While there are many reasons Catholics must hold onto faith in the future of the Church, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia highlights one reason.
In an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, the archbishop — who is in Rome as member of the permanent committee of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment,” from Oct. 3-28 — acknowledged that the Church faces tough times but that, “One of the things we all need to recover is an accurate sense of history. It’s a great antidote to despair.”
The U.S. prelate also shared direct pastoral experience with young people, what their greatest challenges are and how sometimes contemporary American cultural values exacerbate this, and episodes which gave him hope. He also gives practical advice on young people living their faith.
Our Sunday Visitor: What do you see as the biggest challenges young people face today? And what do you think matters most to them?
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: One of the biggest challenges, at least in the so-called “developed” countries, is noise. Young people live in an envelope of distractions. Many have never been outside that envelope, so the Church and her message seem irrelevant to them. We can’t know God, we can’t even really know ourselves, without some measure of silence in our lives. Silence allows us to rest, and think, and ask questions. But everything in American culture is designed to do the opposite; to create restlessness, a constant appetite for things that are new and “loud” in the sense of demanding our attention.
I hear all the time that young people crave “authenticity.” I think their real need is meaning. Without God, man doesn’t have a purpose. Only very strong and privileged people can sustain the illusion of creating their own meaning. The rest of us are stuck with a longing for something more than the consumer junk and narcotics our culture offers. We have a daily life that’s packed with material stuff, but that lacks beauty. This is why so many young persons are sad. It’s why they’re so angry. Life seems to make no sense.
OSV: Could you share some episodes with young people that left an impression, especially those which give you hope?
Archbishop Chaput: The hundreds of thousands of young adults, children and families at the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia were astonishing for their faith and enthusiasm. That was a huge boost in hope for anyone who attended. And likewise, anyone who takes part in the national gatherings of FOCUS [Fellowship of Catholic University Students] will come away changed for the better by the joy and confidence among the young people. They’re alive with the Gospel. ...
OSV: How is the Faith and knowing you are loved by God essential for a young person? But, equally so, how does living a life where they live their faith in going to Mass, regular prayer, the sacraments, trying to follow the advice of the saints, give meaning to the lives of young people?
Archbishop Chaput: That gets back to your first question, and the absence of meaning in so many young people’s lives. It’s reflected in today’s young adult suicide rates. God anchors a genuinely human life. We need God, which is why faith is so important. Of course, faith is more than just words and good intentions. You actually need to live your faith in your daily actions. That takes patience and determination, and also humility. Faith is made real by practice, and by immersing ourselves in the rhythm of Church life, which implies the need for prayer, confession, Mass and seeking out Christian friendships.
OSV: Do you observe those living their faith, or who recognize God and Jesus giving mean to their lives, are happier than those who do not?
Archbishop Chaput: They’re obviously happier. It’s the difference between someone who’s going somewhere and knows it; and someone who’s wandering around lost.
OSV: What elements of being Catholic — or of Catholic living (such as Mass, prayers, adoration, retreats, reading about the saints lives, confession) — do you think are the biggest help to young people in their daily lives?
Archbishop Chaput: All of the above. Mass is fundamental, but the Sacrament of Penance is very powerful. So is the habit of adoration.
OSV: What gives you hope about the future of the Church?
Archbishop Chaput: One of the things we all need to recover is an accurate sense of history. It’s a great antidote to despair. The Church faces some very painful times in the decades ahead. We need to be realistic about that. But we’ve been through worse, many times before. I know too many outstanding young priests and lay leaders to be afraid. Fear, worry, melancholy, despair — these things are from the devil, who’s a liar. Pope Francis talks about Jesus as “eternally young.” It’s a wonderful image. We get tired. God doesn’t. He informs and sustains the world — and his Church — with his love. Once we really believe that, there’s no better reason to have hope. And it’s the only reason we need.
Deborah Castellano Lubov writes from Rome.