With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, all eyes are turned to the future of the Roman Catholic Church. Rather than getting caught up in a game of the most likely candidates to serve as the next pope (a different type of March Madness for Catholics), I think it’s helpful to take a step back and think about what we hope the future church will look like. I’m a young Catholic. I work with college age Catholics. What do young Catholics want?
- A church that takes our experience seriously: If you dig through church teaching, you can see that experience is a valid and necessary aspect of forming conscience. However, it does not feel like that is the case. Whether it is the sexual abuse crisis or new translation of the Roman Missal, the church seems distant from what is actually going on in the world. We want the church to ask the questions we are asking, rather than ones that seem trivial at best and irrelevant at worst. Catholicism can recover from mistakes, but one thing the church cannot recover from is being irrelevant.
-A church that emphasizes the inclusive ministry of Jesus: Jesus was incredible, right? Why is it that we so rarely hear about that? Jesus consistently reached out to those marginalized from the community, yet the church does not follow suit. Who are the marginalized today? Most young Catholics are quick to point to two groups: women and people who do not identify as heterosexual. Regardless of political leanings, there is an overwhelming consensus that the church needs to do better in these areas. The Vatican has repeatedly shut down any dialogue surrounding the ordination of women and church teaching on homosexuality. At the very least, these issues need to be opened up to a thoughtful, informed dialogue that includes historical analysis, social sciences, tradition and Scripture (notably, all areas the church affirms in the formation of conscience). There is an urgency to these issues, as these are not nameless people on the margins, these are our friends, family members, mentors,and leaders. One of the things that draws young people to the Gospel is the inclusivity of Jesus; how is it that the exclusivity of the church turns people away?
-A church that embraces that God is everywhere: The younger generation of the church resonates with the universal notion of Catholicism. We see diversity and unity as two concepts that go together, rather than being opposites. Moreover, we recognize the importance of other religions. Some of Pope Benedict XVI’s biggest missteps related to his interactions with other religions. But young Catholics have grown up alongside people from different religions who are some of the holiest people we know. Nostra Aetate , Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” affirms that God is present in other religions, yet you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the pews on a Sunday morning who knows this. We need to affirm and emphasize that God is present in other religions and sincerely work on improving our relationships with them.
-A church that engages struggles and is open to dialogue: We want to wrestle with the hard questions of how our experience interacts with Scripture and tradition. Yet, it feels like young Catholics are alone in this desire. Many young people respond to this vacuum in two ways: by either taking everything the hierarchy says as absolute truth or completely disregarding the church. Neither of these responses are what the church actually calls us to do. We do not need answers; we need to engage the world. We do not want to be spoon-fed theology. Rather, we want to wrestle, grapple, use our minds, engage our hearts, debate, think and pray. And we want our church to do that with us.
In Mass we say that “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” So too, in this time of transition in the church, we wait in joyful hope of a Catholicism that lives out the Gospel in our modern world. We, the young generation of the church, are yearning for the Gospel of Jesus. We want the church to get its hands dirty and be engaged and relevant in our lives, helping us to share this good news throughout the world.
Annie Selak is a lay minister in the Roman Catholic Church and specializes in the question of young adults and vocation in the modern world.