Kids these days kill me. They really do.
When speaking with high school or college students or those that want to get married—any young person facing transition—I sometimes channel my inner Holden Caulfield (as in this blog), who basically thought that anyone over twenty-two was a phony, a moron, or a pervert. Though bright, savvy, respectful, and culturally adept, the story teller in The Catcher In the Rye had his own set of problems: he didn’t know how to cope with his little brother’s death, he got kicked out of numerous prep schools for not applying himself, he was torn between the attractions and fears of adulthood, and he wandered aimlessly seeking meaning of it all. He is not unlike many young people who deal with difficult or tragic situations, who feel rejected or ignored by the church, who are intimidated by what the future holds, who search to make sense out of life’s mysteries, and who realize that every day is soon gone forever.
As a priest and representative of the church, I believe it is our ecclesial duty to meet young people where they are, reach out and help them connect with our institutes, and take a step with them in life’s journey, assisting them in discovery of their purpose in the divine plan. As a church, we are probably not doing enough—or perhaps better stated, we could do more. As Holden might say, we (priests) get a hundred instructions a month from ecclesial leaders telling us why we can’t help young people if they just want to get married their way on a beach, up a mountain, or in a vineyard, plus they send us a thousand notes a year telling us how not to help those that were married before, even though they just made a mistake and married a phony or a pervert. The old PTB just like to issue ecclesial sanctions, penalties, and reprimands when you try to help somebody. And if you want to privately bless their marriage, the old chancery people really go crazy—trust me, they do. They want us to be phonies, too; like if you find out somebody’s living together before they get married you’re supposed to die of heart attack or something. And you can’t tell the phonies that they’re morons, he would say, because morons don’t like it when you call them a moron.
Though obviously joking, I point to a perception that many young people don’t find the church to be very relevant in their lives and don’t find us, priests and church workers, to be particularly helpful. They really do kill me. I recently saw a statistic showing less than 500 weddings in our diocesan churches last year. It seems awfully low to me. I’m working on 30 to 40 right now—some of my close priest-friends have a similar load. But there are over a hundred priests serving in our diocese. Have most of them decided it’s easier to not even try to help these kids? My point is that we ought to find ways to assist young people, in general, become interested in, and excited about, our communal faith, and search ways to help couples, in particular, become less turned-off by our marriage guidelines and other ecclesial laws. Holden observed that some Catholics are always trying to find out how Catholic you are—half a century later, it’s still true.
If the church is a big field of rye above some crazy cliff where thousands of kids play, somebody big needs to be there to catch them if any start to go over the cliff, in case they don’t watch where they’re going. When Holden was asked what he wanted to be, he said, “I know it’s crazy but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be…somebody’s got to catch them.” Though I’m no Holden Caulfield, I hope we, the church, will look out for our young people, especially in times of transition, to help them stay connected, even happy, in the church–and catch them so they don’t fall away.
(Blogger’s Note: except for the underlying message that the church should more readily see from the eyes of young people, this column is facetious; those familiar with J. D. Salinger’s writing will quickly get this. I should also note that when I challenge the church, I am referring not only to those in power positions but to you and me who can, in our own ways, effect change. I write this not only because it’s true but also because I don’t want to get any calls from PTB morons.)