Here in the United States many of us who minister to youth and young adults recognize an unfortunate delineation that exists between the Catholic faith and our social experience. Even though our Catholic Church periodically reminds us of our social principles and teachings many of us (young and old) still tend to still adopt the cultural norm of western society that accepts a private and traditional role for the Christian faith. We either remain fairly ignorant of these social obligation or we are intentionally dismissive of it. So our youth, who wrestle with many social issues that confront them, are left struggling with a private faith that offers them no meaningful way of addressing their social experiences. This leaves them with two unfortunate options:
- Adopt a traditional and private version of their faith and seek solace in small communities that are isolated from their social experiences.
- Become part of the growing un-churched community from which they can address their social experiences through secular ideologies and movements.
For those of us who minister to the Catholic young adult population these two cultural responses bring us great sadness since they severely limit both our Catholic faith community and our rich social tradition. To put it simply, these options are simply not Christian (or Catholic) options.
The Second Vatican Council reminds us that we are a dynamic and socially engaged faith community. The document, Lumen Gentium, reminds us that we, the lay community, are called to promote the sacred mission of the Church since we also share “a common dignity as members from [our] regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity.” (LG #33) In a following document dedicated to laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, Vatican II affirmed this in even stronger terms:
The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world. The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate. (AA #33
Lumen Gentium makes it very clear that our Christian faith cannot stop at the altar: “He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity.” Not only does the Church invite us to engage in a lifestyle of being charitable and applying our faith within our social experience but it also admonishes us if we dare to omit this crucial expression of our faith. “If we fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall we not be saved but we will be more severely judged.” -LG #14
Furthermore, the Church reminds us that as Lay Catholics we have a special obligation to share in the apostolate of the Church in being transformers of the world through our participate in the mission of Christ. The following exhortation from this constitutional document of our Church serves as a mission statement that guides our Lay Catholic community in becoming a formed public witness to the faith.
The faithful, therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and values of all creation, as well as its role in this harmonious praise of God. They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the Spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace. The laity have their principle role in the overall fulfillment of this duty. Therefore, by their competence in secular training and by their activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them vigorously contribute their effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of his Word. May the goods of this world be more equitably distributed among all men, and may they in their own way be conductive to universal progress in human and Christian freedom. In this manner, through the members of the Church, will Christ progressively illumine the whole human society with his saving light. (LG #36)
The document on the laity affirms this position with these words:
The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere. As citizens they must cooperate with other citizens with their own particular skill and on their own responsibility. Everywhere and in all things they must seek the justice of God’s kingdom. The temporal order must be renewed in such a way that, without detriment to its own proper laws, it may be brought into conformity with the higher principles of the Christian life and adapted to the shifting circumstances of time, place, and peoples. Preeminent among the works of this type of apostolate is that of Christian social action which the sacred synod desires to see extended to the whole temporal sphere, including culture. (AA #7)
There is a need here in America for our laity to be formed by these noble words from our Second Vatican Council. Our young adult population is only aware of their cultural approach to faith and social obligations, they lack formation from this perspective of their faith tradition which can offer them so much more meaning as both active members of the Church and responsible members of society. Vatican II specifically calls on this population to be Gospel agents of social change.
Young persons exert very important influence in modern society…. Their heightened influence in society demands of them a proportionate apostolic activity, but their natural qualities also fit them for this activity. As they become more conscious of their own personalities, they are impelled by a zest for life and a ready eagerness to assume their own responsibility, and they yearn to play their part in social and cultural life. If this zeal is imbued with the spirit of Christ and is inspired by obedience and love for the Church, it can be expected to be very fruitful. They should become the first to carry on the apostolate directly to other young persons, concentrating their apostolic efforts within their own circle, according to the needs of the social environment in which they live. (AA #12)
So then let us take to heart this mission from our Catholic Church to imbue our Young lay population with this sense of mission. As we continue our conversation on engaging the youth and young adult with a shared sense of mission we should take into consideration the words of St. Paul the Apostle:
These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:11)