I’ll admit: I didn’t start getting involved in the Catholic young adult (CYA) community in the Twin Cities until I was 25, a good amount into my young adult career. Some begin their CYA career before even graduating college. Certain attitudes and life circumstances held me back from diving head first into a community of strangers for a few years. However, once I did, I found myself surrounded by wonderful, flawed, passionate people. These people are regular laity, small group leaders, young mothers and fathers, youth ministers, worship leaders, ministry directors, priests, religious, and more.
As of July 2021, I have spent a year and a half getting to know and integrating into the young adults of the west mero of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Here are my personal findings.
Why CYA’s are Awesome
I think one of the biggest strengths of the CYA community is the passion of its members. This energy comes from more than just being young (okay that may play a big part). It’s undeniable that there are CYAs out there who are head over heels in love with Chist and His Church. Along with this infatuation and conviction, they’ve been devastated by the mistakes made by older generations and the repercussions. Many members (including myself) want to do everything humanly possible to set the record straight in the secular culture. Some attempt to make their entire lives a testimony of what it looks like to be a virtuous, joyful, practicing Catholic.
I have many priest friends in their 20s and 30s striving to be the best men they can be for their flocks. They’re succeeding. Men nowadays don’t get ordained expecting an easy life. Most, if not all, priests experience some sort of societal ridicule caused by the actions of a few if they’re seen wearing clerics in public. As the demand for pastoral labor remains the same or increases, priests are retiring faster than they are being replaced. The priests that remain are increasingly stretched thin. Considering all of this and other factors, it’s clear to me men being ordained today know what they’re signing up for and want to be strong (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to deal with it all. They want to show our culture what the priesthood really is; a lot of work but a lot of joy. They’ve seen the devastating impacts of a few devious priests and poor catechesis and want to restore the reputation priests deserve. I truly am excited for the future of the priesthood.
All of this passion manifests as motivation and action to be the change CYAs want to see in the Church.
We Strive for Authenticity
CYAs know when you’re sugar coating something for them. It happened to many of them when they were going through catechesis growing up. Some believe many problems happening in the Church today are because of watered down catechesis. One of the worst problems in our Church is the unbelief in the True Presence of the Eucharist. What an injustice it is that many Catholic don’t believe in the summit of our faith! CYAs are fed up with avoiding hard truths, so we’re going to be the ones to attempt to stop it.
Additionally, CYAs are comfortable with talking about feelings and big life questions. The mainstream culture has normalized seeing a therapist and Catholic culture has made spiritual direction a common recommendation. We listen to big Catholic speakers who aren't afraid of publicly talking about hard personal stories and moral truths. Personal stories like addiction to pornography and moral truths like the problems with gay marriage. Many CYAs are willing to follow suit and share testimonies of struggle or conversion to large groups. They are not afraid of revealing their own life stories and their own struggles as a broken human within the CYA community and occasionally to the world.
C’mon, it’s 2021. CYAs wield the latest knowledge in their fields of profession and of the Church. Many have successfully gotten Bachelor’s and Master’s from reputable schools. Some of these people have or eventually may use this knowledge to the benefit of the Church. Crafts like communications (like myself), engineering, teaching, landscaping, music, and more. However, most stay in their secular organizations, which is an opportunity for evangelization through words and actions.
Not only are many of us equipped with the real Truth, we engage in philosophical and theological conversations with each other. Through this practice, we gain more knowledge and practice for hard conversations we may have in the “wild.” I challenge you to talk about intense catechesis with a practicing CYA sometime. You may be surprised!
I think by virtue of being young and practicing the faith, we are an inspiration to older generations. Those who are older than us generally perceive us as worldly, which isn’t completely inaccurate. Many more young people are leaving the church faster than joining it, usually in pursuit of fame, fortune, and pleasure. So when you see a young person seriously practicing the faith, you know his or her motivations go deeper than, “That’s what everyone else is doing,” or “I’m doing this because it’s easy and convenient.” A young person chooses to practice their faith despite its unpopularity because he or she knows it’s the road to Eternal Life.
I’ve been told by people in their 50s and up that they are inspired when they see a young person engaged in their faith. I’ve heard some parents say that their young adult child has helped them get into their faith more too.
Stuff We’re Bad at
We’re Not Taking Care of the Parish/A Sense of Responsibility
I’m not good at remembering exact numbers, but there’s a sizable percentage of CYAs not registered at nor tithing to any particular parish. I have very devout Catholic friends who have sheepishly admitted to me they church hop and only give their money to charities, decidedly not churches. Similarly to the overarching culture, CYAs are suspicious of organizations and churches are, unfortunately, no exception. As stated, they’ve seen things in the Church run poorly, so they would rather give their money to organizations that appear successful.
This is troublesome for the future of the Church. While Mass and other Church services are offered for free, they aren’t free to run. It costs money to heat, cool, and light the church building. It costs money to pay staff to organize resources. It also costs money to buy hosts and make sure our priests have a livable wage! The money has to come from somewhere. Once older generations are gone, who will claim responsibility… and the bills? A priest once told me that if everyone contributed their minimum 10% tithe, the Church would never have to do a capital campaign ever again. Astounding!
Additionally, CYAs perceive parish councils, finance committees, and trustee organizations as something their parents do. But what’s going to happen when our parents retire from holding those positions? Will we step up? Or will church structure fall apart and need to change?
You could argue with my point that there are young adult communities run by young adults that are phenomenal. That’s all well and good. However, my point still stands. There can’t be young adult groups associated with parishes if there are no parishes to associate with! We need to venture out of our comfortable CYA bubble and engage with parish-wide events too.
We’re Too Busy
One of the devil’s favorite excuses to whisper to CYAs (or anyone for that matter) is “I’m too busy to [do X church activity].” Work/life balance remains a war and many of us lose a battle too often than we’d like to admit. If we have good boundaries with work, we can get overloaded with other recreational activities like hanging out with friends, league sports, or hobbies. Excuses are too often made. And when all other distractions fail, “I don’t feel like it,” remains a common excuse for many. Many capable CYAs who would be wonderful at holding a leadership position in the Church end up with too many other commitments. A calling goes unanswered.
Personally, I feel young adulthood is the time to make adventure out of pre-family life. The majority of people going to Catholic Young Adult specifically labeled groups are single. Single people generally have a lot more freedom and control over their time than a married person or parent because they are busy being a gift to their families. I see single young adulthood as a time to be a gift to the community and the church. Yes, go and travel and adventure. That’s how I’m spending my life too, but I’m also giving in a way now I know I won’t be able to if I am ever blessed with marriage and a family.
It’s been said you can tell a person’s priorities by how they spend their time and money. Need I say more?
We’re Scared to Share the True Faith
I know I just said we're passionate about sharing the True faith, but I have to talk about the undeniable fear many CYA's have when it comes to being a Catholic in the secular world today.
Have you watched the news lately? It seems to me the Catholic Church is mentioned at least once a month in the mainstream media, usually perpetuating misconceptions or creating new ones, but always attempting to further pit the world against it. Never has our country and world been so irreligious and anti-religious. To claim a religion, especially the Catholic faith, is likely to result in militant social rejection and ridicule in the community, workplace, and even family. Our culture follows the “tolerance for all” rule up to a certain point. Which is interesting. I thought “all” meant no exclusions?
I digress. Because of the culture we live in, many CYAs have become comfortable with not mentioning our faith outside our Catholic community bubbles, even hiding it. We are constantly bombarded with antitheism. Eventually we feel suppressing that part of ourselves is worth more than expressing it. It’s easier to let a co-worker’s behavior or statement slide than to confront it when one feels so outnumbered and outgunned. It’s easier to attend that sensitivity training at work than suffer workplace repercussions.
This is a weakness I am guilty of. As someone who feels her role in the Church is to nurture those who go out into the secular world, I don’t get out into the secular world much myself beyond grocery shopping, going to a summer festival, and the ski hill. I wear my cross and saint medals in public but the conversation usually ends there. I pray my fear of retaliation would be inferior to my courage and joy to share the faith.
The Catholic young adult community means a lot to me. They’ve helped me through difficult times, past and current. They are my best friends. During this unmarried time in my life, I’ve given them portions of my time, talent, and treasure. They truly are a source of joy for me. Indeed, the demographic isn’t perfect just like any other group that consists of humans.
I think the Church is going through intense pruning of members. Many more young adults leave the church than join which many despair over. I agree this trend is troubling, but I don’t think that’s the worst that could happen to the Church. The unbelief of the True Presence in the Eucharist is a bigger problem, in my opinion.
For me, it’s become a quality over quantity thing. With the vast numbers that leave the Church, those who are staying are strong in their faith and follow the true teachings of the Church. They are going to go on to create communities, have families, and shepherd congregations that reflect those qualities. They give me hope and excitement for the future.
Thanks for the read! This article was very much based on my own experiences with the CYA community. What has your experience been with this demographic? What do you think are our strengths and weaknesses?