Leon Cardinal Suenens, one of the four moderators of the Second Vatican Council, wrote Co-responsibility in the Church, in 1968, to help dissect the teachings and documents of the Council. Among the many themes of the book, his description of younger generations remains poignant today.
Without a doubt there has always been conflict between the generations, but today because of the rapid pace of change in the world this conflict is aggravated…The younger generations has its own ways of thinking and acting. They are extremely sensitive to certain values, and allergic to others. They reject a certain image of the conventional Christian, and want no part of a Christianity of repose, conformism and legalism. The are simply not attracted by a religion more preoccupied with avoiding evil than doing good, more anxious to catalogue and draw up an abstract list of sins than to impart a sense of positive love, the spirit of the gospel, and the freedom of the children of God.
These young people, young priests included, feel hobbled by purely disciplinary laws which they look upon as arbitrary. They wish that Christians be no longer insensible to the abuses and injustices of this world, withdrawing into a self-enclosed piety, and restricted to the realm of cult and the sacred. They see no point to a religion which is a stranger to man, and they desire to build a new world more human and true.
In this quote, Cardinal Suenens prophetically identifies trends present in today’s Millennials and lays the foundation for his solution to the problem of young adult religious detachment. His response centers on a Church community consistently going out and preaching the gospel. “It was understood that a Christian is not truly a Christ till he is a ‘Christianizer’; that he has not truly received the gospel until he understands and accepts the responsibility to preach it.” The impetus for mission arises out of an understanding and an internalization of the eternal consequences at stake. Ralph Martin wrote, “Why bother to evangelize? Because the eternal destinies – heaven or hell – of millions of our fellow Catholics, not to mention, millions of countless others, are hanging in the balance.” Millennial Catholics represent not only the future of the Church but a vital part of Her current mission in the world. While young adults represent a sobering outlook moving forward due to their widespread rejection of the faith, we can turn to a message of hope from St. John Paul II:
The future of the world and the Church belongs to the younger generation, to those who, born in this century, will reach maturity in the next, the first century of the new millennium. Christ expects great things from young people…. If they succeed in following the road which [Christ] points out to them, they will have the joy of making their own contribution to his presence in the next century.
At both an institutional and personal level, the Church needs to foster a renewed evangelistic effort by prayerfully drawing closer to Christ’s love and allowing His love to produce a holy discontent for this Millennial generation and thereby face and answer the crisis of discipleship facing the young adult Catholic Church.