Matthew Rose’s essay on Robert Bellah (“Serious Play”) and Peter Schwendener’s meditation on Midwestern roads (“Two Roads Home”) seem well-placed back to back in the July/August issue. Coming right after the article on Bellah, Schwendener’s observations feel like a particular illustration of the “cultural catastrophe” Bellah theorized. Bellah argued that contemporary American society lacks humanizing rituals—in Rose’s words, “rituals that interrupt everyday life, break up mundane patterns of perception, and elevate us above the profane world of survival, rivalry, and acquisition.” In considering the ritual of travel, Schwendener describes the more humanizing experience presented by slower, older roads, where the land and its history, in all its sadness and strangeness, are inescapable. But we no longer travel along such roads often: now, we take the interstate, which “reduces things to a featureless blur or sets them at an invisible distance.” The traveler on I-94 exists not in a place, but in a natural and cultural vacuum, with the world passing by as if on a digital screen. The only “ritual” on offer is the selection of generic consumer products at the rest stop. I applaud Schwendener’s choice to take the old roads as often as he can; we may find ourselves in the “iron cage” of modernity, but we can still try to catch a glimpse of a more human world through the bars.
North Haven, Conn.
Christ in the Young
Francis’s messages to young people (Austen Ivereigh, “Room for Everyone,” September 2023) were deeply Christocentric, constantly inviting them to listen to Jesus, to hear his call, to let him see and love them as they are, to let him accompany them, to welcome him into their hearts, and to love others as he loves them. The pope’s final words at the vast Mass in Tejo Park were an invitation to surrender: “He knows each of your hearts, each of your lives; he knows your joys, your sorrows, your successes and failures…. Today, he says to you, here in Lisbon, at this World Youth Day: ‘Have no fear, take heart, do not be afraid!’”
But who is actually taking this approach with our young adults and children? Who are the people on fire with Jesus’ (and the pope’s) message, and where are they? High school and college-aged youths have left the Church because it does not model Jesus for them. Sermons rarely speak to our children and young adults, let alone the rest of the folks in the pews. We scoff at kids who say Mass is boring, and we fail to listen. We are all encouraged to read the Bible, but little is taught on how to pray with it.
I have been a Catholic for eighty-three years, experiencing a relationship with Christ. Studying the Baltimore Catechism and now reading the new Catechism certainly doesn’t create that loving relationship. Our young people are thirsting for Jesus without realizing. Who will quench their thirst?