Listening to Young Adult Catholics
by Robin Ryan, C.P.
Some of the young adult Catholics who are most active in the Church are attracted to traditional practices like Eucharistic adoration, the rosary and other forms of devotional prayer. This is puzzling to some pastoral ministers, who wonder whether these inclinations represent a “throwback” to practices of yesteryear. It seems, however, that these practices reflect a discovery of aspects of the Catholic tradition with which they were previously unfamiliar and which they find helpful in their relationship with God. For example, my experience of Eucharistic adoration with young adults suggests to me that this form of prayer provides a respite in a noisy world, communicates a sense of the mystery of God, and offers an opportunity for communal prayer in a form that is non-threatening.
Young adults want to be invited into active participation in the Church. They often feel isolated and anonymous in parish communities, where they sometimes have few friends. If they have been actively involved in college campus ministry programs and then move to a parish that has little outreach to young adults, it is easy for them to get lost or simply drift away. It is very important for all Catholics to make a special effort to welcome young adults to the parish community and to invite them to become more deeply involved in the life of the parish.
Most Catholics are painfully aware that vocations to religious life and priesthood have declined significantly in recent years. While that is certainly the case, it is wrong to conclude that young adults are not interested in service in the Church. The recent study by Hoge and Jewell mentioned above indicated that most young adult Catholics had positive attitudes about religious life, priesthood and lay ecclesial ministry. For example, about half of the men who were surveyed said that they had seriously considered becoming a priest, and about a third of the men and women reported that they had seriously considered a vocation as a religious sister or brother. At Catholics on Call, we have found that when young adults are offered cogent presentations on vocations to ministry in the Church in a pressure-free atmosphere, they come to a deeper appreciation of these possibilities and are willing to give them serious consideration. They even feel a certain excitement about the ministerial opportunities that are open to them.
Those of us who are “older” Catholics need to make the effort to listen seriously to the concerns and aspirations of Catholics in their twenties and thirties. As a Church we need to do a better job in reaching out to this age group and inviting them into the life of the community. If we do that, we will encounter men and women with great energy who inspire us in our own faith.
Fr. Robin Ryan, C.P. Ph.D. teaches ecclesiology at Catholic Theological Union and is Director of Catholics on Call. More helpful information is available at www.catholicsoncall.org.