The church young Catholics want

MAX ROSSI REUTERS Pope Benedict XVI walks past a figurine of baby Jesus as he leads the Christmas Mass in … Continued



Pope Benedict XVI walks past a figurine of baby Jesus as he leads the Christmas Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican December 24, 2011. REUTERS/Max Ross

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.

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  • Diann

    Annie says that it feels like young Catholics are alone in their desire for dialogue on the hard questions that face us as Catholic Christians. I want to assure her that there are a great many of us, no longer young, who were thrilled with Vatican II and long for that spirit, for openness to wrestling with the modern world. We want the church you want!

  • IAmBrianBoru

    I am a little mystified by the section talking about inclusion. This is hardly the first time in history that homosexuality has been at issue with the Church’s teachings. The problem I think, is that those who want to hear what the Church has to say on the topic want to hear it as long as it sounds like what they want to hear. In other words, they don’t like the answer.

    The Church never wavers in her teaching or theology. Sure there have been problems brought about by clergy whether they be priests of bishops, but those problems are not representative of the Church’s teachings. They are actually against what the Church teaches. Human frailty is to be expected as even Judas, one of Jesus’s very own hand-picked disciples was ultimately a betrayor as well.

  • Theresa McDonald Dowd

    Jesus preached to everyone about God’s Love and to “go and sin no more”. He didn’t say, “Hey, everybody, do whatever feels good to you!”
    The Catholic Church is alive and well, despite what some people will try to say. She gets Her hands super dirty, helping the poor with food and medical care. If you don’t know that, you need to open up your eyes.
    “Dialogue” is a word that means “give me what I want”. God will give you what you need, not necessarily what you want.

  • rinva

    “the new translation” is your concern and focus. Really? That is the problem youth have with the church? This makes the author sound like one of those who refuse to give up the “Holy Ghost” when it was updated to “Holy Spirit”. This seems like an old person’s arguement.

    But then I read….
    “Jesus was incredible, right? Why is it that we so rarely hear about that?”

    Sorry if these old stories about God becomming Man is not incredible enough. Not sure what could be more incredible. The Gospel is read every weekend, and weekday.

    To read these incredible stories takes three years of thoughtful patience there is so much incredible going on. I guess compared to tweets, what previous generations thought was incredible, water to wine, raising the dead, challanging the religous authorities, radical forgiveness, calls to repent from evil, acceptance of sacrifice of self, etc. is are not incredible enough, likley even boring? It must be someone elses fault, we need some entertainment.

    I think the author really does not know what incredile is, she may mean somethig that is emotionally relavant or emotionally approachable or emotionally charged for her, she simply does not define what emotion the Gospels when read and discussed are failing to elicit from her.

    Of course these does not even slightly seem like a form of modern narcissism to me.

  • Mari Angeni

    By this article, It kinda sounds as though the author doesn’t actually know what the church teaches. I hope as she discovers more, she will also find the peace and excitement that gives. We were meant for so much more!

  • TMO

    I worked in Catholic College ministry for several years. Orthodox Catholic organizations, whether it be religious orders (Nashville Dominicans) or missionary organizations (FOCUS), are growing amazingly quickly.

    The Catholic outreach program I worked at grew (and continues to grow) by about 25% a year. Young people who truly engage the culture, rather than submit to it are finding their home in the Catholic Church. That doesn’t mean we don’t face the tough issues, but faithful Catholics have nothing to fear in the modern world, and much to offer it.

  • Heather42

    I’m 24 years old and Catholic, so I guess that makes me “a young Catholic”. Unlike Ms. Selak, I happen to like and be grateful for the revised translation of the liturgy; and while I am female and have gay friends and family, I not only accept my Church’s teachings on homosexuality and on (the impossibility of) female ordination, but am grateful to the Church for continuing to hold to the truth in the face of massive cultural opposition.

    I spend a fair amount of time with the homeless and severely mentally ill, and I would say they are more marginalized by far than women or those who identify as homosexual. Ms. Selak uses Jesus’ “inclusive ministry” as an excuse to bring up gender issues while ignoring the poor and disabled. To me this suggests that she is more interested in expounding the concerns of the secular culture than in imitating Jesus.

    My personal “wants” for the Church are significant only in so far as they correspond to what God wants for the Church. But since I’m being encouraged to announce them, here’s what I want: a Church that demonstrates, by words and action and reverent liturgy, a deep love of and faith in the transcendent and all-holy Trinity.

    Ms. Selak does not speak for me.

  • sjmb


    I am a 25 year old Catholic woman, and I love the Faith. Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ is the Truth, and the Truth will set you free… freedom from “Morals Determined by Popular Vote” is a particularly choice blessing.

    To the author: I am so sorry that you do not see the truth of our Lord as He intends it, and I encourage you to give orthodoxy a chance… your heart, nay your whole life, will be set afire with love

  • tieege

    Dear Annie, After reading the comments below, I felt compelled to tell you that each of your points are extremely relevant and necessary actions if our beloved Catholic Church is going to be the light is must be in this very dark world. I, too, am a lay minister in the Catholic Church (for almost four decades). Your perspective gives me hope and encouragement. Keep writing, we need your vision.

  • tieege

    So happy to know that you know what the Lord wants. Not!!!!! If you did, you would not have so rudely responded to this writer. It is obvious you do not know the Lord. You better call the fire department and have them put out your fire. It’s not the fire you think it is.

  • leibowde84

    Only a vain person thinks that they “know” God’s will better than anyone else. The whole point is that its a mystery. Over-confidence of the religious will cause more people to leave the church.

  • Hoary

    What utter tripe. Madame Salak: The resaon the church is in such bad shape is rooted in your kind of thinking. It’s a shame you are a lay minister who presumebly have some influence in the affairs of the church at least at the local level. A true vat2 catholic to be sure.

  • Hoary

    I think Madame Salak would make a fine Episcopalian.

  • Prophorikos

    I wonder how old Selak is? I am irked by all these old and middle-aged ‘Catholic’ editorialists who presume to know what we, the Catholic youth – want and squawk about Catholicism becoming ‘irrelevant.’

    The only way the Church will be rendered irrelevant to society is to comprimise its values and surrender to the secularism that surrounds it. So many liberal demoninations have done have seen nothing but decline, Catholicism will always be relevant when it holds to its God-given mission and truth, especially when those tenants stand in opposition to the world around it.

    Do you even want to know what we young Catholics want? We want a Church that is in this world, but not of this world. We do not want a cozy, feel-good liberalism that our parent’s generation so readily embraced. We want a return orthodoxy and tradition. We want to answer the calling that is higher than this world, not to content ourselves with values that compromise themselves to world around us. We want a religion that challenges us to strive towards a holy life in a world very much opposed to such a thing; we want a tradition that points towards the otherworldly.

    Give me a Latin Tridentine Mass anyday over water-down liberalism. Your generation’s time to steer Catholicism is over – the reins are now being handed over to us – the young, orthodox Catholics to carry the Gospel in a world that sorely needs to hear it.

    Its time for a new Counter-Reformation.

  • Brennan Doherty

    Absolutely Prophorikos, the world, especially the youth, hunger for beauty and transcendence, as can be found in the traditional Latin Mass, and not the compromising tripe and banality they’ve encountered too often.

  • Ceitagh

    LinkedIn says that she started college the same time I did, so I am assuming she is 30ish. That said, she does do a great impression of the rhetoric of two generations ago!

    Judging from the experiences that have prompted young people of my aquaintance who converted to Catholicism, or entered seminary, or joined religious orders, the Church young Catholics are able to become enthusiastic about is a Church that offers clear moral guidance, has understandable and consistent moral principles, exemplifies continuity with the past and offers stability in the future, appeals to ideals, and continually calls for deeper engagement with Christ.

    Sure, there are plenty of young people who will say that they want all of the things that Ms. Salak mentions. But we can look to other denominations to see if such measures really do increase youth engagement with faith, and the declining numbers of active episcopalians and ECLA lutherans does not exactly support her conclusions.

  • Ceitagh

    Which is probably why there are so many actually young Catholics here in the comments box saying that this column sounds incredibly….old.

    The parishes and religious orders where this ‘vision’ was pushed the hardest 40 years ago are dying or dead. A Church that looks exactly like the world – which is really what all this talk of ‘inclusion’ and ‘openness’ boil down to – has nothing to offer the world. And so people stop coming, and those that do have no fire, no passion, and no power to transform anything or anyone.

  • Ceitagh

    Ms. Selak,

    As I read your column (and I admit I am reading it in the context of many similar voices from older ‘spirit of Vatican II’ Catholics, so I apologize if I misunderstand), you want the Church to change to embrace the moral relativism of the modern age, while retaining those elements of her teaching that fit in with modern sensibilities and serve social justice concerns focussed on life in this world (rather than the next).

    My question to you, and to all that feel like you do, is why it that you want to take my Church away from me (since there is no other Church that can offer me the continuity, teaching authority, and Petrine leadership of the Catholic Church), rather than choose from the multitude of other Christian denominations that fit your description?

    From my perspective, it’s a bit like thinking of yourself as a symphony lover, but demanding that the symphony replace the flutes with electric guitars and play the music you like. After all, you grew up going to the symphony and you shouldn’t have to go somewhere else just because you think modern rock music is better. So you lobby to have the symphony sell off its flutes and french horns and violas (the Church’s patrimony) to buy guitars and drums so it will sound more like what you hear when you turn on the radio. You want the symphony to be more musically ‘open’ and point to declining symphony attendance as a reason, all the while oblivious to the needs of those who are passionate about the rich traditions of the symphony and who will have no where left to go if you did (against all odds) manage to change it.

    And all along, you could have what you want at dozens of music venues.

    So – are you really oblivious to your insensitivity to those you would displace? Or do you just think that we don’t deserve to have a Church to call our home?

  • PCheney

    Tieege, and Leidowde84:

    Both of your counter arguments to sjmb are logical fallacies of the same type: Attacking the person.

    Nothing you’ve said actually refutes anything she has said. How about the idea that she has communicated that is certainly worth consideration, and I quote:

    “freedom from ‘Morals Determined by Popular Vote’ is a particularly choice blessing.”

    Furthermore, there is nothing particularly ‘rude’ about responding to a false and destructive idea with the word “Fooeeeyy.” After all, Jesus called out hypocrites and called them a brood of vipers… and I’ll have to say that it was a kindness to them, even if it could be considered rude for a hypersensitive PC generation. Error is the real disservice.

    If someone falsely represented you in court you might have a similar reaction – or worse – now this is not court, but there sjmb is claiming false representation on the part of Annie – and she has some evidence = being a young female catholic herself.

  • PCheney

    Yes, we are meant for so much more. I graduated from the same college the same year and same major as Annie. I know in part the environment that brings forth these ideas. Unfortunately the Church Teachings, in all of their sophistication and theological and philosophical tradition is not well represented in this school – not while I was there. In fact, to find it, you need to look yourself – and even then there is little guidance from the faculty. There is some value in the education I recieved, but it is not the kind that brings with it solid understanding of the church teachings – and I’m afraid that this is represented in this article.

    A few points: The church is not so democratic by nature that “the church young catholics want” is a driving motivation. The church (all of us – pope to 7 day old baptized baby) is the bride of Christ. Christ has called us into existence (this is where the term Church, ecclesia, comes from). We are given a gift, a treasure, and a mission. It was given. It was not, on the other hand, created by us. We do not have the power or purpose to create the church we want. If we did, it would fade with every time bound fad…

    The church is founded on the teaching and witness of the Apostles. Theology is simply the unpacking of this revelation and developing it into the future. We cannot redifine the gospel through cunning or persuasive or partisian theological ideologies.

    The good news… Christ offers more then simply ‘promotions’ for women to the priesthood, or false and uncharitable inclusion for those suffering from same-sex attraction (a naturally disordered, though not always inherently sinful state). Jesus offers the truth, what will give deep joy and happiness – He knows (IS) the human person, our ultimate goal in God, how to get there, and the dangers on the way. And He has entrusted this revelation and proclamation to the church… it is evendent also that young catholics are getting THIS! To the glory of our good God and Father.