How do we transform a culture?
I have very few ideas but I see a great need for it to take place. When I see the hardened, embittered faces of my students as we have a discussion about something the Church teaches, there is a tendency to despair. How can these youth of 17 or 18 already have such a distaste for a Church I love so ardently? It is hard to determine if this is the fruit of their teenage angst and rebellion or if it is the result of a culture that is paganizing our youth right in front of us.
And who is to blame? I know it isn’t necessary to point the finger. Maybe it isn’t even helpful. But there must be someone who is failing which leads to us having this mounting problem. Is the school failing? What is the responsibility of the school in regards to nourishing the faith? Is the parish failing? How much is the result of poor catechesis from the parish and diocese? Are the parents failing? How much is blamed on the parents not modeling the faith for their children and how much is due to their own faulty knowledge of the Church and her teachings?
I don’t know who is mainly to blame but I do know that we all reap the negative consequences of a society that is becoming increasingly pagan. And if a specific group isn’t doing their expected share, there must be a way for the others to step up and help fill in the gaps. Obviously it would be ideal for the main education to come from parents who are ardently in love with their faith and on fire for Jesus Christ. In this ideal world they would also be supported by wonderful extended families, solid priests, evangelizing parishes, and a diocese that takes holiness seriously. And of course this would include authentically Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools as well as universities and religious orders.
Somewhere, though, the ball is getting dropped. The result is that I face a classroom full of seniors in high school who already seem jaded and hard-hearted. (Not all of them, granted.) It seems almost like a futile effort. I feel so easily frustrated and hurt when they express a disdain for the Church. They eye her suspiciously and know that she must be looking for ways to box them in, for ways to steal their joy and fun. And with this mentality there seems to be little I can do to sway them.
The other day I found myself talking to one of my senior classes about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Their faces were hard and critical. A few had smug looks or mocking smirks. My heart ached for them, trapped in their culturally indoctrinated mindset. How do I reach them? How do I explain that the Church is not bent on hatred but solely on love? How can I shatter their misconceptions of the Church? So I told them that even if they don’t understand what the Church teaches, even if they don’t agree with what the Church teaches, that they strive to believe that the Church loves them and desires the best for them. She isn’t trying to think of rules to trap them but is giving them guidelines to live in true and authentic freedom. Trust that she is acting out of love and not like a tyrant. Because that changes everything.
There is a delicate balance between realizing it doesn’t rely on me and yet desiring enough to do what I can with what the Lord has given me. Because it is so easy for me to simply chalk the world up to ridiculous and then retreat to my Catholic bubble. But this world falling apart does affect me. Even if I try to isolate myself from it all, it will impact my life because it is impacting the world and I live in it. And hopefully someday I will have kids and I cannot simply tell them to hide from the world for their entire lives. Jesus said something that seems to contradict that lifestyle. Something about being light and salt to the world. The Lord has given me a mission and it is my duty to fulfill that mission to the best of my ability. So when I try and the world still seems to all fall apart, I can rest in the knowledge that God knows, God cares, and God has a plan. Even the falling apart is resting in His hands.
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.
Rainer Maria Rilke