Looking into the future of the Catholic Church is a lot like somebody wondering if they’ll ever find love again after a series of heartbreaks. It doesn’t seem like any good will come with all of the persecution, the indifferent (at best) or hostile (at worse) politics and entitled brats that populate the majority of Tumblr who attack the Church on a daily basis. And yet, in spite of everything, I still feel like there is hope.
There is hope for a bright future when you see young adults spreading their love for the Church in New Media:
There is hope when the entire world can relate to the joy found in the eyes of a Catholic priest who happens to be a Star Wars geek:
There is hope when even the combox trolls of YouTube see evidence of God through his servants:
I see hope for the future of the Church every time I staff at Awakening retreats.
In the hundreds of people in my diocese attending Mass on a Monday afternoon for Cafe Catholica.
In the millions of young adults who march for the rights of unborn children…
In the millions of people who come to World Youth Day
It’s too easy to be pessimistic, even fatalistic. Sure, all these people show up to these events, but how Catholic are they really? God only knows. We can’t write off people who want to be part of the Church, but seemingly falter. We can’t write off Pope Francis and say that he’s a bad pope in spite of his flaws. We can’t dig foxholes where none are required.
GK Chesterton said “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
Like people who’ve been burned by love affairs gone wrong, many Catholics build up walls and put armor around their hearts, keeping outsiders at arms’ reach and daring the world to prove them wrong. They do this in the name of protecting themselves and defending the church, but in truth, it’s a very selfish action. When we find people who want to understand the Church more or even your everyday “spiritual but not religious,” we have to consider where they’re coming from in order to evangelize. If we approach them with all of our armor, it just ends up alienating them.
A small example can be found in something I encountered recently. A person who considered themselves spiritual but not religious posted a quote that I found inspiring, but in the caption, they asked why religion and philosophy were taught instead of affirmations. Being someone who went to a Catholic college and minored in philosophy, I felt like I needed to defend what I learned. But I did so with as much love for the person I was commenting to as much as the love I had for the things that made me who I am.
I said: “I love your quote because it reflects on what I’ve been experiencing recently, but part of my transformation happened through what I learned from religion and philosophy. There is beauty to be found in them. It’s through my faith that I gained the courage and the desire to change. It’s through philosophy that I learned what kind of ideals I should strive for. I definitely agree that having an attitude of gratitude helps as well.” I was glad to see that they responded positively to what I said.
Be not afraid, fellow Catholics. We are in a future not our own, but if we approach the future with an open heart and focus on just being friends with those we dialogue with as opposed to turning people into “projects,” then the future of the Catholic Church will be a bright one.