I have had a rude awakening this week, some undergraduate Catholic students approached me with a question about their faith. Although they attend a state university in Arizona not known for its academic rigor, they are serious about trying to live and understand the Catholic faith. My surprise was the lack of depth about basic catechetical teaching and that they see and understand the Church’s teaching ideologically or even through a Protestant ecclesiology. Their Catholic formation was so weak that they were unable to escape the reduction of moralism; they cannot link their experience to their faith.
The Catholic Newman center where they attend Mass has its problems. In the few times I have attended Mass there, I have seen a Dominican nun deliver the homily on multiple occasions. They have liturgical dancers who do silly dances for the procession, psalm, presentation, and recessional hymns. And I have heard them dismiss things the Church officially recognizes as mortal sins as not serious matters that do not even require a confession. In other words, since they have arrived at campus they have had little opportunity to grow in the knowledge of their faith. But these are not typical students I am writing about, these people really attempt to practice their faith as it is proclaimed by the Church. It is just that in their environment, perhaps the only way they can live the teachings of the Church by reducing them to moral guidelines. For them, everything is thought of moralistically. Prayer, dialogue, faith are external expressions that provide limitations on freedom but do not correspond to the human heart. The freedom proclaimed by the Church is nothing more than a serious of guidelines that they follow to gain salvation. They see no alternative to the practice of the faith other than preventing some action and mandating other works. But it is not a virtue where there is a mean with faults of excess or defect. It is an externality that must be followed and this can have nothing to do with the human heart and it does not correspond to desire.
This is the problem Bernanos noticed in his day that was part of his lament of French Culture in The Diary of a Country Priest. We live in a culture where the youth are vulnerable to all kinds of reductions, but we have not acted in a way to protect our children from the materialistic, ideological, and other cultural pressures. Of course, there is no grand solution that can be proposed to help our youth. It is just sad to see that even among youth that have made a conscious effort to follow the Church, no one has come forward to help them to find their way to live faithfully in the modern world. What have we done to our young?