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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Seeking God

Recently, I sat in a room where a speaker posed this question:  

 "We have the ask, 'Where ARE the young adults? Where do we find them? How do we reach them?'"

There was more, and it was part of a larger discussion, but, of course, you know me: I can't keep my mouth shut. I was seated near the front of the room, which perhaps gave me more courage to speak up since I couldn't see who-all was listening (or not).  I confess...I do fear to speak up in groups, especially when those with more experience and knowledge are present.  But not that day. 

The presenter was missing a huge piece of the puzzle, and I realized that even though he has young adult children, since they hadn't fallen away from the Church he didn't realize what was going on in the real world.

I knew in that moment that an insight that had come to me earlier this week was being brought to fruition, and I had to speak up on behalf of all those who are still lost. I know them, because I was one of them.

We are many, and many of the current models used to reach young adults simply don't work because they assume somewhat regular attendance at Mass, if at all.  And those models also assume a hands-on approach.  Not evangalizing through revealing Christ, but evangelizing through finding slave labor for various causes.  

Speaking up

I raised my hand and explained that I still fit into the "Young Adult" category, then proceeded, in answer to the presenter's question, to explain my experience. I didn't go into detail. In fact, there was only the briefest of outlines in my head as I explained my involvement in high school, going to a Catholic college and falling away. I explained my family moved out of town and I moved into another city to begin my life as an adult...and had nowhere to go. My entire perception of what it meant to be Catholic meant "doing stuff." And if I couldn't "do stuff" as I was used to, how could I be Catholic?  

I stated very clearly that I would go to Mass on occasion, to one parish or another, looking for home, but not knowing what it meant to be Catholic. I didn't know my faith. I said that the young adults out there don't know their faith, either. They're floating around, maybe like I was, thinking that being Catholic meant "doing stuff", and while that's important, it's not our focus or reason for being.  It's not a way to find Home, where we belong. 

I said that it wasn't until I finally began seeking God that I really found my way Home.

When I had begun speaking, I didn't mean for it to turn into a testimony. I wanted to give insight into the fact that the models don't work because floaters aren't around to come into the realm that belongs to the current modes of evangelization. The speaker actually didn't really look very happy with what I was saying, although he seemed to listen attentively. I was grateful when a young woman behind me affirmed my experience as hers had been similar in some ways, and then, later another woman had even more to say.

All of that happened near the end of the session, and I turned and made eye contact with the last woman, mouthing "Thank you" to her own profound words. She understood so clearly what the speaker did not seem to want to understand.

I didn't get into "issues" such as why it was so hard to find a parish; I didn't discuss the problems with theology and liturgical abuse which I could not have articulated from that time in my life.  I don't think I could give a short explanation as to why architecture, theology, and body postures during the consecration matters so much, and why departures from norms I didn't even know EXISTED drove me away from countless parishes.  I let those issues be;  there may be another time and place in another large event that will force me to bring that up and tie it up in its own little giftbox for those who don't want to receive it.  

Where are the young adults? 

That's a good question.  Let me answer some of it:  they (we!)  are seeking God. And if they enter a parish and find the theology of the parish to be wishy-washy, they leave. If they find disunity, they leave. If they find outreach without sincerity and REAL understanding...they walk.  They realize their lives are worth far more than a ten-cent smile and a frivolous handshake.  They don't want their singlehood to become one of slave labor to the Church, their singlehood a memory of years spent in weird pigeonholed isolation at a parish that doesn't know what to do with them other than to plug them into various volunteer holes that need warm bodies to fill them.  

Young adults want to get involved, yes. Absolutely. But not without a deeper meaning. Not without God. For their primary search, even if they can't explain it, is God. They are seeking happiness. They are seeking Our Lord, and they don't know where YOU have placed Him.  


Recently, I walked into a church I had never attended, and I could not find Our Lord. I could not find the red flickering light of the tabernacle.  I paced back and forth, looking for Him, not daring to pass beyond the doors into the church if I could not find him. What if I failed to acknowledge His Presence with a genuflection?  I couldn't do that. I am a sinner of Augustinian proportions;  but if I can be faithful in the small things, then let me at LEAST be faithful in those.  Please.

You want to reach Young Adults?  In your parish, make HIM prominent.  Make HIM available!  Young Adults don't want to look at rows of other people of varying ages, especially at Mass!  Christ is not primarily present in the people, and if you claim that "Vatican II said so", then be anathema for Vatican II said NOTHING OF THE SORT!   Christ is, Christ was, and Christ will FOREVER be present in the Holy Eucharist,  Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, through the consecrated hands of an ordained priest!  NOT the people!   

If you make your parish all about the people, then what is the draw for a FAITHFUL Young Adult? 


Do you know what I did as a Young Adult, since I couldn't find Christ?  I volunteered in secular venues, looking for Jesus there.  Because I still thought being Catholic was all about doing. That, and I was career-oriented. But ultimately I wasn't seeking a career for money, but I was seeking a way to spend my life meaningfully.  

In looking back, I realize that maybe I would have had something to offer the Church if the Church had first pointed me to Christ when I had gone there seeking Him.  If maybe someone had helped me understand what SHOULD have been happening. 

I remember speaking once to a priest after a Mass. I was in tears, totally convicted by the words he'd spoken that day. And I thought I had something to offer, wanted to get involved, said a prayer and thought that maybe if this was accepted, it was the place for me.

It wasn't. I don't think I ever returned. He was nice enough, but even now, looking back, it wasn't about what I thought I had to offer; that entire encounter was about what I needed from Christ, and that was the recognition that I even existed.

How do any of us reach out to that need, especially when it's presented to us in such a hidden manner? I don't blame the priest for not knowing. After all, it took me a long time to figure out what it was I really needed at that time.

But there's a key in what came out of my mouth on the day I spoke up, something I'd never even considered, something maybe we all have to remember, no matter our role in life.

That day, I stated very publicly, there in that full room, that I didn't come back to the Church because there was stuff to do, but because I was seeking God. It wasn't until I could clearly look for Him that I could find my way Home. Because if it's not about God, it's about nothing at all.

After I had spoken, I actually felt somewhat ashamed, realizing that I'd gone off topic and I'd let my mouth run too much. My typical scourge. After the two others had spoken up, though, I felt better, and one person, afterwards, approached me and thanked me for speaking out. I was still apologetic; I hadn't intended to give a testimony. I felt it was inappropriate for the venue. She thought not, and that perhaps the Holy Spirit had a hand in my words.

I can only hope so. I know that He did for me.


Recently I was pondering an old blog post of mine from some time ago, which lead to another. I've been frustrated on so many levels, struggling in so many ways. In encountering these posts, I realized therein was the message I needed: Let God Love You.

It's not about me. It's about God. It's about what God has done. It's about how God uses us, especially when we least expect it. It's about being still, not worrying about the next moment or next plan, and just allowing God to take charge. He is faithful. Where is our happiness? In God.

The second, related post to that one was a reminder to let God work. He has a plan, He knows what He is doing. He's in charge. He intends for us all to become Saints, if only we'd be willing to follow His plan.

We are all seeking God, in some way, and the problem is that there is an entire population out there who can't even figure out whom they are really seeking.  That's where we have to recognize that it's our place to find them. Not the chancery. Not the parishes.  Ours.  Those who have fallen away don't come to Mass.  And it's not about programming or meetings. It's about prayer. Pray for them. We can't do ANYTHING to bring them back, no matter what actions we take. We can teach the Truth. We can speak out. We can be present, but until they're ready, until the Holy Spirit draws them, we have to remember....God is in charge. 

Message For Me, Message for the Church Everywhere

That day, after I spoke, I realized that God also had a message for me.  Why had I come back, when did I come back?  I was seeking Him.  There was a purity of intention.  

For those who have fallen away, there is a similarity, but they, too need to know that God loves them. The next step is to LET God love them. 

Just as I had to learn to let God love me.  

I realized I'm still there.  I've fallen away again. I go to prayer, I go to Mass, but I'm trying too hard, focusing on things that, ironically, are still of this world. My Vocation, for example. 

Maybe it's time to sit back, remember that it was seeking Him that lead me  home initially, and perhaps its important to return to those roots, and focuse once again on Our Lord.  For only He can lead me Home. 

How do we reach anyone?  Lead them to Christ. Point to Him.  

I have news for priests and parishes everywhere, throughout the world: If you are seeking to bring back the lost, point them to Christ. Bring them to Adoration. Invite them to Mass with you and with your family.  Before you ask them to help out with something, first give them time to know and love God. For if they don't know Him, they'll fall away again and again, for FIRST we must love God...and love of neighbor, service to neighbor, flows from that. Not the other way around.  


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Amen <3

Hidden One said...

You are right, Adoro.

I am a young adult - not by much an adult. I thank God often for the grace of causing my theological conversion from Protestantism before I set foot in a Catholic Church, and (albeit less often) for later converting my heart outside of a physical Church. The thing that is the greatest threat to my Catholicism and has been such is the lack of being led to Christ. It is not merely because people are sinners that this occurs. [I find that the people who know best and act in this knowledge that they are sinners to be the ones who point me to Christ the most. The sick healing point to the doctor healing them. It is the same thing.] As you said, it is because of the people (and architecture etc.) who (or that) do not point to Christ that point me and my fellow young adults away from the Church. I wish that I could bring my non-Catholic or "lapsed" Catholic friends to a Church and say, "Here is God," and point to a priest and say, "Here is Christ's minister," but on appearance alone, almost without exception, I would be or have been 'proved' wrong.

But stepping in a slightly different direction a bit... it seems to me that it is not the task of anyone to find young adults and to minister to us, but rather, for everyone to allow us to find Christ, who will minister to us. I believe that we Catholics can all either point others (and each other) to Christ by our lives or point out the door of the Church, with no other option.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Make God visible..make the Tabernacle obvious...brilliant insight. Really. Too often these days an attempt is made to make God the Congregation by hiding the Tabernacle. Wrong.

How can we teach our young people about the Real Presence if the Tabernacle is nowhere to be found? Sure, you can talk about it but if the Presence is not obvious when you walk in, you have to wonder why would you hide Him if the Presence is supposed to be a big deal?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. I've just finished a year as a catechist for 6th graders, on the Old Testament. Their parish (I attend a diff. one) hides the tabernacle completely and is devoid of art. So I spent much of the year on liturgical catechesis.

Here's what else I learned: all of them went to Mass every Sunday, but no one had ever explained what was going on. Lamb of God? No idea why we pray that. I am not worthy to receive you, but only...? No clue. After a while, I decided that the sensory-deprivation chamber church was a huge problem, but the other was a complete ignorance of Scripture. Without knowing Scripture, the Mass was largely incomprehensible, even though their parents were "practicing".

I think what I mean is that young adults wouldn't be starving as you describe it if we took preventive measures with at least those young teens raised Catholic.

I don't think a 12 yr. old's lack of connection to the liturgy is irrelevant to losing the young adults. If we can help teenagers know Christ in Scripture, and then help them understand liturgy, we'll be offering them a lot more than the chance to be free labor. Know and love God FIRST, as you say.

Adoro said...

Great comments, everyone, thank you.

Anon ~ Thanks for your perspective from that of a catechist, and thank you for taking the time to give those kids what they need! I've found in parish work that even though the tabernacle is in an obvious place, people STILL don't know what to do. Many adults don't genuflect, and if they do, it's towards the altar...not the tabernacle, revealing they don't know why they're even genuflecting!

There is most definitely a connection between uncatechized kids and lost young adults.

At my own parish this winter a priest gave a great talk on what the Mass was about, and a lot of people attended, and asked great questions. Some were from soon to be Catholics, and others from daily mass-goers. So from the knowledgeable crowd, I learned many of THEM were often clueless.

But God bless them for wanting to learn. If even a few people actually desired to know more, the entire Church would be changed.

How do we do damage control? How do we get the info to the kids if the very building undermines it?

Hidden One said...

I jsut came aacross a quotation from Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta that is, I think, relevant to this matter. She was speaking of the presence of her Missionaries of Charity.

“You must tell people what brings us here. Tell them that we are not here for the work; we are here for Jesus. All we do is for him. We are first of all religious. We are not social workers, not teachers, not nurses or doctors; we are religious sisters.”

If that is not pointing to Christ, what is?

Adoro said...

Ooh! I love her so much! She knew the source of holiness was also the source from which all service flows...and is directed!

Melody K said...

The last paragraph of your post says it all! Hope they were listening.
As a sidenote to this issue, many parishes, including ours, require "Living the Faith Hours" for Confirmation; and the local Catholic high school requires them for graduation. This translates as time spent helping others. Which is a good thing. But it also feeds into the idea that being Catholic = doing stuff. I don't know that I would want to make it that you get brownie points for saying the rosary, or praying in adoration. But maybe we should re-focus, with more emphasis that all the corporal works of mercy and spiritual efforts need to point toward Christ.