Can Catholicism Seem Cool to Your Kids?

U.S. Catholic, July 1997 | Go to article overview

Can Catholicism Seem Cool to Your Kids?


When your teenage daughter tells you that the Dalai Lama has a lot more going for him than the pope, do you have an answer for her? Just what about Catholicism makes it attractive to the younger generation?

According to Robert Ludwig, director of university ministry and professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, it's up to adults to "move people from a rote Catholicism to a real sense of ownership and community." If adult Catholics don't take this job on, "the new generations are not going to be a part of a church that doesn't really believe in and act on its teachings."

What do you think of the state of the Catholic Church?

Catholicism needs to be reconstructed in light of Vatican II. It is, in fact, already being reconstructed--from the bottom up.

Today, everything needs reconstructing because society is going through a dramatic, profound, cultural transition--a paradigm shift.

All this has to do with human beings believing they live on top of nature, when in fact we're embedded in nature. And that whole relationship is being re-understood.

There are lots of ways we can talk about this, but basically it has to do with the fact that the assumptions and hopes that emerged with the Enlightenment in the late 16th and early 17th centuries are being questioned in profound ways today. We're moving into what is called a postmodern period.

Everything is falling apart, from family, to government, to corporations, to individualism. As we move into a new millennium, people are beginning to see that we've got to try to retrieve what is good from the past and refashion it in a way that is useful today.

How is Catholicism part of that?

Catholicism intuited these changes in the middle of the century when Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council. Did we need Vatican II in 1962? No--seminaries and convents were full, our parochial school system was humming, the churches were full on Sunday morning, and Catholic publishing was doing great. Not just in this country, but around the world Catholicism was doing well.

But we need Vatican II as we move toward the year 2000, and all of the intuitive insights of the council--moving to a more ecumenical and interfaith agenda, focusing on conscience and individual choice, retrieving the origins of the tradition, and teaching people to take ownership--are very important now. The vision for reconstructing Catholicism is at least 30 years old.

Some would say that Vatican II's changes unleashed many of the problems we struggle with today.

The changes we're undergoing now are mainly cultural, and the church was responding to that cultural transformation. The Catholicism of the 1950s was ready for a profound cultural attack. As long as Catholicism was a subculture primarily made up of immigrants, the way the church was structured worked very well in America. But John F. Kennedy's election signaled a larger transformation of Catholicism into mainstream America. No longer could Catholics attend services in Latin, memorize the Baltimore Catechism, and do all of the things that were a part of the pre-Vatican II world.

In what ways has our culture been transformed?

Three key shifts have happened. First of all, we're moving from regional homogeneity to global diversity and pluralism.

Second, we've moved from a world of authoritarian institutions to a world of self-determination--which is a burden and a liberation. The easiest example I can give is of the telephone. When I was a senior in college, I moved off campus, and my roommate and I decided we needed to order our own telephone. So we called [he telephone company and got a black-dial telephone. That was in 1965. Today there are countless choices to make when buying a telephone. You have to figure out what kind, what color, what long distance company you're going to use. Today all of these choices have to be made not only about products but with regard to ideas, values, and meanings. …

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