The problem with youth isn’t secular culture, it’s the lack of discipleship

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How can the church remain relevant to youth and secular society? Kevin Considine suggests that Catholics worry more about creating true disciples than the supposed threat of secularism.

By guest blogger Kevin Considine

World Youth Day 2011 is upon us. Although I have yet to attend one, I know that the gathering shows the dedication of numerous youth, both globally and locally, to the Catholic Church. Initiated in 1985 by Blessed John Paul II, it has taken on a life of its own. At least, this is my observation from a distance.

As each year tends to have an underlying theme, this year’s gathering in Madrid has to do with evangelizing the culture and society of Spain, and by implication all of Europe. Pope Benedict XVI has suggested that this gathering can be a demonstration of the relevance and power of religion to transform Spanish society and revitalize people’s lives.

The Pope’s goal is admirable, and World Youth Day is a positive showing of the church’s vitality among young people. Having said that, I think the expectations for this year’s gathering misses the mark. At least in part. This is because the basic problem isn’t a lack of enthusiasm for religion, nor is it only the encroachment of a morally ambiguous secular culture.

I cannot speak for the local Catholic Church in Spain. But from a U.S. perspective, the problem with the irrelevance of religion and the church is a lack of discipleship. The way to revive faith in society is in the day-to-day grind of living in community as followers of Christ. It is teaching young people that God’s grace is always, already present if only they (and all of us for that matter) are taught the ways to discern and see God’s presence in the world.

One of the great strengths of Roman Catholic spirituality is a sacramental worldview. This is rooted in participation in the sacraments as well as in what the German theologian Karl Rahner called a “mysticism of everyday life.” That is, the ability to see that all of creation is inherently good and can be a vehicle for mediating God’s grace and revelation to us. Of course, creation is marred and broken because of human sin. But at its greatest depths, creation remains engraced, good, and life-giving.

Is the church succeeding in this kind of discipleship? Are great numbers of young men and young women being mentored by those in their daily lives who reflect Christ? Are they being given the eyes and ears to encounter the living God of Jesus Christ? I don’t think so. And this creates a formidable problem: the irrelevance of the church and of religion. For there is no greater way to evangelize then by example in everyday life. This is what really transforms people and reveals God’s presence to them. What’s missing is discipleship and mentoring to pass on a “mysticism of everyday life.”

World Youth Day is to be commended and I hope to visit and personally experience it one day. But, from my observer’s chair here in the United States, I wonder if the Pope is missing the mark. The most pressing problem isn’t the larger culture of secularism and anti-religion (although those are indeed pressing problems). I think the main problem is a lack of mentoring and discipleship on the local level. Maybe this can be the theme for next year’s World Youth Day.


Kevin Considine is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Loyola University-Chicago.

For the week of August 15 - August 19, we'll be featuring reflections from guest bloggers in celebreation of World Youth Day 2011. To submit your reflection, email onlineeditor@uscatholic.org with no more than 500 words. We cannot promise your submission will be published.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.