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Curse Or Play The Hand?

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In the past we hedged our bets on wayward Catholic youth and young adults eventually returning to the faith of their childhood. The conventional road often included post Confirmation construction detours from regular church attendance. While constructing their own faith convictions, values and beliefs they would often bypass the Church, entertaining alternative life routes. More often than not, however, they returned to the Church in order to raise their children in the same faith tradition of their own childhood.

Recent research has changed the gambling odds. It’s no longer a sure bet that young adults will return to their church of origin when getting married or raising children. The majority fails to return and those who do, often return to a different faith tradition. Well-worn pathways to faith are over grown as a result of a new cultural climate. Teens are not inheriting their faith as much as they are choosing their faith. In her research of adolescents and church, Carol Lytch concludes, “Passing on faith to the next generation is challenging today in a new way. In fact, ‘passing on the faith’ is no longer the task it used to be. Teens choose faith instead. American society has changed to favor individual choice of a highly personal religion that is less tethered to religious traditions and institutions.”

Past generations certainly had a choice. It was just limited. You chose church or you chose hell (most chose church).

Conditioned by a culture of choice, young people are somewhat impervious to obligatory motivations and past forms of Catholic guilt. Possessing more options than hours, young people have adapted their impetus for church involvement. They are choosing whether to be involved in church, and for reasons beyond family tradition or institutional loyalty. In a Google age, the Church is not the only spigot for the spiritually thirsty. But when today’s teens are attracted to church, according to Carol Lytch “they are attracted because the churches engage them in intense states of self-transcendence uniting emotional and cognitive processes. Churches ‘catch’ them on three hooks: a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and opportunities to develop competence.”

The twenty-first century dealt us a new hand. We can curse the cards, hoping to return to familiar hand of the past. Or, we can play the cards we’ve been dealt. Catholic youth ministry stands at a crossroads. I say, “Deal the hand.”

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