Worship in an age of distractions (Conclusion)
SOMETIMES, not taking young people’s observations seriously could result in serious consequences. The example of Ronnie (Part 3) shows how circumstances could lead a devoted young adult away from his Catholic roots and into dalliances with breakaway religions. Due to a difference in perceptions—the priest apparently saw Ronnie’s concern about the flawed projection at Mass as trivial, while for Ronnie it distracted from the solemnity of the celebration—one potentially committed member of the parish now has one foot in a protestant church. Will he eventually join his cousins? We hope not, but who can blame him—aren’t older people (especially anointed men) supposed to know better?
Ronnie’s case may be specific but it’s not isolated. Elsewhere young people are being lured away from the “boring religion of their childhood” and towards other religions, belief systems, or even cults where they think they’ll find what they’re looking for.
Cecille was born and raised Catholic—the pride of her grandmother who was a faithful daughter of the Church—until she reached her 20s when she became a Baptist missionary. She admits she left the Church because she “lost the feeling”—what used to be special, the Sunday Mass, had turned into just another weekly obligation grudgingly met. On the other hand, a former college mate’s church offered a sense of intimacy, “like you’re with best friends when you’re there,” she said. Soon she found meaning in “living with strangers in a foreign culture and leading souls to Christ.” She married a fellow missionary against her family’s wishes.
Rina was a dedicated parish choir member when the temptation to dabble in the occult proved too strong. She enjoyed “learning about new things”, beginning with automatic writing and the Ouija board. Later experimenting with astral projection, mental telepathy, transcendental meditation, tarot card reading, past life regression, kabbala, and crystal healing, Rina has become a fan of Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Lobsang Rampa. However, she still writes “Roman Catholic” as her religion in job application forms, and on the rare days she hears Mass, (“to ask for favors from Mama Mary”), she chooses to do so in Baclaran or in malls where she’s not bound to bump into former choir mates.
While I do value surveys and empirical research done here and abroad on young people’s views about their Catholic faith, I count as equally important anecdotal evidence in painting a picture of the youth’s involvement in the Church. Person-to-person encounters and disclosures must not be dismissed as mere trivia or trumpery for they contain thoughts and emotions the young persons would not readily reveal even to their confessors. When entrusted with such confidential matters I listen hard and store my findings somewhere in the backburner of my mind.
In an effort to feel the public pulse I do what I’d call “constructive eavesdropping”—instead of driving I take the bus— you’d be surprised how much you can pick up from strangers’ conversations during a bus ride to Tagaytay. I make time to “rub asses with the masses”—to engage taxi drivers in big talk (on burning issues like abortion and euthanasia), to elicit a comment or two (about divorce) from vendors in populous places like Quiapo or Divisoria, salesladies in Carriedo, waitresses in Binondo. On the road, while waiting for the traffic light to turn I chat with the sampaguita vendors coming to me—they will become tomorrow’s mothers, but they know absolutely nothing of the dangers of the Reproductive Health law. After a talk I once delivered to graduating high school students, I casually encouraged them to air their thoughts about the same law and discovered that while they have a fair knowledge of it, they do not understand why the Church is so against it. At a party of mixed guests I sat among the young teenagers and was surprised to see a colegiala in tears because the Church wouldn’t allow same sex marriage. She said, sobbing: “Me mga kaibigan akong gay. Bakit hindi natin sila payagang magpakasal? Wala ba silang karapatang lumigaya?” (I have gay friends. Why don’t we allow them to get married? Don’t they have a right to be happy too?)
Through the years, a comment here, a complaint there—all strung together they form the writing on the wall that I as a God-loving and God-fearing person must take care to read. The message bears a huge challenge for the Church. When a young person who stops going to Church says “It’s not for me”, the truth he or she is not saying is “I do not understand what’s going on. The priest talks above my head, the hymns make me sleep, nobody welcomes anybody. It’s a waste of time.”
Picture a female 20-something Catholic employee having a lunch break with non-Catholic co-workers: they’re talking about confession. The non-Catholics attack the idea, “Why do you need a priest for that? You can confess straight to God” and then quote bible verses to support their claim. The young lady doesn’t know what to say; nor is she armed with an explanation when the others ask “Why do you say the thing you eat is the body of Christ? It’s just flour and water!” How much of such harassment can she take before she begins to question her own faith, gives in to the conviction of heretics, and like Ronnie, Cecille, Rina, walk over to the other side of the fence?
Clearly, ignorance is an issue. What the Church—the repository of truth and wisdom—is feeding its young members is not enough to sustain their faith. Allow me to recall something that came right down my alley this morning, at Mass (feast of St. Irenaeus, 2nd century Church Father). A guest priest in our parish shared in his homily about his crisis as a seminarian which resonated with my notes for this article. He said he almost left the seminary due to overwhelming doubts bred by the influence of other religions. “But studying Church history and the teachings of the Church Fathers like St. Irenaeus, I came to see the truth that our Church is the true Church, founded by Christ Himself and led by a succession of Popes since St. Peter. I was ignorant! That’s why other religions sounded so convincing! If it were not for my patient teachers and superiors I wouldn’t be here standing before you now.”
But what about the young people who will never benefit from the richness of seminaries’ libraries and faculty? Our Church seems like a palace overflowing with life-sustaining alimentation but all we are giving our young people—the future of the Church—is candy. If their faith is to grow amidst the onslaught of deceit and distractions in the modern world, we must acknowledge their hunger for God. Let us not underestimate their capacity for learning and transcendence. It’s about time we fed them with the real nourishment they unwittingly crave. And we will do it—unless, of course, the Princes of the Church themselves believe candy is all they need. And that’s the truth.