Forever young.

George Weigel described the “working document” (Instrumentum Laboris or “IL”) for the 2018 XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (the “Youth Synod”, currently underway in Rome) in this way:

“…a 30,000-plus-word brick: a bloated, tedious doorstop full of sociologese but woefully lacking in spiritual or theological insight. Moreover, and more sadly, the IL has little to say about “the faith” except to hint on numerous occasions that its authors are somewhat embarrassed by Catholic teaching—and not because that teaching has been betrayed by churchmen of various ranks, but because that teaching challenges the world’s smug sureties about, and its fanatical commitment to, the sexual revolution in all its expressions…”

William Kilpatrick sees it this way:

“…one gets the impression that the biggest challenge young people face in life is discovering their sexuality. …(T)he IL document suggests that the role of the Church is to listen and accompany, but not to teach. What the document authors envision is the “emergence of a new paradigm of religiosity” which is “not too institutionalized” but ‘increasingly liquid’..

Increasingly liquid’? Isn’t this just another way of saying ‘watered-down’? It’s a characteristic of youth—especially of the male variety—that they don’t want to be tied down. And that’s the appeal of this ever-changing liquid faith. It leaves you free to float around. The synod organizers understand this adolescent predisposition and in the IL document they cater to it shamelessly…

But religion is not a free-flowing, New Age, follow-your-bliss affair. The word “religion” is derived from the Latin “religare”—meaning “to bind fast.” At some point, youth needs to grow up. (my emphasis). And growing up in the faith means binding yourself to a set of beliefs and behaviors and, above all, to Christ…

Youth is not a state but a stage: today’s “young person” is tomorrow’s middle aged spread. To be sure, most of us want to retain physical youth – or, at least the ability to climb in and out of the car without too much fuss and bother – but who really wants to remain a mental 14 year old (or 19 year old, for that matter)? Most people, even most young people (at least the ones I know) want to grow up.

Yet, growing up – and I mean mental growing up – doesn’t just happen. There must be adults who behave as adults for youth to observe, and there must be instruction – clear, unambiguous instruction – from which youth may learn. Which brings us to the purpose of the Church: to teach. The obligation of the Church – or, to put a finer point on it, those men who have been entrusted with the role of leadership in the Church – is to ensure that the Church is doing everything possible to instruct clearly on our duties and obligations with respect to each other, and with respect to God. In this, these men (with occasional and notable exceptions) have failed miserably: they waffle, they dissemble, they issue increasingly long, verbose and impenetrable “documents” but they do not teach.

The Cardinal Newman Society has put out a commentary on the Synod entitled 7 Key Things Lacking in the Youth Synod. A few tidbits:

“…Astonishingly, the Synod’s working document places little emphasis on teaching young people the Truth of Christ—the liturgy, traditions, and doctrines that are the great treasures of the Church. Instead, it focuses on guiding them by personal example and nonjudgmental companionship.

Pope Benedict rightly lamented the “educational crisis” among young people who despair because they do not know Christ and His teachings. We cannot soft-pedal the Truth of the Gospel and leave young people drowning in the relativism of “liquid modernity.” (emphasis in original)…

The lives of many young Catholics have become fragmented, incoherent, and indifferent to truth and meaning (my emphasis). The Church needs to stand strong against today’s culture of dissent and radical autonomy, which corrupts the souls of our youth...”

I want to highlight this last paragraph. In my experience as a parent of six children, some of whom are now young adults and teenagers, this paragraph illustrates THE reason that young people leave the Church: the world has become “fragmented, incoherent and indifferent to truth and meaning”, and so has the Church. In short, the Church preaches nothing, teaches nothing, and has become simply irrelevant to them.

The Newman Society continues (emphases in original):

“…The Synod fathers would be wise to renew the Church’s commitment to authentic, faithful Catholic education. For decades, weak Catholic schools, colleges, and youth programs have failed to deeply form young people in knowledge of the Faith, tradition, moral discipline, virtue, and wisdom. Such formation should be a top priority for the Synod.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that the Church has every tool it needs to reach young people, and it has two thousand years of experience leading people, young and old, to Christ in very different cultures and historical realities. Catholicism works. We don’t need “new” and softer approaches; to the contrary, we need greater commitment to educating and forming young people well. We hope and pray that the Synod fathers will take heed and avoid the easy temptation to simply flow with the times.

Sadly, from what little I have seen of the Synod so far, it appears, at best, pathetic. And stupid.

In the best of times and places good adult examples and sound instruction have been rare. Today it is nearly non-existent. It is hard enough going through adolescence (the memory of my own is a hazy and painful blur), I cannot imagine what it must be like for young people growing up today, drowning in the cesspool of social media, with nothing, not even a Church one can respect, to grab on to. How on earth does a young one get all those people in her head to get along?

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As cute as the movie was (and is), it takes more than a movie. Much more.

Curate, ut valeatis.

PS: An article from the Newman Society regarding “Authentic Accompaniment” is found here.