Why do young people drift away, and why do they return?

A letter to the synod bishops by Italian blogger Sara Manzardo, a young married woman, has drawn quite a bit of interest over there. She writes:

[According to the newspapers] this synod on youth will be talking mostly about migrants, LGBT, and naturally about premarital sex, because chastity seems to be the main reason why youth drift away from the Church.

But we young people deserve much more. We aren’t satisfied any more to hear homilies full of politics, the common good, the news, the environment. […]

We drift away because we don’t find anything in the Church different from what they say to us outside: nothing more moving, nothing worth the trouble of living and dying.

Instead we come closer to the Church when someone explains to us why they have chosen chastity […]. We come closer when someone opens our eyes about our life, when someone says words to us that burn like salt in a wound, but they’re living, true, strong words.

Here’s an English translation of the whole letter.




Among our age’s many false dichotomies, the one receiving most attention these days is the contrast proposed between supposedly “rigid” and supposedly “pastoral” approaches toward problems of ongoing sexual sin.

In a dramatic manner, the fallacious character of this dichotomy was torpedoed and exploded on the world scene, in the one tragic biographical narrative of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Over the course of decades, McCarrick took the indulgent, supposedly “pastoral” approach towards his own pathetic sexual proclivities. Of course this was bad for him, for his soul. One of my most fervent prayers is for his sincere repentance and reconciliation with God as his earthly life diminishes. For all we know, this may have happened already, because God’s mercy endures forever. On the other hand, sin hardens the heart and can make repentance difficult. But we can pray, and hopefully he will be saved.

But let us take the wider view. McCarrick was a man who lived in community, and a leader, and he affected others. His sins affected others, and their souls also lie panting along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. And herein lies the falsity of the dichotomy: indulging McCarrick meant devastation, not pastoral care to others. Indulging one man in a career of sexual sin hurt others. It always does. Indulging remarriage leaves abandoned families, the widows and orphans of the developed world in their millions. Indulging the consumption of pornography leads directly to the trafficking in fresh, photogenic human flesh to be degraded, and captured with a permanent record.

What about their souls? What about the preventably fatherless whose parish priests never aimed for the reconciliation of the family but went straight for the annulment? Where was the pastoral concern for the wife and child left behind and often impoverished, whose images of God the Father are compromised because of their own fathers’ actions?

What about the women? What about the millions of mothers who doggedly worked through their children’s upbringing and had insufficient time and energy to properly raise them or even pray for them?

And what about the even more desperate situations? What about the child prostitutes sacrificed at the altar of adult indulgence at truck stops and online? What about the prostitutes pimped in every city and brought in thousands to every major sporting event? Where is their pastoral care? Who is listening to them?

A falsely “pastoral” indulgence is never victimless, because we live in community. In the case of McCarrick, of course, the damage was multiplied exponentially, not because his appetites were necessarily outsized (see the famous Bell and Weinberg study for more on this), but because he was in a position of high ecclesial leadership.

How can a bishop attend to his threefold mission when he is constantly sinning in a serious way? Letting alone the time it takes from his duties to maintain this sort of sideline hobby, the problem with serious sin is that it takes us out of the connection with charity that is given to us in Baptism and meant to grow with the fruitful reception of the sacraments, including Holy Orders. Charity directs our efforts to go to God and for the sake of others’ journeys to Him. A bishop’s charity belongs in large part to those he serves. Again, what about them? What is to become of a people whose very shepherd commits apparently endless sacrileges against himself and other consecrated persons? Leaving aside the shepherd who lets his people fall prey to the wolves because he is grossly distracted and inattentive, what about the shepherd who is himself a wolf? Will he teach sound doctrine? Will he pray for his flock? Will he care much if they go astray?

And his influence: what will be its results? Will the universities and hospitals under his leadership be beacons of light to the world? Will their goals be religious goals?

And what about his legacy of junior leaders? Will the leaders he appoints–some of them quite young–teach the fullness of the faith? What about the souls of those influenced by them or by him? What about the eternal destiny of these souls?

What would Jesus do? When Jesus saw that the crowds were famished, having spent three days in the wilderness, he charged his apostles with feeding them. That is the job of an apostles: Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.

What would Jesus do? When Jesus met the Samaritan woman, he made sure she knew that He knew that she had sinned.

What would Jesus do? He forbade not only the sin but the coveting that leads to sin. Looking at a woman is adultery in the heart. Don’t flirt with that married man in the office. Don’t go to lunch with him. Don’t make a pass at your married female colleague in the bar on the business trip. And for God’s sake leave the poor seminarians alone.

What would Jesus do? When Jesus rescued the Samaritan woman from stoning, He told her, “Go and sin no more.”

This is not scolding. It is not “rigid.” Jesus, Whose very name means “God saves,” gives us the hope of finally realizing that beautiful resolution of the Act of Contrition, “sin no more,” for nothing is impossible with God. It can be a long and bumpy road, the path to moral virtue. But what is the alternative? The long and bumpy descent into degradation and sorrow, with the souls and bodies of other people littering the ground around the hell we choose?

God told us to choose life that we and our children might live. That life is ultimately the endless Sabbath that calls us higher and higher. That Sabbath was so important to Jesus, and so trivial to the Pharisees, that whenever he celebrated it in a higher manner, they got mad.

The Sabbath was made for man–for us! The Sabbath: a time of healing, when the long years of weakness are gone and human beings are made whole. Human beings are not “pastored” by keeping them locked in a muddy ditch in the wilderness, mired and preyed upon by wild beasts. The Sabbath gives our lives a goal and a direction, and true pastors lead us there.

Let us run, dear shepherds. Lead us all to the Sabbath of endless light and joy and feasting and goodwill.


Bp. Barron at the synod: Catholicism has consistently embraced the beautiful

Bishop Robert Barron, speaking at the Synod on youth, called for catechesis and apologetics that goes beyond the superficial to look in depth at the questions people are asking.  Among other things, he said:

Our apologetics and catechesis should walk the via pulchritudinis, as Pope Francis characterized it in Evangelii Gaudium. Especially in our postmodern cultural context, commencing with the true and the good—what to believe and how to behave—is often counter-indicated, since the ideology of self-invention is so firmly established. However, the third transcendental, the beautiful, often proves a more winsome, less threatening, path.

And part of the genius of Catholicism is that we have so consistently embraced the beautiful—in song, poetry, architecture, painting, sculpture, and liturgy. All of this provides a powerful matrix for evangelization.

And as Hans Urs von Balthasar argued, the most compelling beauty of all is that of the saints. I have found a good deal of evangelical traction in presenting the lives of these great friends of God, somewhat in the manner of a baseball coach who draws young adepts into the game by showing them the play of some of its greatest practitioners.


“God does not promise a sterile existence but a life that is itself beautiful”

This week at the Synod on youth, Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport urged participants to look to the way of beauty as the transcendent value particularly needed in efforts at evangelization:

It was Saint Thomas Aquinas who taught that the human person can encounter God by three privileged paths: truth, beauty and goodness. In terms of technology’s formative influence on young people, I would respectfully suggest that it is the path of beauty that must be better explored for the sake of evangelization and catechesis.

In my experience with young people, the questions that haunt them are not simply intellectual ones. They are first and foremost affective questions (i.e., “questions of the heart”), that ask about their self-worth, the reasonableness of hope, the ability to commit to another and to be loved in return. We must unlock the power of beauty, which touches and captures the heart, precisely by utilizing the many opportunities now afforded by digital communication and social media to accompany young people to experience beauty in service of the Gospel.

Let us offer the sacred liturgy as a celebration of the beautiful, the transcendent, with an engagement of the affective senses. Let us work to capture the heart of all believers to encounter a God who does not promise a sterile existence but a life that is itself beautiful, rich in meaning, that invites one’s heart to dare to believe that this earthly life is worth living and worth fighting for in light of an eternal life where the restlessness of the heart will find its final rest in the salvation that alone comes from Christ Jesus the Lord.

A 30 year old pop song, at a “youth” Mass, during Communion, at a major basilica

…made famous by a singer who tragically overdosed over half a decade ago.

Once again, efforts to appeal to youth through relevance fail badly.

At youth synod, Abp. Fisher apologizes for failures to hand on Catholic tradition

At the Synod on Youth, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P., of Sydney has made a quite unconventional apology to Catholic youth: not only for wrongful acts committed, but also for failures to hand on the faith in its fullness, including “unbeautiful liturgies” and poor preaching.

The Catholic Herald writes:

In addition to apologising for the Church’s failures with clerical sexual abuse, the archbishop also apologised for the ways in which the Church had failed to “introduce you to the person of Jesus Christ, his saving word and his plan for your life.”

“And for the times when you were searching for your sexual, ethnic or spiritual identity and needed a moral compass, but found Church people unsympathetic or ambiguous: I apologise,” he said.

The Catholic Church, Archbishop Fisher said, often “sold you short” by not challenging young people to live up to their baptismal call to holiness, by offering them “unbeautiful or unwelcoming liturgies” and by not sharing with them Church traditions such as the sacrament of reconciliation, pilgrimages and Eucharistic adoration.

He apologised for “poor preaching, catechesis or spiritual direction” that failed to inspire conversion and for families, dioceses and religious orders that adopted a “contraceptive mentality” that did not even try to give birth to new vocations.

In addition to his apology, the Sydney archbishop pleaded with young people: “Never give up on Jesus because of our failures. Never give up on the Church that you can help make more faithful. Never give up on the world that, with Christ and the Church’s help, you can make a better place.”

Photo credit: screenshot from Twitter.

Listening to young Catholics of Scotland

In some of the discourse surrounding the synod, we have noted a trend of suggesting that difficult aspects of the Church’s teaching, in matters of morals and matters of faith, need to be downplayed, or even put aside, in order to be relevant to people’s lives and sensitive to their difficulties. Some even imply that priests who hold to orthodox teaching are out of touch with the lives of lay people, and of young people especially. However, it is in fact this line of thought that is utterly in contradiction to our lived experience. What made us become and/or remain Catholic, against ever increasing cultural pressure, are those aspects of the faith that are uniquely Catholic, not things that can be found in social clubs, in NGOs, or in political parties. What matters is precisely the Church’s claim to truth; Her liturgy and Sacraments; Her transcendent doctrine, communicated in teaching but also through beauty and goodness; Her understanding of the human person, laid out so powerfully for the modern world by St John Paul II; and Her moral teaching, that while so very challenging, also offers the only path to true joy and human flourishing as we see in the lives of the saints. These are the things that convince us that here is something worth the sacrifice, something good for us and for every human being.

Young Catholics are inspired by the heroic virtue espoused by the Church, in opposition to the cynicism and pessimism of postmodern culture. A faith that merely legitimises the habits we would otherwise have anyway is simply not worth it. Far from being “out of touch”, it is those priests who proclaim orthodox teaching in its fullness with joy and courage who have brought the light of Christ into our lives, and really offered us His Mercy – the remedy for a broken world, which does not pretend human brokenness is irremediable, but truly heals and gives the grace we need to live new lives of virtue. To those priests, we are unendingly grateful.

Much more here.