Catholic Youth, the Church of Today

by gary-foote on October 18, 2010

Over the past few months, I’ve had a several conversations with people about the “future” of the Catholic Church. I suppose people engage me in these conversations because the young people I have the blessing to work with our considered the “future of the Church.” Typically, I am a “Big Picture” person. I am a fan of flow charts, strategic plans, goals, and looking at the past to improve the future. However, this type of thinking becomes very problematic once we start looking to the future and forget about the present. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs us very clearly on the topic at hand. “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” (Matthew 6:34).

Ten years ago, the Catholic Church was in the midst of celebrating the Great Jubilee of 2000. Young and old were making pilgrimages to Rome; Pope John Paul II was leading his flock under the words, “Do Not Be Afraid;” and the United States of America continued to offer a comfortable lifestyle for many of its residents. So much has changed in the last decade and most of it unforeseen.

In 2001, two major events occurred that changed the United States Catholic Church. On September 11, 2001 several terrorist attacks took place in the United States. These attacks resulted in the loss of many lives and the beginning of a war that continues on today. As an interesting side note, Pope John Paul II continually made it known that the response of war to the terror attacks that took place was not the proper response. He stated in his annual “state of the world” address on January 13, 2002 that “war is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity.” The second event that occurred was the beginning of the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the United States Catholic Church sex scandal and accompanying cover-ups. These two events greatly changed how the Catholic Church was viewed in the world both by her own members as well as the world at large. Some of the faithful embraced their faith to a new level of commitment, while many others left the Church.

In addition to the two events listed above, the “second boom” of Internet based technology has greatly impacted the world. Along with the rest of the developed world, the Catholic Church turns to the Internet as a means of communicating with her people. Most parishes in the United States have a website (although many of them could use a good update), parishes publish their bulletins online, the lay-faithful can register as parishioners and signup for religious education online, and many parishes now employ an electronic “offertory” where contributions are directly taken from parishioners’ checking accounts. Social Networking has changed the way we communicate with each other via Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. Pope Benedict the XVI can even be found in the Social Networking sphere.

So why do I bring this up? Well my friends, most people had no idea that any of these things would happen. Looking back in 2000 and projecting what the Catholic Church would look like 10 years from that point didn’t take into consideration the present war, the pain of the sexual scandals, and the wide use of Internet technology. Yes, we as youth ministers need to have our eyes open and do our best to anticipate changes in youth culture and respond appropriately. However, if we spend all of our time focusing on the future, then we miss out on the vital fact that we are not serving the youth present to us today! If we are not serving them today, will they be involved tomorrow? That’s the real question.

Sometimes we can get so focused on building for the future that we don’t realize that the people that we are supposedly building for are hurting today and are leaving the Church because they are not being ministered to. I’ve spoken with several parishes recently that are in the midst of building projects so that they can have larger better-equipped facilities. I’ve often posed the question, “Do you have all of your current facilities bursting at the seams with parishioners involved in ministry?” The response typically is, “Well no. But if we had better facilities, then maybe people would come and fill them.” How different would our Church look if instead we had the philosophy, “If we strengthen our ministries, funded our programs more, and supported our faithful in a greater way then maybe we will outgrow what we presently have.”

The challenge is in investing today for today’s sake. If we give to God all that we are, all that we have, and all that we want to be, then eventually today will become tomorrow. Following this process, tomorrow will “take care of it self.” All we need to do is trust in God’s providence today, do our best to give to Him all that He requires of us, and invest in the people that we are currently blessed with the opportunity to minister to. Through paying attention to the Church of today, we will protect and provide for the Church of tomorrow.

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Roy Petitfils October 20, 2010 at 4:53 am

Couldn’t agree more Gary! I think that telling young people they are the future of the Church is perhaps the biggest lie we’ve told them. I think its given many of them permission to let themselves of the responsibility hook until the … “future.” I’ll be linking this in my blog for sure! You may enjoy my RANT on this very topic:

http://www.youthwallah.com/2010/02/kids-are-not-the-future-of-the-church.html

Thanks for all you do to serve the young church and those who serve them Gary!

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