Back in 2014, I met with Rich Cronin ’76, a television producer from California, to talk about Notre Dame creating a communications effort to stem the tide of young people drifting away from the Catholic Church. Grotto Network, a digital media platform headquartered on campus, launched its programming in November 2017. It hopes to retrieve those millennials beyond the reach of parent and pulpit by offering the intellectual and spiritual nourishment needed to keep young adults tethered to a life of faith in a world of eroding religious influence.
This decline of religion has been analyzed by sociologists and scholars, theologians and journalists, parents and priests. The vitality of Catholicism has been a topic of institutional self-examination — and a casus belli for those alumni and faculty who believe Notre Dame has lost its soul. Catholicism lives on the pages of this magazine and gets wrangled in its letters to the editor.
While such discussion is often valuable and illuminating, perhaps the key factor in persuading others to understand the appeal of one’s faith is demonstrating its effect on the way we live. How does that faith work in our lives? How does it show itself?
“Cafeteria Catholic” is a term most often used to criticize those who pick and choose the Church teachings they follow. But we are all, to greater and lesser degrees, “cafeteria Catholics.” It is all right with me that Catholicism is alive and rich and deep enough to nurture a multitude of tastes and personalities, all the unique paths of faith and truth that attract us as individuals.
Some of us are more comfortable deferring to authority; some like the certainty of rules and order. But there are seekers and mystics among us, too, those for whom the spirit moves in strong yet mysterious ways and for whom life is a pilgrimage of discovery. Some of us live our faith in action, going to the battle lines of social injustice; others seek prayerful solitude and contemplation.
Some see their faith as a bulwark in the culture wars; others see that faith as a divider there. Some see the pro-life movement as the paramount issue confronting America today, while others respond to the face of Christ in refugees, in social outcasts, in neighbors not like us, those with whom we disagree. Some bring their faith into politics; others wonder how all the diverse tenets of our faith find a home in either persuasion. Some see the divine in creation and use Laudato Si’ as a blueprint for humanity’s place on Earth.
Some favor mercy over judgment; some decry the wages of sin. Some look to Rome for the answers; some point to the primacy of conscience. The variations and distinctions are endless, as diverse as the children of God. Sort of like all the pieces in a mosaic whose ultimate image is the Body of Christ.
And here we all are — not expected to think and live in uniformity, but called to be an example of our faith in practice, to be a vessel, an instrument of God, carrying that fire of divine love inside of us, that flame of faith and love that maybe draws others to it. What better way to bring others to your faith?
If you need an example to see what I mean, consider one such mosaic piece — though not a Catholic one — coming from that younger generation. Read Morgan Bolt’s story about his journey with God through cancer.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.