Recently, my good friend Julianne Stanz, Director of New Evangelization for the Diocese of Green Bay, WI, wrote an excellent article in their diocesan newspaper, The Compass, in which she addressed the findings of a recent CARA study that reveals that young people around the age of 13 but as young as 10 are deciding to leave the Church. The reasons cited include:
- “Catholic beliefs aren’t based on fact. Everything is hearsay from back before anything could be documented, so nothing can be disproved, but it certainly shouldn’t be taken seriously.”
- “Because I grew up and realized it was a story like Santa or the Easter Bunny.”
- “I realized that religion is in complete contradiction with the rational and scientific world, and to continue to subscribe to a religion would be hypocritical.”
It seems to me that there are some serious catechetical issues that need to be addressed here in order to remedy this situation. Obviously, we are not doing enough to help young people truly encounter Christ and understand revelation. In particular, I recommend four ways we can and must strengthen our catechesis in response to this reality.
- We need to continually emphasize the Incarnation as an historical event. Jesus of Nazareth was born into this world at a specific time and in a specific place. The historicity of Jesus must be more emphatically taught and the historicity of the Gospels must be emphasized while also explaining that they are not written as historical accounts per se, but as faith proclamations inspired by historical events.
- We need to invite young people to truly encounter Jesus, especially through reflective prayer and the Eucharist. If children are thinking that Jesus is just like Santa or the Easter Bunny, it is because they have not been invited to truly encounter him in prayer and the Eucharist. Catechesis must not only invite young people to learn about Jesus (information) but must facilitate an encounter with Jesus (transformation). For more on this, see my book Beyond the Catechist’s Toolbox: Catechesis That Not Only Informs But Also Transforms. In particular, the Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts program integrates reflective prayer throughout every grade.
- We need to do a better job of teaching young people how to interpret Scripture. As they learn about a scientific/rational explanation of how the world came to be, they conclude that the stories of Scripture are simply fairy tales. It is crucial that we teach young people to understand that Scripture, while containing much that is historical, also uses figurative language to reveal God’s truth. There is no reason for people of any age to feel that they have to decide between what science says and what Scripture says when BOTH are teaching truth: science teaches scientific truth and Scripture teaches religious truth. For more on this, see my book The Bible Blueprint: A Catholic’s Guide to Understanding and Embracing God’s Word.
- We need to do a better job of teaching about the Church’s history of embracing science. Here is a post in which I talk about helping young people understand evolution and the Catholic faith. As Julianne Stanz points out:
Historically, Catholics are numbered amongst the most important scientists of all time: Augustinian Fr. Gregor Mendel is considered to be the founder of modern genetics and George Lemaitre, priest and physicist, was the originator of the “Big Bang” theory. Rather than waiting until high school, elementary or middle school is time to introduce young Catholics to the rich patrimony of Catholic learning in the area of science.
Children should be introduced to Bro. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, the Director of the Vatican Observatory—a scientist with a brilliant mind and an engaging personality as evidenced by this interview.
Jesus said that we are called to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). Young people are getting the false impression that to be a faithful Catholic is to check our brains at the door, when in reality, the Catholic faith calls us to a holistic approach to God—using the heart and the head to find God in all things.