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Listening to Young Adult Catholics

by Robin Ryan, C.P.

During the summer of 2009, eighty-eight men and women in their twenties and thirties from all parts of the United States participated in young adult conferences offered by Catholics on Call. Catholics on Call is a national vocation discovery program at Catholic Theological Union (Chicago) which reaches out to young adult Catholics who are considering a life of service in the Church as a member of a religious community, priest or lay ecclesial minister. What are young adult Catholics saying to us today?

Quarter-life crisis

Studies of young adults show that their social situation is different from that of young adults thirty or forty years ago. In 2007 Robert Wuthnow, a distinguished sociologist of religion at Princeton University, published an illuminating study of the religious practice of young adults entitled “After the Baby Boomers.” Wuthnow points out that there is a longer period of vocational and career exploration for most young adults today. Men and women get married today on average about four years later than they did in 1965. They also have greater job mobility, with many exploring not only different positions but distinct lines of work.

Catholics on Call Small group discussion at Catholics on Call

Thus there is an extended period of single life and vocational exploration that can be a confusing and unsettling experience for some young adults. Some speak of the phenomenon of “quarter-life crisis” – an experience of feeling adrift and alone for men and women in their middle to later twenties, many of whom have finished college but have not settled down into a definite vocation or a particular community.

More financial pressures

Wuthnow and others also describe the financial pressures felt by men and women in their twenties and thirties. Recent statistics show that today’s young adults are experiencing lower wage growth and greater economic inequality than young adults of a generation earlier. The responsibility to pay off student loans presents a further challenge. Married young adults often comprise dual-income families – a situation that imposes pressures on time and energy. While living in an affluent society, young adults do face significant financial pressures which impact upon the choices they make.

Fewer supports

Wuthnow observes that while there are many institutional supports in Church and society for young people through their college years, there are few such supports for young adults after college. There is, for example, a need for good mentoring in the professional and spiritual realms, which young adults often struggle to find. Wuthnow concludes, “We cannot hope to be a strong society if we invest resources in young people until they are eighteen or twenty and then turn them out to find their way entirely on their own.”

Moving gently from this highly personal life with Jesus, I open the door to the Lord’s greatest revelation: living always a Trinitarian life. Here, John’s last supper discourse is very effective. Of course, not everything follows completely this trajectory. The spirit moves where he wills.

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