Most priests and Catholics meet other Catholics only because tbey show up for Mass on Sundays. Military chaplains, by contrast, more often meet those Catholics who choose not to practice, as they enjoy the privilege of extended periods of unparalleled access to the most underrepresented group in our churches today: twenty- and thirty-something uncommitted singles.
As an active-duty chaplain for years I lived and worked with this particular age group every day on shipboard and on bases in the United States and Italy. Now a Reserve chaplain, I spend one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer eating, working, training and sometimes praying with them.
Members of this group, in contrast to previous generations, have less in common with each other based on faith background as opposed to values learned outside of church and beyond practicing Catholic families. They are more likely to oppose Church teaching in matters of marriage, human life, and sexuality and to question the need for worship, sacraments or anything specifically Catholic. They do believe in God and will on occasion pray with others. in other words, they are proof that the catechetical emergency is real being as they are the fruit of fifty years of Catholic deconstruction.
Members of this age group who are committed to the Faith are more likely to value Latin, traditional worship and customs and to enthusiastically defend Church moral teaching as if the last fifty years never happened. A much smaller group within their age cohort, the task of evangelizing their peers will largely fall to them.
Recently on deployment I spoke to a young Mormon Marine who married a Catholic of Mexican background. They have formed a Mormon home together in dramatic contrast to what would have happened fifty years ago: the Catholic party with the support of her priest and family behind her would have insisted on continuing to practice the Catholic Faith.
I also surveyed baptized Catholics who now often refer to themselves more frequently as having been "raised Catholic". This description could range in meaning from a gentle way of saying that someone has "moved away" from Church or simply to indicate the non-committal approach typical of many young adults. Family break-up through divorce has a decisive effect on whether young people practice their Faith into adulthood.
All of this means that evangelization in the years ahead will require working to preserve access to young people beyond conventional Church functions, approaching, dialoguing and building relationships with young people outside of Mass and other conventional Catholic events and much prayer and patience born of Christ's saving love for them.
Follow Father Kevin M. Cusick on Facebook at Reverendo Padre-Kevin Michael Cusick and on Twitter at MCITL.
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