Many Catholics express concerns about young people being drawn to what they refer to as “new age” or “hippy” traditions, to Eastern spiritual practises or atheistic worldviews. As a Church community, maybe we should hit pause on the alarm about this and ask the basic question – why is this happening? Is it because the young people in your life are trying to drive you crazy? Because the devil told them to? Because they are just following the trend of what their friends are doing? Or, is it possible that many young people are drawn towards such practises because they are earnestly seeking something they haven’t found in their Catholic community? Or that they are repelled by harsh or judgmental misrepresentations of Church teaching? Or even that they have found something healthy about another religion or spiritual practise which is legitimately admirable?
Young people have identified certain gaps in what they are being taught by some representations of the Church and what they are seeing and experiencing in their day-to-day lives. If the Church doesn’t take steps to fill in those gaps, with reasonable, attuned answers, they will be filled in by the world instead – by social media platforms, by peers who are perhaps ignorant of or hostile towards religion, by all the chaos and noise of the reality that comes with the Contemporary Challenges. This is currently what’s happening.
Many times, young people are identifying something good and healthy in other spiritual practises that they are not getting from their Christian faith communities. Until the Church starts offering these good practises in a way that is attuned to this generation – community, peace, learning how to calm their bodies, how to tune into their own personal spiritual relationship – the young people of today will continue to drift towards other spiritual avenues or none, feeling misunderstood, out of step, or even unwelcome in the Catholic Church.
Many young people feel that the Church is simply irrelevant to them. They don’t necessarily hate it, but simply feel like it has nothing to do with them, that it has no bearing on the reality of their lives and cultural experiences, no relatability. Many of them cannot be blamed for feeling this way. There is a significant lack of attunement or investment into community or formation for young adults, which leads to a lack of young adults, which means that the young adults who are invested in their faith are frequently lacking and craving the fellowship which is so important for spiritual strength and growth.
So let’s change that. Let’s work towards a holistic integration of Church teaching with science, with cultural attunement and relevance, and of course, with love. Let’s up our game with regard to youth outreach and young adult ministry by standing strong in the most important tenets of Christianity (None of which involve the words “Hell” or “sin”), and providing the time and the space for young adults to make connections, and have conversations, and give them something a little more solid to belong to and identify with.