By David Cooley.
I have read many religious resources that state that there is a crisis of faith among Catholic young people. I don’t doubt that at all. Recent studies estimate that only 20 percent of young Catholics are practicing their faith by the age of 22. But I wonder, is there not also a crisis of faith among older generations? I, personally, don’t think the spiritual struggle has an age bias. I think it’s fair to say that young Catholics aren’t going to see their faith lives as important if their parents and relatives don’t see their faith lives as important, at least while they are still in their formative years.
You have to give children and young adults a little credit, they can tell if you really believe or not. They can see how important going to Mass is to you and how much time you spend praying. If you spend most of your time on a cell phone or watching Netflix, that’s probably how they are going to spend most of their time, too. But, we must ask ourselves, is our Catholic faith important enough to spend time on; to sacrifice for? We simply can’t escape the fact that if we are going to pass down the faith we have to know and understand it ourselves. Moreover, we can’t truly understand our faith unless we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The failure to center our lives on Christ has serious consequences, especially for young people who look up to us for answers.
There is a lot of pressure growing up in today’s world. Youth have to deal with a lot of things that we didn’t have to deal with growing up (social media for example!), and if we do not meet our children where they are they will be bombarded by a culture and a way of life that leads them to nothing but emptiness and sadness.
Three different secular news articles recently caused me to pause and reflect on that fact. The first was from USA Today and was titled “‘Deaths of despair’ from drugs, alcohol and suicide hit young adults hardest.” It reported that drug-related deaths, alcohol deaths and suicides among millennials — a generation typically defined as those born between 1981 and 1996 — soared 108 percent, 69 percent and 35 percent respectively. An analysis of the data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the increase for these three “deaths of despair” for people who are 23 to 38 years old were higher than for baby boomers and senior citizens. The article went on to site possible reasons for this, including burdensome levels of debt, difficulty in starting careers and the opioid crisis. Since many millennials have families of their own, these addiction struggles and overall poor mental health conditions could have a serious impact on multiple generations for years to come.
The second article from Daily Mail was titled “Loneliest generation: A quarter of millennials say they have no friends.” The article described an unprecedented sense of loneliness among young adults despite the ability to call, text, e-mail, snap, tweet, post and live stream one another from anywhere on the planet. According to the article there is a vicious cycle involved — isolation takes a toll on mental health, which in turn makes people withdraw and then they become more isolated and depressed. I don’t think it is a far stretch to assume that this sense of isolation is also part of the blame for the surging rates in deaths of despair.
The third and final article was titled “From binge drinking to blacking out, the disturbing epidemic putting America’s kids in danger,” which was featured in CBS News. In short, this article stated that there is a silent pandemic having to do with “the pervasive and problematic drinking culture among American youth.” Binge drinking has not only been normalized but it is also a “marker of social status.” In other words there is a lot of pressure to drink enormous amounts of alcohol at once because “all the cool kids are doing it.” Almost 2,000 college-aged youth are dying every year on college campuses, and it doesn’t seem like this tragedy gets the attention that it deserves.
Millennials and Gen Z seem to be the most stressed out, isolated and depressed generations in recent memory, despite what some might argue, thanks to technological advances, is an easy life. So, what are we missing here? Experts say that millions of young people are turning to drugs and alcohol to numb themselves and escape their stress, and on top of all that we are in the midst of some kind of loneliness epidemic. So much for the carefree days of youth! Isn’t there something else they can turn to? Can’t some of us, who have already learned some truths the hard way, guide our youth toward something better?
People are desperately looking for something to fill a void in their lives. As Catholics we know, as St. Augustine said, that our hearts our restless until they rest in the Lord; however, our society and our culture often remove God from the equation completely or at the very least put him on the back burner as an afterthought. The Church has a wonderful opportunity to once again rise to the occasion to remind a darkened world about the Way, the Truth and the Life. No matter where you are, you are in mission territory. If we don’t do our best to help our youth and our peers understand that life has a purpose and that each one of us is an irreplaceable human being that is loved and made in the image and likeness of God, the consequences will continue to be devastating. Of course we have to first believe all of this ourselves. We must focus on the joy of the Gospel, the goodness and beauty in our world; because, whether you believe it or not, there is so much to live for, to hope for and to share with each other.
David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Department of Catechesis and Faith Formation in the Diocese of Covington.