Following the Seekers

This NCR profile on twenty-something Catholics was much more interesting than the same issue’s musings on the politics of liturgy. I just don’t see this kind of searching on some of the more typical conservative web pages, just essays about dead guys–though good dead guys. Perhaps some of you more critical readers have experiences otherwise. I’d love to have some of these “Millennials” as parishioners, and I wonder about ways to attract them to the fold. I can’t escape the notion that many “orthodox” Catholics are just waiting for such folks to darken their doorsteps, like it was some kind of entitlement to fill their pews. Instead, this is clearly a matter of trust to be earned.

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Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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24 Responses to Following the Seekers

  1. John Heavrin says:

    Increasingly, the American attitude, and not just among these kids, toward institutions is: if it doesn’t conform to what I want it to be, screw it.

    Pepsi or Apple can respond to that dynamic. I don’t see how the Church can. Being Catholic is often hard, unrewarding, and dry. Since we’ve lost the ability to talk about supernatural reward or the next life, and the indispensibility of the Church for those things, I honestly don’t know how you make the Church attractive in the way other institutions sell themselves without compromising what the Church really is, which is impossible. Perhaps the Church will all but disappear, if it’s apparent survival depends on attracting people in that way.

    The problem with ear-to-ear grins and “come on in, the water’s fine” is that salvation is a matter of fear and trembling, and often the water is cold, or maybe there’s a drought. If you want to work out your salvation, you’ll die before you’ll leave. If you came in because “the water was fine,” you’ll be off in search of warmer water.

    I don’t have any answers, and I don’t know from marketing schemes, though.

  2. Todd says:

    “Being Catholic is often hard, unrewarding, and dry.”

    Yet these young people invested themselves in missionary work in the Third World; grinding poverty, political corruption, no defense against violence. I can’t escape the possibility that they find the Church lukewarm instead of demanding.

  3. Liam says:

    Dry is the key word. Gritty work is not necessarily dry in the spiritual sense. But the generally Protestant and inimate focus of cultural American spirituality finds demand in the context of spiritual dryness exceedingly alien. And Catholicism, relatively rich liturgical and devotional life aside, often offers the dry path to santification.

    American Catholics are not well prepared in catechesis for spiritual dryness. *That’s* one area of lay (and, frankly, clerical nowadays)spirituality where we need to take the torch from the great post-Tridentine revolutionaries of lay spirituality.

  4. Todd says:

    Good point, Liam. Note all the wonder at Mother Teresa’s spiritual struggles. I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about.

  5. Liam says:

    Well, I could because I knew that it would amaze most American Christians, including Roman Catholics (though probably less so the eastern Christians catechized in the agonistic spirituality of eastern monasticism).

    If anything, of course, spiritual dryness was until recently missing part of Blessed Teresa’s story – missing in the sense that it is a customary part (along with obstructions or persecutions by superiors – that Teresa did have for a while) of most confessor-saints. (Think of St Bernardette – not canonized for her visions but for her heroic virtue in suffering while suffering severe dryness in the absence of the visions’ consolations, et cet.)

    I cannot begin to account for the number of American Catholics whose spirituality appears to be very influenced by the Prosperity Gospel or Word Faith Movement beloved in American culture. They are very unprepared for the idea that the closer one gets to God, the closer one gets to the Cross (and, we pray, the Empty Tomb – the eastern Christians manage to combine these better than we Catholics do, I suspect).

    It is a pitfall to focus on how seekers feel for the sake of indulging those feelings rather than engaging and transforming their relationship to them. But a common pitfall.

  6. John Heavrin says:

    “Yet these young people invested themselves in missionary work in the Third World; grinding poverty, political corruption, no defense against violence.”

    Sure, they did that for a week, or a summer, or a year. Compared to a daily, often dull, often unrewarding, commitment to the faith, those things are exciting, and, frankly, easy. A thing to look forward to, a thing to do for a while, then a thing to remember doing, perhaps, maybe, to do again sometime. A thing that makes you feel good (rightly), in a way that perhaps attending Mass or living a Christian life, day after day, doesn’t. “If it feels good, do it” can be a spiritual as well as a behavioral fallacy. Activities like that are certainly commendable for these kids, but by definition temporary. And I wonder if these kids think, because they’ve been left to think, “Hey, I’m living the Beatitudes, I don’t need to attend Mass” or some such. No connection with a lifetime of working out salvation in fear and trembling, which is the only way. No concept of having to work out salvation with a consistent, responsible commitment to the faith. No concept that the Sacraments, prayer, repentance, conversion of life, every day, are not *as* important, but more important to the salvation of their souls. Salvation is either a given, or, worse, not even on the radar screen. I think that is the problem. How was this allowed to happen, and how do we change it? God knows, I don’t know. I wish I did.

    Not that it’s easy, but it’s easier to get a kid interested in going to the other side of the world for a year, or Appalachia for a summer, or to build a house in the slum for a week, then it is go get him interested in going to Mass every week or to forego premarital sex, birth control within marriage, etc. But going to Mass and worshiping God is indispensible to his salvation, and acts of charity, while commendable (and even heroic if, once again, it involves a commitment and it’s done for Christ and for the salvation of souls), are ultimately secondary and insufficient. It’s as if Acts of Charity are indispensible, but the Sacraments and Christian virtue are not. That’s perhaps a natural notion, but not supernatural, and our faith is supernatural.

    The soul has been ignored in favor of not just indulging–that’s easy to see and condemn–but of serving the body, which is laudable but secondary.

    We’re feeding hungry people but ignoring hungry souls. Feeding the soul, making sure it isn’t lost forever, is all-important, but it’s hard, exacting, and often unexciting. From a natural perspective, uninviting at best. It’s necessary, though. But these kids don’t “feel” that it’s necessary. How do make them feel it? I don’t know, but since the required commitment can’t be based on the sand of “feeling” anyway, even if I did know, that wouldn’t be the real answer, just the door-opener.

    Again, perhaps the Holy Spirit will allow us to get ourselves into a predicament that is not only difficult but literally, by natural efforts, impossible. And the whole thing might seem to wither away. We are promised that the gates of Hell shall not prevail, but not that it might not look that they have prevailed.

  7. Liam says:


    Your point generally accords with mine, but, to make the mobius strip here: without acts of charity over some period of time, you can’t receive communion, becuase you will be in a state of mortal sin of omission (I will grant that mortal sins of omission are harder to define because what the element of full consent of the will is not attached to a definitive action, but we can have no doubt from the lips of our Lord himself that they are quite possible). *Which* acts of charity, of course, is a vast terrain to choose from (including contemplative prayer), but if someone has not one of charity over the course of a year, most confessors would consider that an obstacle to one’s Easter duty if unconfessed, I imagine…. (And I am not opening a competition for how few acts of charity are necessary to avoid such a state. The point is simply that the sacramental life and a

  8. John Heavrin says:

    A mortal sin would have to be a positive act (eg, fornication), or an ongoing state of sin (eg, living together,), wouldn’t it, Liam? Missing Mass on Sunday without good reason, for example, is a positive sinful act, not a sin of omission, at least as I understand it. I’m unable to conceptualize a mortal sin of omission, off the top of my head. Can you think of an example (I’m genuinely curious)? I’ll be honest: when I say “sins of thought, word, deed, and omission” when I make an Act of Contrition, I think of ‘omission’ as ‘the things I should have done but haven’t done that I don’t even realize I should have done,’ which is perhaps a deficient understanding of the concept. But if I know I should have done a specific thing, and didn’t, I see that as a sin of commission, not omission (perhaps too tangled semantically), whether venial or mortal.

    But to the point, I think if one is practicing the Catholic faith day to day, it would be impossible not to engage in acts of charity, even if one’s taste or circumstances don’t run to the dramatic. For example, praying for the Poor Souls, seeking indulgences–as you’ll probably agree, these are great acts of charity, accessible to any willing Catholic, anywhere.

    But it is possible to engage in such acts of charity without being a practicing Catholic, or ever setting foot at Mass. So we probably agree: acts of charity are necessary but insufficient.

    Hope it’s not too convoluted.

  9. John Heavrin says:

    Sorry, at the end, by “such acts of charity” at the end, I mean temporal acts of charity such as the young people in the article have engaged in…seeking indulgences of course requires the state of grace, which requires the practice of the faith.

  10. Deacon Eric says:

    Actually, Jesus listed several grievous sins of omission in Matthew 25:41-46. In his longest and most detailed description of the Last Judgment, Jesus dealt only with sins of omission.

  11. John Heavrin says:

    Deacon Eric, I’ve never visited a prison. Am I in mortal sin?

  12. Deacon Eric says:

    I’m not the one to answer that question for you. You’ll have to ask the one who gave the list.

  13. John Heavrin says:

    By the way, I don’t ask that by way of confrontation. I’m just trying to understand the nature of the offense of not having visited a prisoner in my life, as Christ commanded me to do. I suppose, being literal, I die without ever having visited a prison, into fire I would go.

    When we go to confession, we are required as far as we can remember to give the number of our mortal sins. “I missed Mass three times.” But how does one number omissions?

    You use the word ‘grievous,’ and I agree. But ‘grievous’ and ‘mortal’ are not synonymous. Mortal sin kills the state of grace; it would seem to require a positive act to do that (even the act of specifically choosing to avoid an obligation, the act of ‘not doing something’).

    If I financially support efforts on behalf of those who visit prisoners, does that fulfll the requirement? If I’ve never physically fed a hungry person, but I have donated money to a food bank, does that? In one sense it’s crass, but in another, I think it’s a good question. Lots of good Catholics have never been in a prison; perhaps they’re not good Catholics after all.

    Again, perhaps this is semantics. But it’s hard for me to understand how never having visited a prisoner is in the same category as committing a murder. But that’s one of the mysteries of mortal sin; obviously some are worse than others, logically understood, but they’re all the same in terms of the effect, which is the loss of the state of grace.

  14. John Heavrin says:

    “You’ll have to ask the one who gave the list.”

    When He gets back to me, I’ll let you know. :)

  15. Liam says:

    John and Eric both unpacked what I was getting act.

    The problem in definition is with the formulation of mortal sin requiring full consent of the will. As I indicated, because of the very clear teaching of our Lord, we need to understand that more than the juridical understanding that commonly is used in confession.

    John, the question would likely entail: who has been in an physical or spiritual prison who was a neighbor to you (cf the parable of the Good Samaritan) whom you did not visit, and were the reasons for your failure to visit sufficient (they may well be).

    This is more complex than the usual consent of the will formulation. But that’s why the Lucan parable of the Good Samaritan is an essential adjunct to the Matthean discourse on the Last Judgment (and perhaps the Lucan Sermon on the Plain & Matthean Sermon on the Mount). This is why we’re Catholics, not Protestants – we don’t proof text off single passages.

    Anyway, we need to be mindful of who our neighbors are. Negligence in this regard *might* be considered culpable.

  16. Jimmy Mac says:

    Maybe these young seekers have found out that what is stated below is much more important than worrying about the language in which we pray, whose sexual habits are different, etc.:

    “God does the choosing and you find out about the rest gradually from your folks: How you have landed in a turbulent and global household with the galaxy’s most eccentric rules; that the lights are never to be put out and the stranger never to be turned away; that the meals are to be served whenever there is hunger; that the groceries must be generously depleted and generously replenished with everything everyone has; that those who fret and grouse and cheat and lie and steal and kill must be relentlessly sought out and brought back to life; that those who break the rules and those who abandon the house must be pursued to the remotest frontiers of their souls and forgiven; that those who pass judgment on the violators of house rules, like those who take their author for granted, are doomed. And that those who inhabit the household must always remember that what is outside is ending.”

    Michael Garvey, Finding Fault, 1990

    I hope that they’ll get beyond this approach to Catholicism:

    Just as most of us did not choose to believe in God after an honest look at the alternative but rather just “stuck with Him”, most of us stayed with the Catholic Church simply because it was our “tribe”, our “family”, and its customs became as much a part of who we are as our ethnicity or our allergies.

    Wm. J. O’Malley, SJ, Parents are Apostles (article), “America”, 1-20-90.

  17. John Heavrin says:

    “…those who pass judgment on the violators of house rules, like those who take their author for granted, are doomed…”


    Shouldn’t these scoundrels be hunted down and forgiven as well?

  18. John Heavrin says:

    “I hope that they’ll get beyond this approach to Catholicism:

    Just as most of us did not choose to believe in God after an honest look at the alternative but rather just “stuck with Him”, most of us stayed with the Catholic Church simply because it was our “tribe”, our “family”, and its customs became as much a part of who we are as our ethnicity or our allergies.”

    Clearly they have gotten beyond it; they left.

  19. Liam says:


    Indeed. If they aren’t then we have precisely the hidden problem of the parable of the Pharisee and Publican: if we thank God we’re not like the Pharisee (as people often assume Jesus intends for us to do), we’re *worse* than him.

  20. Liam says:

    My “indeed” was to the first of your 2 posts.

  21. Jimmy Mac says:

    John: you’ll have to ask the Hunter that question. Said Hunter is the Hound of Heaven, so I presume there is a plan. However, in this earthly realm I think that Garvey was stating that passing judgement is a dangerous past-time. And we all need to remember that!

    Of course, Garvey is an apostate to Orthodoxy, so what would he know?

  22. Jimmy Mac says:

    Also, leaving Catholicism is not bad in and of itself. Oftimes that is the only way to be objective about what it has to offer. Coming back is better than staying in without questioning the why of doing so.

  23. kiwi_nomad06 says:

    There are those of us who have ‘left’, who are actually somewhere out on the edges. It is through conversations with some of those prepared to journey with the ‘lost’ that some of us may find our way back into the church. Those who take upon themselves the right to ‘judge’ us probably won’t even realise that such conversations go on.

  24. Liam says:


    I used to think that; I’ve been surprised that I was quite wrong – people are often lumped together as “judgers” without sufficient understanding of their myriad differences. The judgmentalism thus often runs both ways.

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