On the Feast of the Holy Family, I went to Mass in my hometown’s Cathedral in Colorado Springs – a town many refer to as the “Evangelical Mecca.” The pews were full of Hispanic couples in their 20s and 30s, children tottered about in the aisles, and the baby-faced Mexican priest firmly admonished everyone in Spanish to obey Pope Benedict’s call to Catholics to hold fast to traditional family life.
Not long before that, I walked past the Catholic Information Center on a chilly, dark D.C. evening. Nestled amid the country’s most powerful lobbying firms on K Street, darkened for the night, the brightly lit bookstore was filled with young Catholics in suits sipping wine and flocking around the evening’s speaker, the head of a prominent think tank.
And Friday in Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of young Catholics in North Face and sneakers who have travelled in from all over the country will mark the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade by marching against abortion on the national Mall.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Great Catholic Awakening.
Pray, what do I mean?
The Great Catholic Awakening is a revival of Catholic orthodoxy among youth in the Catholic Church.
My generation of Catholics, men and women in their 20s and 30s, inherited a suffocating spiritual ennui inside the church and a culture of death, promiscuity, sadness, and fear outside her doors.
We were born into a world where millions of babies die of abortion annually, where countless more unborn babies are suspended silently in freezers, where we are told gender is random and marriage is amorphous and dissolvable.
We inherited hell on earth.
Some Catholics, like myself, are converts away from Protestantism, recognizing that the only institution in the world that has stood firm through the millennia on the most important social issues of the day is the Catholic Church.
Others grew up with rogue nuns, priests making up the liturgy, sex-abuse scandals, squishy bishops, etc.
And we’ve had enough.
But rather than walk away and embrace the hedonistic culture outside the church’s doors, we paused. We paused and turned around. We planted our feet firmly, and we stayed.
Our numbers are small but we are true to church teaching and there is no denying that we are growing.
More conservative religious orders, for examples, are growing with young Catholics seeking a traditional religious life.
Speaking of record growth at the Washington, D.C. based Dominican House of Studies, Rev. Thomas Joseph White says:
“Young men entering seminary today are coming out of a secular culture and have often made a counter-cultural choice to be Catholic. Our house is receiving more vocations than at any time since the 1960’s, and the men entering tend to be strongly supportive of the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI. They are interested in the recovery of more traditional forms of Christian belief and practice, but also in the evangelization of their peers.”
Traditional nun-hood is also on the rise. A recent study conducted at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found a clear demarcation in the spiritual outlook of millennial sisters and those that came before them. Of women born after 1982 entering religious orders, Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of the center, noted:
“They’re more attracted to a traditional style of religious life, where there is community living, common prayer, having Mass together, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together. They are much more likely to say fidelity to the church is important to them. And they really are looking for communities where members wear habits.”
The study found that younger nuns entered religious life with positive attitudes about the church and authority and chose orders based on their fidelity to the church. It’s not surprising then, as John Allen noted, that the liberal Leadership Conference of Women Religious has just one percent of female religious orders with more than ten sisters in formation versus 28 percent in the conservative Conference of Major Superiors of Women.
The National Catholic Reporter, a left-leaning Catholic publication admitted, “To put all this into a sound-bite, the next generation of religious will be more ethnically diverse and more traditional.”
Young lay Catholics are returning to tradition as well. Mass attendance has been in a general state of decline among all age groups except among millennials, who have demonstrated a nearly ten percent increase in Mass attendance in recent years.
Not only are young Catholics increasingly more likely to attend Mass, they prefer more traditional practices and forms of the Mass.
Recently Georgetown University caved to student pressure and re-instated the Latin Mass, which features Gregorian chant and involves the priest facing away from the congregation as a sign of reverence to God and priestly humility. Speaking to the Georgetown Hoya of the change, Fr. Stephen Fields, S.J., suggested that the more traditional Mass is popular among young people. He said, “My assumption is that, in a world of constant [noise], [young people] find that the contemplative silence of the Extraordinary Form nourishes their lives of prayer.”
Put more simply: We want less Kumbaya. More Panis Angelicus.
Young Catholics are also increasingly more open to and obedient to church teachings on moral issues such as contraception, abortion, and marriage.
In the wake of the Health and Human Services so-called “contraception mandate,” many rushed to point to a Guttmacher Institute study which found that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception.
Not only was the study widely rejected as faulty, but a study conducted in its wake at the Ethics and Public Policy Center found that the number of young practicing Catholic women (ages 18-34) who fully accept the church’s teaching on contraception is more than double that of their older female peers.
Recently, Catholics have come under increasing pressure to comply with laws that violate their beliefs. Laws, for example, that would require them to pay for abortifacient drugs or adopt children to gay parents. There are some who may think that resistance to such laws may be waning with a new generation of young Americans who appear to be the least religious in recorded history. But young Catholics, lay and religious, defy that trend, suggesting that the culture wars are far from over.
So to those who will scoff at the crowds of youth-group kids on the Mall today, take note: We are the future. And we are on fire for Jesus Christ and his church.