Why are young Catholics leaving the Church?

It’s no secret that the Catholic Church is losing members quickly, and many of them are of the younger generation. Statistics show that for every convert, there are six Catholics that leave the Church. Nearly 13 percent of Americans have described themselves as “former Catholics.” A report released by the Pew Forum shows that the number of Catholics in the United States has dropped by 3 million since 2007. While it is true that the Church cannot be destroyed by humans and is infallible, these statistics show that many, many souls are spiritually at risk. Among adults, many people have left the Church because of the recent scandals and because of disagreement with the Church’s teachings, but it is a different story with the younger generation. Many young Catholics are dropping out because they do not fully understand their faith, society and the media are influencing them in a very bad way, and sometimes their lifestyle contradicts the teachings of the Church.

Lack of understanding about the Catholic faith and inadequate knowledge about the Church’s teachings is the beginning of leading young Catholics away from God and from truth. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” This clearly shows that many Catholics and non-Catholics alike have misconceptions about what the Church really teaches. Many young Catholics nowadays have not been taught well and do not understand their faith. The number of students in Catholic schools has decreased from 5.2 million students in the 1960s to roughly 2 million. The diminishing number of Catholics that understand their faith and want to follow Jesus has led to a decrease in vocations, so there are also fewer people to teach the next generation of Catholics.

Catholics must understand basic beliefs, such as the Eucharist, Original Sin, the Paschal Mystery, and salvation before they can understand the Church’s social teachings on, for example, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and social justice. If young people do not understand the Church’s teachings, it will be much easier for them to be led astray by outside forces. Matthew 13:1-9 says: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The explanation of the parable is given in Matthew 13:18-23: “‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’”

The problem nowadays is that young Catholics are not being well-educated in their faith, and therefore are not understanding it fully. Since many of them do not have their foundation of faith and understanding on “good soil”, no fruit is being produced. Jesus’s explanation is clear: when a person does not understand their faith, the “evil one” will tempt them and lead them away from God and the truth. And in the modern world, Catholics are surrounded by temptations and immorality because they have simply become part of our culture.

Society and the media are also leading young Catholics away from the faith. Remember that the Devil is the “god of the world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “father of lies” (John 8:44). We know this is true because society and the media have led many Catholics astray with deception. And since many Catholics are not well-informed about their faith and what the Church teaches, they are more easily led away from God and the truth through the “evil one” and his works, as well as the sinfulness found in modern-day culture. Society and the media are often at conflict with Church teaching. The former is blocking access to the truth, and tries to teach us to adopt a “do whatever makes you happy” kind of attitude. However, real happiness can only be found in God.

Our society tells us to do what we feel is right for ourselves, and to do whatever makes us happy. Fornication is considered a freedom, people talk openly about what used to be considered “unacceptable”, and many people believe that everyone has a different set of morals (moral relativism). What is considered “acceptable” by society has changed from age to age, era to era. Yet the Church’s teachings have never changed. The Catholic faith is counter-cultural. Society’s definition of “happiness” is the superficial definition. True joy is more than temporary pleasure. When a lot of people nowadays think about what makes them feel good, they think of things like money, getting new clothes, living in a big house, buying a new fancy car, etc. But these are worldly pleasures that won’t last – and time and time again, as we try to make ourselves happy with worldly things, the excitement soon fades. What we, as Christians, think of as “happiness” may seem strange to secular society. We believe that happiness comes from God. The real peace and joy that comes from God alone will survive any troubles that life sends us while we are on earth, and we will experience its fullness in Heaven.

While sin can create temporary pleasure for a person, the damage has still been done whether one realizes it or not. For example, one can choose to smoke ten packs of cigarettes a day. While this can cause the person to feel calm and relaxed temporarily, the damage has been done; addiction can become a problem, and this leads to health problems and even death. Likewise, indulging in sin can lead to spiritual damage and even spiritual death. Having strong faith and a good understanding of the Church’s teachings and why they are correct will set us free from sin and will provide a defense against society’s lies. Moral relativism is also a real problem in the modern-day world. To put it in a nutshell, moral relativism teaches that one person’s morals can differ from another’s, that there is no one “right” moral law, and that there is no absolute truth. However (referencing my first point), young Catholics need to be taught that there is absolute truth, and this can only be found in God and His Church. In short, the faith of young Catholics is being threatened by the incorrect ideas society is trying to teach them, and they don’t know that worldly things only create temporary pleasure while God provides eternal happiness.

Another reason why young Catholics are leaving the Church is that after having been led astray by the incorrect ideas of society and the media, they realize that their lifestyle conflicts with Church teaching. Many times, their issues arise from the Church’s moral teachings about sex, especially masturbation, homosexual activity, premarital sex (fornication), and cohabitation. They may also disagree with the teachings about topics such as gay marriage, abortion, and contraception. This is a major hindrance in the search for truth, and the problem does not affect only young Catholics exclusively. Many people, adults and non-Christians included, have a hard time accepting truth because it requires them to change their habits and lifestyle. Also, it can be assumed that many young Catholics personally disagree with the Church’s teachings because of their lack of understanding, and this makes them far less willing to change their bad habits and lifestyles to seek truth and follow the Church’s teachings. They would rather leave the Church than do something so “inconvenient.”

Truth compels us to change at times, and sometimes we are unwilling to do so. Jesus spoke about this, too, in Luke 14:25-27: “Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, ‘If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.’” Sometimes while trying to be a disciple of Christ, we meet up with difficult situations, and instead of facing these situations and trusting God, we try to run away. The deeper one gets oneself into the snares of a sinful lifestyle, the further one is tempted to run away from God and hide from Him. In Genesis 3:8, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they sinned. After Original Sin, it is simply our human reaction to run away from God, ashamed, when we sin, rather than asking Him for forgiveness. When we apply this concept to young, modern-day Catholics, it makes sense that a sinful lifestyle can lead to leaving the Church.

In conclusion, many young Catholics nowadays are leaving the Catholic Church because of lack of knowledge about their faith, the bad influence from society and the media, and a lifestyle that conflicts with Church teachings. The statistics are not very encouraging, especially for parents who would like their children to remain Catholic even after they become adults and leave home. But all is not lost, for with God, nothing is impossible. We can help these people continue in their journey of faith by making sure they understand their faith and by teaching them about sin. They must understand that they cannot believe everything that appears on their computer screens. They also must be taught that unlike what moral relativism teaches, there is absolute truth, and that only God can bring them real happiness. Even though right now more people are leaving the Church than people who are converting to Catholicism, hopefully this will change in the future. One truth is stronger than a thousand lies, and God will triumph over the evil one.

The Christian Reaction to Violence

Watching the news the other night left me utterly speechless. Recently, so many acts of violence have been perpetrated in the United States and around the world. Terrorist attacks and deadly shootings. Suicide bombings. Peaceful protests that turned violent. Religious persecution. Need I say more?

Does it not violate a person’s conscience to commit such despicable crimes? Clearly, many of them thought about their plans thoroughly, and had clear, yet terrible, motives as to why they would ever do such a thing. Even after sufficient reflection, they, using their free will, made the choice to murder innocent people. Is this not contrary to moral law?

Brothers and sisters, this is a time of crisis, and prayer becomes even more important. First, we must pray for the families, both the immediate and extended, of those who have lost their lives in despicable acts of violence. After such a tragedy, many people may be tempted to believe that God has abandoned them, question His mercy and goodness, and turn away from Him. Yet God can give comfort to those who have lost their loved ones. We must pray that those who are grieving will turn to God, rather than away from Him.

Second, we must pray for the victims themselves, so that they may be saved and enjoy everlasting peace and joy with God in heaven. Through no fault of their own, they have lost their lives; some were even in the act of defending and helping others when they died. Third, we must pray for those who are thinking of following the examples of the terrorists. We must pray that these unfortunate would-be terrorists can experience conversion and a change of heart, through God’s grace. And fourth, we must pray that government officials will make morally correct decisions while handling the crisis.

Violence cannot be solved with more violence, but only with peace. As Christians, we need to, at times, fight the temptation of getting revenge on someone who has wronged us. Christ tells us to love and pray for our enemies. Instead of responding to violence with more violence, we need to solve the problem in a more effective way – love. Through prayer, we can help stop future terrorists from attacking, offer God’s peace and comfort to grieving families, and ask for the salvation of the victims of terrible crimes.

Evil exists on earth because God respects our free will, but He still loves us all as His children. Let us pray for the conversions of those who are lost, and let us help those who are in the dark see the “Son” shine!

A Christian Response to the ISIS Crisis

On August 7, 2015, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria captured a group of Christians from a village near Aleppo, whose name is withheld for security reasons. The group was comprised of eleven missionary workers, including the twelve-year-old son of the ministry team leader. Although they were not required to stay in the village, and the ministry director who had trained the workers had even suggested for them to leave, they chose to stay anyway. As the Islamic State (ISIS) and other rebel groups took over several villages, the ministry workers decided to remain in those villages to help the survivors and share the gospel.

On August 28, the ISIS militants asked the Christian workers if they had renounced Islam, replacing it with Christianity. The workers answered in the affirmative, and refused to convert back to Islam in order to save their lives. In response to this, the Islamic extremists cut off the fingertips of the boy and began to beat him, claiming they would stop if his father would return to Islam. They also tortured two other ministry workers. All of the Christians refused to renounce their faith, and the three men and the boy were crucified. Later that day, the other eight were taken to another part of the village and asked questions before a crowd. Two women asked what they had done wrong to deserve abuse, saying they only wanted to share the peace and love of Christ. The extremists publicly raped the women and then had all eight beheaded.

This is just one of many violent incidents that have occurred because of ISIS, and the violence is not only directed towards Christians. As of September 25, 2015, the Islamic State has executed more than 10,000 people, including women and children, in Iraq and Syria. 1,858 of all those executed in Syria were civilians. 98 of them were women and 76 were children under the age of 18. ISIS has killed civilians, Syrian soldiers, rebel fighters, and even its own fighters when they violate ISIS’s twisted laws.

These are only a portion of the shocking statistics. My purpose here is not to provide information about what is going on in the world, since that can be found in many other sources, but to bring up some questions for all Christians here in the West: How should we respond to the news of such violent and immoral acts? Should we be praying for the destruction of ISIS fighters or for them to see the truth in Jesus Christ?

Many people have said that the problem is simply too complicated to handle quickly, and that no simple solution is in sight. Others say that if there is a God, He would not have allowed such destruction to take place, and therefore He either doesn’t exist at all, is dead, or simply doesn’t care about us and what is happening in the world. If God is loving and merciful, why does this happen? We should not ask this question. Rather, we should be asking: What have we, the human race, done to ourselves? We are destroying ourselves! When God created people in His image, He gave us the gift of free will. And since God is perfect and because He did not create evil, it is only logical that many evil things happen in the world because we use our free will the wrong way.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam ‘as one body of one man.’ By this ‘unity of the human race’ all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’ – a state and not an act” (CCC 404).

Using the free will God gave us, we can choose either to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior or to reject Him. Let’s use an analogy. Imagine you are climbing a mountain, and that you feel like you’ll fall unless someone helps you. Imagine Jesus standing at the top, throwing down a ladder for you. Now you must choose to grab the ladder and climb, or ignore it and fall. If you accept Jesus, you will be saved, but if you reject Him, you cannot achieve salvation yourself. In other words, we are sinful human beings unable to redeem ourselves before the eyes of God; we need Jesus to save us. What God can do is lead us in the right direction, but ultimately it is our decision whether or not to listen. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, our very nature has been corrupted, and we have a tendency to sin. However, the choice is still freely chosen, because no one is born objectively evil, just as no one is born predestined to hell for eternity.

Even though terrorists are often described as “inhuman” beings, we must remember that all people were created equal; and that we are sinners too, though perhaps to a less extreme degree. The people involved in awful terror groups such as ISIS have free will just as we do, and had the ability to choose right over wrong – if they hear and accept God’s calling. We must help them. We must pray for their conversion and help them see the truth in Christ, before it is too late. In fact, we have a moral obligation to do so, because Jesus told us to love everyone, even our worst enemies:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

It is very clear here: destroying our enemies is not a very Christian way to react to violence! In the same chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” Jesus would not approve if we retaliated against our enemies. He didn’t express hatred of the people that crucified Him. That’s because God is Love, and Jesus loves everyone. He died for us sinners even though we really didn’t deserve it. So we should follow Christ’s example by loving and praying for our enemies.

In conclusion, the terrorists involved in groups like the Islamic State are not evil people; they have just used their free will in the wrong way. Instead of declaring war on them, we should pray for them to help them overcome their past mistakes and learn their lesson. Many saints started out as terrible sinners but changed their ways after their conversion. One example is the conversion of St. Paul; this shows that God can change the heart of any sinner, even someone who persecutes His Church! God calls us all to be saints, so even the terrorists can become better people. If we love our neighbor as ourself, we should not wish for harm upon them. Therefore, I believe we Christians in the West should pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are being persecuted, as well as for the terrorists’ conversion. This way, as we help both our friends and enemies, we are obeying Jesus Christ’s command to love everybody, whether they are saints or sinners.