The National Catholic Review

I spent last week in New Haven mourning the death of my grandfather and celebrating his long life. I was fortunate to be with his wife of 62 years, my grandmother, and my aunts, uncles, and cousins during this difficult time. My grandfather was the son of German Catholic immigrants, and he served in World War II before marrying my grandmother in 1947. Together they raised 7 children, and were blessed with 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Preparing for his wake and funeral Mass, my grandfather’s Catholic faith was evident to all. He would be buried with his rosary wrapped around his hands, and his funeral would be celebrated at his parish church. He would wear a Knights of Columbus lapel pin.

Because of the circumstances, faith and religion were forefront on my mind much of the week. As the forty of us were together, I noticed that my family is a microcosm of the church in the U.S. today. My grandparents are both devout and weekly churchgoers. Their children, my aunts and uncles, were all raised in the post-conciliar church, and all are confirmed Catholics, but many are no longer practicing. Some express antipathy toward church teachings, others have fallen astray after years of stale liturgies or bad experiences with priests and nuns. Only a couple attend Mass regularly. Among my cousins, most do not practice their faith and have very little understanding of basic Catholic theology or culture. And perhaps worse than expressing anger or resentment toward the church, they see it and its teachings as irrelevant to their lives and their actions.

This one family represents a phenomenon the church is experiencing today. My family are thoughtful, caring, and loving individuals. The way they care for my grandmother and one another is truly remarkable and a manifestation of God’s grace. At the funeral Mass, we prayed together and participated in rituals that brought us comfort and consolation at a difficult time. But for most of my family, the church is not the regular outlet for meditation, formation of conscience, or even considered a place to connect with God.

The church must ask itself difficult questions if my generation is not to be separated from the sacraments. Why are baby boomers so reluctant to call the church their spiritual home? Has the next generation already been lost? What are we teaching our children about the faith? Are our liturgies adequately expressing God’s love for God’s children? Is the church talking in language that resonates with a modern world?

I don’t think the answers to these questions will be pleasant to hear for those who care about the church, but asking them is vital.

My grandfather was an accomplished engineer, a devoted husband, a caring father and grandfather, and a lifelong Catholic. I’m sure he is proud that the last descriptor is applied to his life, and I wonder if my generation will be robbed of that joy at the end of their lives if the church fails to discover ways to keep the young faithful engaged in the life of the church.

Michael O'Loughlin

Comments

Molly Roach | 1/25/2010 - 9:38pm
I was born in 1950 and I have four brothers.  Only one and myself are affiliated with our cradle church.  One is dead and buried from the Jehovah Witnesses and 2 are struggling with pain, confusion, hope that is not addressed by at least local Catholic Churches.   It ain't that the boomers ain't searching.  It is that the current generation of Church leaders are coy,unwilling to be found and detached from the issues of their generation.  Their narrow horizon includes a "right to life" that excludes protecting the vulnerable after they've been born, as well as a loaded political agenda which includes judgement and dismissal of all who will not march in lock step with them.  They are incapable of dialogue.   God protect us from this time of cowardly, self-serving, running for cover men who call themselves Roman Catholic Bishops.  They are without purpose and without shame.
Anonymous | 1/25/2010 - 6:20pm

Dear Michael: Their children, my aunts and uncles, were all raised in the post-conciliar church, and all are confirmed Catholics, but many are no longer practicing. Some express antipathy toward church teachings, others have fallen astray after years of stale liturgies or bad experiences with priests and nuns. Only a couple attend Mass regularly. Among my cousins, most do not practice their faith and have very little understanding of basic Catholic theology or culture. And perhaps worse than expressing anger or resentment toward the church, they see it and its teachings as irrelevant to their lives and their actions".-Michael O'Loughlin

May God be with you in your loss. Read everything written by John Hardon SJ. He will answer all of your questions.

JIM MCCREA | 1/26/2010 - 4:15pm
I belong to a parish that has a membership of people who struggled for many years outside before deciding to “come back.”  We are, in the main, lesbians and gay men and are "back" on our own terms, like so many Catholics who remain but never left.
 
However we are in a distinct minority.  Most of the LGBT folks I know who were raised Catholic have absolutely no use for the church and scoff at the idea of even considering returning.
 
It’s one thing to be raised a Catholic in a cultural Catholic environment.  It’s quite another thing to “keep the faith” when you have to deal with consequences that are not addressed adequately by that culture.
 
I’m sure Mr. O’Loughlin’s grandparents were good faithful Catholics.  Mine were, and so were my parents’ generation.  They dealt with issues with which they disagreed in their own way.  Birth control?  Not discussed but most certainly practiced in one way or another.  My generation (I’m 69) is not willing to live that way.
 
In this day and age the church gets back in spades what it dishes out in cold-hearted authoritarianism.