Among the many issues that critics of Pope Francis took with Christus vivit, the apostolic exhortation that emerged from last year’s Youth Synod, a number focused on how the exhortation treated the fact that many teenagers and young adults have serious qualms about Church teachings and practices. Pope Francis and the Synod participants clearly realized that the more politically controversial aspects of Catholic belief present serious obstacles to communion for young people not predisposed to those beliefs. Thus, they observed that one does not “have to accept fully all the teachings of the Church to take part in certain of our activities for young people. It is enough to have an open mind towards all those who have the desire and willingness to be encountered by God’s revealed truth” (CV 234).

Without discussing the merits of any one way of handling specific issues like the issues of human sexuality mentioned in CV 81, I would like to share some of my observations, at the age of 26, of the way people my age approach religion in general. I hope that this will provide some evidence, even if only anecdotal, of the overwhelming “desire and willingness to be encountered by God’s revealed truth” that I see lurking behind the apparent superficiality and moral laxity of Millennial culture.

Currently, all of my close Catholic friends are people who have come to the Church or returned to the Church as adults, and none of them make picture-perfect orthodox and pious Catholics of the kind that in an ideal world we would all aspire to be. One attends Mass every week but isn’t sure he actually believes in God. Another is a wholehearted believer but doesn’t have much fire in the belly for the controversial social teachings that animated the John Paul II and Benedict XVI pontificates. A third is by and large orthodox but by her own admission takes an oppositional attitude towards God in her prayer life. And yet all of these people have a strong desire for participation in and communion with the Church as the visible structure of a divine presence in the world.

Someone I sometimes talk to online practices a reconstructed form of the religion of pre-Christian Ireland. I also have friends of friends who claim to worship the Olympian gods: Zeus, Hera, Artemis, etc. These people have a robust faith in the divine and the supernatural and most of them are not actively anti-Christian but they feel alienated from traditional monotheistic faith for reasons that are not mine to disclose. For alternatives they have plumbed past that tradition into the almost-forgotten Antique past.

I have a master’s degree in theology from a mainline Protestant seminary that had a large contingent of seminarians who rejected many historical Christian teachings after having been seriously wronged due to their gender, race, or sexuality in their orthodox home parishes. My friends and acquaintances in my master’s program also included a Buddhist folk singer and a Jewish humanist who aspired to be a hospital chaplain. Theologically speaking I was decidedly on the conservative flank of this student body but for much of my time there I was well below average in terms of my commitment to my own religious practice. I almost never prayed.

A number of other people I know and am friends with aren’t in any sense religious and would probably actively resist the suggestion that they should become religious.  In some circles this is the position that one is socially expected to hold. These are the infamous “nones” and they are, for the most part, neither spiritually insensitive brutes nor insufferably enlightened self-anointed rationalists. The increasing popularity of astrology among younger adults should on its own be enough to demonstrate that most of the “nones” are not actually reductionist-materialist Richard Dawkins devotees. Moreover, twentysomething and thirtysomething “nones” are some of the most moralistic people I have ever met, even though they are advocating moral positions often very different from those advanced by historical Christianity.

I recently attended the first Mass celebrated by a newly ordained priest three or four years older than me. In his homily he quoted, at some length, a song by the band Paramore, a pop-punk group fronted by a woman named Hayley Williams. Paramore formed in 2005 and has slowly backed away from its original Christian artistic identity since that time. A cultural and artistic product of Millennial religious ambivalence reentered the Church from the mouth of a young priest who probably spent almost as much time in his high school years watching music videos on YouTube as I did.

I would not dream of suggesting that the Church should simply jettison its doctrines to appeal to new demographics or that we should replace Ralph Vaughan Williams with Hayley Williams in our hymnals. The experience of mainline Protestantism in North America and Western Europe shows that this does not work anyway. There is an internet meme showing a middle-aged Steve Buscemi walking down a high school hallway wearing a backwards baseball cap with a skateboard slung over his back. “How do you do, fellow kids?” he asks. This is the image a young person gets from an institution like the Catholic Church uncritically adopting the trappings of youth culture without doing anything to encourage us to reflect on ourselves or reassess our own ways of doing things. It makes for a pathetic and even insulting sight. A Catholicism with staying power with those of my generation with whom there is staying power to be had (“whoever has ears to hear, let him hear”) might in fact look much more “hardcore” culturally or liturgically or politically than I or other Where Peter Is contributors would prefer—then again, it might not.

I hope that these impressions or snapshots of young adult religious life show a greater receptivity to the supernatural and the divine among people my age than is often supposed. People who feel at home in the queer-astrology and boutique-witchcraft world are not desperate for Good News quite as overtly as was the ancient world with its “unknown God” and longed-for savior, but part of the “seeker” mindset is the awareness that something is missing. The Church can and should respond to this by proclaiming that God always offers us more and more, and that if we desire to be encountered by truth, it is God’s truth that is inexhaustible.

Image: Hayley Williams in concert in 2017. From Wikimedia Commons.

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Nathan Turowsky went to elementary school in Vermont, high school in New Jersey, and college in Massachusetts, where he now lives. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in social services.

Shepherds of the Young

16 Responses

  1. jong says:

    The Youth Synod for Vocational Discernment was widely criticize by the church critics & enemies last year even before it start thereby acting without prudence and committing rash judgement which is a mortal sin against 8th commandments. They also now doing the same criticism and rash judgement again on the upcoming Amazonian Synod., the Rad Trads and Dissenters really are blinded by their arrogance, pride & disobedience to the Living Church Magisterium creating a parallel magisterium.

    Last year criticism had been proven wrong after the outcome of Final Document on Youth Synod. As Pope Francis chided during the closing of the Synod, “this document will be read by a few but will be criticize by many”.

    When will the Rad Trads and Dissenters learn the lesson that prudence is needed for a good judgement?
    I don’t think they can, as it appears they still ignores Pope Francis call for them to seek conversion to become docile to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
    Without the Sevenfold Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the dissenters cannot understand the Wisdom of the Church inspired by the Holy Spirit thru the Vicar of Christ.

    WPI site is very fortunate to have only few critics commenting as WPI can easily refute their embraced errors & confusions easily, while the Rad Trads channel comment sections are full of evil languages and hatred towards Pope Francis. But the sad truth is, the Rad Trads channel are imploring their viewers to pray the Holy Rosary, attend Latin Masses and even encourage to fast & pray but at the same time encourages also to embrace the evil attitude of “recognize and resist the Pope”. What can we say to the likes of Dr.Marshall , John Westen, Anthony of Return to Tradition, Charles of Watchdog for Truth, M. Matt and M.Voris, etc who both utters from the same mouth blessings and curses. St.James reminded us in scriptures;
    “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
    With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”(James3:8-10)

    It’s no wonder why Cardinal Oulette reminded Ab.Vigano by this important words; “How can you celebrate Holy Mass and pronounced the Name of the Holy Father whom you slander? And Ab.Vigano is saying he always include Pope Francis in his prayer, can both “prayer & slander” comes from the same mouth? indeed both “blessings & curses” comes from the same mouth who resembles the fork tongue of the serpent, who utters to deceive by mixing truth with intentional lies to poison the mind.
    Even praying the rosary is questionable too when one harbors in his/her heart disobedience to the Pope, as an attack on Pope Francis is a direct attack on the Blue Mantle of Our Lady who is protecting the Holy Father.
    Sadly, this is the bad attitude of most of the Rad Trads as they are praying the Holy Rosary, attending Latin Masses, even praying & fasting but at the same time attacking the dignity of the Vicar of Christ. How can they blindly embraced this kind of evil attitude the “recognize and resist the Pope”, and do all the pious acts at the same time? This is the greatest confusions of our times. My Jesus mercy.

  2. Marie says:

    As a parent of millennial and post millennials, this strikes a nerve. A generation who seeks answers to their obvious desire to understand the world around them, but have been grounded only in the material world. To imagine there are young adults who have had twelve years of Catholic education, yet call, and pay their ‘spiritual adviser’, an astrologist to ask them if they should change programs, or if their girlfriend is the right one for them. This is not uncommon.

    Your wide ranching examples show the disconnect between generations and our failure to focus on faith and justice together. Justice being our response to the disenfranchised among us, who young adults recognize and desire change for in this world. While it is natural to question in order to develop a deeper understanding, it is tragic that not nearly enough of our priests have reached out to those seeking answers, only focusing on those who show up at Church every Sunday. When was the last time you saw a priest in public, or on a bus? The same can be said for Catholic parents, we have not done enough (myself included)

    Sadly, I think this has been generations in the making. Pope Francis’s call for clergy to go out among the people is so needed today, to answer their questions and concerns, and to listen. I truly hope it’s heard.

    Great article.

    • Jude says:

      It is not difficult to imagine that a person spent 12 years in Catholic education and came out a pagan. Not at all difficult. Add 4 or more years at a Catholic college and they’ll be even worse.

      That’s the state of things. That’s what happens when you discard 2000 years of faith to be the guy with the backward cap and skate board, and that’s what we’ve been doing for decades.

      • Nathan Turowsky says:

        Hi Jude,

        No, it’s not difficult to imagine, but the points I was making in this post aren’t supposed to be comments on Catholic education, of which I have no experience (my educational trajectory went public elementary school->secular private high school->state university for undergrad->primarily-Methodist divinity school). I do know plenty of people who went to colleges like BC or Georgetown and have left or all-but-left the Church; I also know plenty who were confirmed and strengthened in their faith through Catholic higher education (including, yes, by Jesuits), and if I were you I wouldn’t disrespect these people or their teachers/professors by suggesting that they’ve “discarded” the faith.

      • Jude says:

        It is not really my point that they discarded the faith, as much as that they (the ones to whom it applies) were likely never given the real faith to begin with.

        The ones who I would say discarded the faith were those who, a couple of generations ago, came to influence and were too eager for renovation (to the point of carelessness)

      • jong says:

        discard 2000 years of faith? really…? the 2000 years of Faith of the Church is not contained in a stagnant Tradition it is alive and it is dynamic as it is guided by the Holy Spirit who moves wherever it wills.

        The problem if we embraced the confused interpretations of the Dubia Cardinals & Dissenting Bishops & Theologians that the Vicar of Christ must be bound and submit to whatever interpretations the Dissenters upheld is a recipe for disaster, why? it is not the Catholic Church established by Christ. The dissenters must assent to the FAITH of the Church united to the Pope and it is not the other way around. The dissenters whose mind & heart oppose the Pope’s teachings is no longer one with Christ they are outside the Church. Read 1Corinthian1:10

        The 2000 years of Faith that you are talking about will change to face the challenges of times as the Holy Spirit inspires the Church to follow Her vision in the end times and the Church is guided by the Spirit of Truth it cannot err in teaching all the faithfuls. It is a disaster to put our trust & obedience to those who project themselves as more Catholic than the Pope, for me it is the craziest thing to embraced. why?
        Only the Vicar of Christ hold the Keys to the Kingdom of God(Unam Sanctam & Matthew16:19) and it is only the Vicar of Christ whom Jesus promised His powerful protection that his faith will not fail.(Luke22:32), all the Dissenters can be deceive by Satan to fall into error but not the Pope.

        All the confusions or the smoke of satan around us since Vatican II started is designed by God’s Permissive Will, on what purpose?
        To test our humility, obedience and trust to the Church united to the Pope because God will allow satan to establish a counterfeit catholic church for those who will embraced “pride & disobedience”. Satan already prepares the accommodation of the “prideful & disobedient souls” who will prefer to leave the Vatican II Church the True Catholic Church.

        @jude there is a counterfeit catholic church and it is not the Vatican II Church as the Rad Trads keep on spreading the lies & deceptions of satan painting a bad Church and the Pope to destroy it but it wont succeed. (Matthew16:18).
        There is only One Holy, Catholic, Apostlic Church and St.Ambrose left us his important words to identify it…and it is the name of this Catholic site WPI…”Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia, Ibi Deus”…outside of Vatican II Church is the counterfeit church establish by satan as it only embraces chosen Tradition suited thru their assertions & interpretations. Do not be deceive. Stay in the ark. My Jesus mercy.

      • Marie says:

        My point was not to lay blame, but to acknowledge the serious disconnect. The youth want and need the injustices in this world addressed and once they are, it will be a lot easier for them to embrace a faith that connects all the dots.

        We are not blameless bystanders in this mess, we are active participants and we have an obligation to listen to the concerns of our youth. They, more than anyone expose where we’ve errored or fallen short.

      • Jude says:


        if you are saying that the church in our lifetime (that is to say the last 50 or so years) has not done a woefully pathetic job of passing on the faith, of teaching in schools, in academia, in the parishes and even in the seminaries, then I think you’re wrong. I would even say that I can’t take you seriously.

        Even pope Francis, whose wisdom you would not doubt, seemed to be saying as much, at least when he said that a majority of marriages are null because the spouses don’t know what marriage is. i.e. they don’t know the faith. (It is not their fault if it was never given to them)

        Someone somewhere at some point decided to dumb things down, or make things cool, not just in regard to marriage, but to much else. They did not simply update, or enhance with a Vatican II twist. They are the ones who discarded the faith for novelty or for comfort, or for popularity… whatever the reason. (I would think that there are a lot of theories as to why this happened in the church when it did)

        A handful of people debating the nuances of AL or the wisdom of it does not change the fact that much of the church is not properly formed for marriage. When the youth look to people who were not well formed (through no fault of their own) for inspiration, they will not get any.

      • Marie says:

        Jude- Many of us are frustrated, but in reality, it is not the Church that is the problem, other than she struggles to deal with the fallout of our imperfections. These problems are present in our priests and bishops as well. We all have had very different experiences within our family group. Your formation begins there, and your witness to marriage and the faith starts and continues with this foundation. Our
        priests and bishops have the same foundation.

        We all recognize the problem with broken families, but let us not forget that plenty of people did not grow up in a family where their parents were shining examples of the beauty of marriage. I think the older we get, the more grateful we are if we were fortunate enough to come from a home with parents who loved and respected each other; were equal partners. It is the biggest lens from which we view the world.

        As far as Catholic education, of all my siblings and children, all of us having both public Catholic grade school, and private Catholic high school, it is my oldest sister and my youngest child who had by far the best Catholic education. (Different grade schools, same girls and boys high schools across the generations). Often it is the principal, president and board members at the time that determines the Catholic focus. My youngest child’s recent education at a Jesuit boy’s school was fantastic, I would gladly repeat another 5 very stressful years of robbing Peter to pay Paul to get him through. I only wish my other children would have had an equal Catholic experience. It was my wish for them, and it saddens me.

        It is not all about knowledge of the faith (although we must be taught), it is about living the faith, and being an example of what is preached. I think this is key to where we are at today, and probably where you and I part ways. I love Pope Francis for what he asks of us and his push for us to live the faith by interaction with one another, not through isolation or by interacting only with those whose share our views. He is right. We have not done enough to bring people on board, we have been content with our own beliefs, and fighting those we oppose rather than embracing them. We blame the Church for the ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ Catholic divisions, but have we really done enough to be witnesses of the faith, or just preachers demanding adherence to the rules?

        I do not see knowledge of the faith but rejection of the Vicar of Christ conducive to a kind, peaceful unified world or to living the word of God. Our pope is a blessing . He is calling us to fill in the gaps between what we know, and what we must do to bring unity, by bringing those who don’t know or understand on board. That is best done by leading by example, much the same way parents who represent marriage in such a positive light do for their children.

    • Nathan Turowsky says:

      Hi Marie,

      Spiritual and psychological disconnections or even enmities between the old and the young are a great tragedy, and are another subject that CV treats at some length (if I continue developing an interpretation of CV on WPI, that might be the aspect of it I focus on next). Unfortunately, our culture often encourages this mindset, which you see in ways ranging from the dismissive way many older people talk about student debt, to the uncaring way many younger people talk about loneliness and ill-health in old age, to the concept of named, delineated generations (Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, etc.) itself. It’s one of many ways in which a post-Christian, post-materialist, post-truth, post-everything culture divides and isolates its inhabitants and tries to prevent many of us from ever really getting to know or love other people. I admire the concern and love you express for your children. Thank you for your kind, insightful comment.

  3. Chris dorf says:

    Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ

    • Nathan Turowsky says:

      Hi Chris,

      I’m aware of this and I think it’s a very serious problem, far more serious than most other forms of theological or moral dissent. Thank you for the comment.

      • carn says:

        What might this even a more severe problem could be that of that one-third a considerable part are those whom you at WPI berate for not accpeting how wonderful and sensible everything Pope Francis says is.

        For example i would guess that the share of EWTN watchers among those believing that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ, is higher than among catholics in general. An EWTN watchers are probably more sceptical about Pope Francis.

      • Nathan Turowsky says:

        Hi carn,

        I know you’re being sarcastic, but yes, the fact that Catholics who have orthodox theologies of the sacraments, Scripture, etc. are disproportionately likely to engage in intrigue and conspiracy-mongering against the current Pope does aggravate the problem. Although I definitely don’t think we should conflate your typical EWTN viewer or Register reader who happens not to think Francis is a very good Pope (I’m happy to admit that many such people are probably way better Catholics than I am!) with, say, the Open Letter signatories or the good people at Church Militant and LifeSiteNews.

      • carn says:

        @Nathan Turowsky

        Sorry, if that sounded sarcastic; it was an attempt to ensure you know whom i mean.

        “Although I definitely don’t think we should conflate”

        I intended to express that i see possibility, not that it is a fact.

        It would be hard to estimate, as there are no polls – as far as i know – that check for mass attendance, believe in various faith elements like the eucharist and attitude towards the various inner Church “discussions”.

        But lifesitenews and the official website of the US bishops are neck to nech in reach:

        in various stats.

        And ncresgister has far less reach than LSN:

        Vatican News is behind LSN even globally and is in the US irrelevant compared to LSN:

        LSN also beats the non-catholic oriented direct “competitor” lifenews:

        Of course, that are only online stats. And we miss the information how many catholics are among LSN audience; but i guess not few, cause they often have catholic specific stories.

        But the online stats hint at the possibility that a lot of catholics in US fully on board with the teaching about abortion – which might be correlated with accepting other general Church teaching (*) – are at least interested in reading coverage of Pope Francis comprising “conservative” “criticism” against Pope Francis.

        And my personal experience is that those who do not kneel willingly during consecration although physically able to are seldom fully on board with Church teaching on abortion.

        So my guess – and that is “guess”, as i lack conclusive evidence – is that the percentage of Catholics both accepting Church teaching on eucharist and not having attitudes towards Pope Francis, which WPI would consider problematic, could be small.

  4. Brian martin says:

    “the 2000 years of Faith of the Church is not contained in a stagnant Tradition it is alive and it is dynamic as it is guided by the Holy Spirit who moves wherever it wills.”
    I believe that this is the most important comment in this thread. My observation is that there is a segment of the Church that very closely resembles the fundamentalist thinking that I left behind when I became Catholic. It is all about “right and wrong, black and white, either/or” It is all about “we know the exact right way to get to Heaven, and if you say these prayers, do these particular acts, stand a very particular way during mass, listen to these particular Catholic speakers” etc etc, you will be saved. We had “Parish Mission” in which the mission leader in his homily, used rhetorical tricks to walk people down a road where he would say something and asked people to raise their hands if they agreed…the first several being very agreeable things that Catholics believe. Then when people were used to agreeing, the last thing was basically a heretical idea, and people raised their hands to agree. Then he told them that they had just agreed to a heresy, and that was why people should attend the next 3 nights of his talks, because he had a “secret” that he was going to reveal.
    I was “required” to take my daughter to the first night as part of religious ed. It was basically a fundamentalist revival meeting (with a sprinkling of Catholic verbiage) with a faux altar call thrown in at the end. The entire message was come tomorrow night and the next night and I will teach you my secret. Oh, and he threw in the statement that he “knew that the people who were not in attendance were mostly not people on fire with the spirit, unlike those of us who were in attendance. Theologically that is clearly a nonsensical assertion, unless he has the gift of knowing what is in everyone’s hearts. So it starts out as an exercise in rhetorical manipulation, and continues with theologically unsound garbage..but it makes people feel like they are better Catholics than those who didn’t attend. If that was how Catholicism would have been presented to me I would have said an emphatic HELL NO, and run the other way. This is the same sort of blather that my daughter’s received in Catholic School, and they are very skeptical. Hell, I am skeptical of the hierarchy. Throw in the fact that a bunch of Bishops etc. whose primary concern has been to cover up the abuse scandal are supposed to be the ones imparting Truth? How can people who spent so much energy fighting the Truth in one area be trusted to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in other areas.
    The bottom line is, many young people (and many of us not so young) believe that God, through the Holy Spirit is active in the world, and it is not always through the leaders of the Catholic Church. While I ultimately believe that the most revealed TRUTH resides in the teachings of the Catholic Church, I do not trust the institutional Church to be open to the movement of the Spirit. (How many Saints had to fight the institutional Church? How many Theologians in the period before Vatican II were under “investigation” by the powers that be..and silenced…only to have their work affirmed at Vatican II?
    The Pope seems to understand that you reach people in dialogue, and that we grow in faith through our dialogue both with others and with the Holy Spirit through prayer, not by superficial (Pharisaical?) does and don’ts and rituals and superstitious rote prayers. Unfortunately, unless many of the Bishops and Priests lose their Clericalism and begin to wonder about the movement of the Spirit, we will see more empty pews and fewer young..and the young we have will be those drawn to the black and white.

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