option" on bishops, and others seek the destruction of those they disagree with at all costs as opposed to trying to understand them and be Christian toward them, we don't look like a young church with a mature faith. We look like an old church with a juvenile faith -- and that is a scandal of hypocrisy to the world, not to mention the greatest buzzkill of all. Don't anyone get upset that Katie Holmes (a product of Catholic education) is turning to Scientology....

The worst is how we handle the lay vocation in the church. As I write this, cons out there are simply going batty at the thought of the "pastoral associates" in LA. Let's think about this -- here are good laypeople, who while embracing the vocation of marriage and parenthood seek to participate actively and daily in the mission of their faith. But, oh, no, no, only Father can do that, and all these pastoral associates -- so the retrothink goes -- won't be happy until they're wearing mitres and carrying croziers. Some way forward for Catholicism -- demonize these people from within as opposed to encouraging them. Tres charming, snowflakes.

But I've seen too often how, whenever a young person enters into a life of faith, they're immediately besieged by questions of "When are you going into the seminary/convent?" (People still greet me with "Your Eminence." And I don't like it one bit.)

Not only does that make church a highly-pressured experience for someone who's just seeking their own answers, it immediately creates the heuristic that the only way a young person can be fully involved in their faith is with a vow of obedience and a collar or a habit. So it distorts a young person's discernment, and sets everyone else up for a superfluous and selfish letdown. And that's just sad. When the priestly-seeming one gets married, the parish says, "Pity."

The clericalist cheerleaders have wrought a greater insult to the sanctity of marriage than anything they're dying to have constitutionally banned.

In sum, we're not looking for extravagant (i.e. irrelevant) liturgy, ridiculous levels of piety, and we're sure as hell not looking for something which claims to be vertically-oriented but appears brazenly and childishly horizontal. What we seek is a faith which welcomes us, which speaks to us with clarity, warmth and affirmation, a community which has the security and integrity of example to accept us for what we are and doesn't seek to start calling us out for what we're not. We like to be guided by people who live their faith, not preached at by people who don't.

And, while we're at it, lavishness in the "service" of a God born poor doesn't go over so well....

That task of building that, building the church which has fallen into ruin, falls to each of us, everyday. We serve it by affirmation and blow another hole in the boat when we miss the forest for the fleas. I want to see this go beyond an ideal, and make the words of B16 a reality, because it'd be a mighty good service to the world.

Will we get on the ball for once and live up to our potential?



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