Conversation with Archbishop Dolan
He suggests that the problem with 20 and 30 somethings not participating in the Church is somehow connected with a lack of certainty.
I’m really not sure what he’s saying here. It could be at least two things:
1. These Catholics decide to leave the Church structure because they haven’t been told, with certainty, by a seamless Catholic world, that leaving it means certain death–spiritually, etc. The consequences of leaving aren’t made clear to them. This strikes me as old school fire-and-brimstone. Good luck with that–it seems to me to depend upon a seamless Catholic world to back up the fire-and-brimstone.
2. These Catholics are leaving because the Church has failed to offer them certainty–it has only offered them a question mark. People don’t give their lives for a question mark. But is this, in fact, why people are leaving? Because the Church isn’t certain or definite enough in its pronouncements? My own sense, as a professor, is that this isn’t the case. Students are happy to find out the nuance in the tradition, the possibility for argument and discussion. The different levels of Church teaching, the way the Church’s position has evolved over time, are seen to be to the credit of the Church, not to its detriment. Their problem is precisely the opposite of what the Archbishop identifies–the argument that you face in the classroom is that the Church is repeating mindlessly moral norms from another century, and is loath to take into account new circumstances. They’re not going to raise their kids Catholic because they think of it as a destructive form of fundamentalism-not because it’s too wishy-washy.
Now it may be that the subset of people who now feel called to join the priesthood are attracted by the certainty –and that the greater the certainty, the greater the recruits. In which case, we have another set of problems — the clash in sensibilities between clergy and laypeople.
3. Finally, where, exactly, is the question mark? It seems to me that a good basis for dedicating one’s life to God is a belief in God –not a belief that anyone, including the Church, can put God in a box. All the great thinkers of the Church, in the end, were great because they lived into the question mark–God is a mystery, the Church (as Vatican II tells us) is a mystery. In fact, the first Chapter of Lumen Gentium is entitled “The Mystery of the Church.” (A dogmatic constitution of a council–about as high up in magisterial teaching as you can get, for those who like certainty about their mystery.)
In a post-modern, pluralistic society, it seems to me that what we need isn’t more dogmatic certainty–(there’s a lot of dogmatic certainty in the culture, in fact–Bill O’Reilley’s talking points) but a more deliberate, less trendy way of living into the mystery of God.