By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published September 12, 2013 | En Español
Even the best social commentators tend to categorize people. This approach perhaps makes it much easier for them to describe us with broad strokes. We long have had many such general groupings of entire generations of people: “The Lost Generation,” “Flappers” and “The Greatest Generation,” to mention only a few of the older ones. More recently, we now have “Baby Boomers,” “Millennials,” “Gen X’ers,” “Gen Y’ers” and several other contemporary classifications.
While commentators group people together according to some shared traits or historical cohesion, these categories are never perfect and inevitably neglect the individual differences that people have and display within those classifications. People are never perfectly grouped together simply because of the attributes and characteristics that they might share with others.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been with several groups of our young adult Catholics, and they seem to defy the attributes that are so generally applied to this age group.
I had about 20 young people into my home for a casual conversation not long ago. They were honest and did not hold back their experiences of occasionally feeling disconnected from the Church—but they did so because they want to be connected.
They are not religious in exactly the same ways that their parents or grandparents may have been—our Catholic Faith is the same, to be sure—but the challenges that they now face in living and practicing the Faith are vastly different.
They need occasions and opportunities to connect with each other in order to support one another in the face of a harshly secular environment. Scores of their Catholic and non-Catholic friends are often in unconventional relationships—remarried, living together outside of marriage, in same-sex unions, and living a sexually active single life. Yet these same men and women are their friends, and they continue to care for them.
How must they respond in ways that are true to our Catholic faith yet compassionate to people for whom they care deeply? These wonderful young people need the Church’s understanding and support as they confront moral and ethical situations that simply defy traditional Catholicism.
I was so proud of them that evening as they spoke honestly and from the heart to their Archbishop. They represent a contingent of young adult Catholics who are not often represented in the broad generalizations of their peers. I only wish there were more of them and many more occasions for them to connect with me and with the Church.
The same was true of another group of young people with whom I celebrated the Eucharist last week at the conclusion of a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat at a Dallas, Georgia, retreat facility.
Once again, they were very serious about their Catholic faith, but before I arrived for Mass, they had already expressed a desire for homilies that spoke to them and motivated them. They were kind enough to say that I passed their qualifications—on this occasion at least. They were fervent about their faith but also very hopeful that the Church would continue to support and understand them in their struggles to live Catholicism in today’s environment. The retreat was a welcome opportunity for them to support each other and to realize that they are not alone in confronting the issues that fill their world.
Then last weekend, I had the great joy of celebrating the marriage of two wonderful Catholic young people. They are simply among the nicest young folks that I have recently met. They come from two great Catholic families, and all their parents just beamed throughout the entire ceremony. The celebration of the marriage of their children was a confirmation for both sets of parents that all of their witness of faith and hard work in raising these two young people was well worth the effort.
This young man and woman are facing a vastly different world than that which their parents faced at the start of their marriages. Yet they were both beaming with hope and promise. Young couples always begin with hope and great joy—these two seemed to know that their Catholic faith was a vitally important component of their future. They will continue to need all the love and the faith witness of their parents, but from where they start, I believe that they will not only have a great beginning, but will continue a long tradition of success.
Each of these recent experiences impels me to believe that the generalizations about contemporary groups of young people, which frequently give us reason for serious concern, are only part of what is happening. I see very clear examples that they are not the whole story.