It seems sometimes that we are surrounded by bad news. There are so many depressing stories at home and abroad that it can appear we are living in dark times. Additionally, each new report that comes out about the religious affiliation of young people paints the grim picture that religion and the things of faith are increasingly seen as of little to no importance. Perhaps we wonder about what will happen to the Church in the future. While it is certainly true that the religious affiliation of the young has declined and that church pews are not as full as we would like, I have seen a different side of the story in my nearly four years as vocation director.
One of the main elements of the work I do involves young adults. This would be considered the target audience for those who may be discerning a vocation to the priesthood. From spring Bible study with the Frassati Fellowship in the city to a fall hike in the Hudson Valley, I am constantly around young adults and I am consistently encouraged by what I see and experience. Their devotion to the Lord and their fervor for the Church are evident.
One of the main challenges young adults in New York face is that their peers and co-workers either were not raised with any faith or, if they were, have rejected it. This leaves so many of these faithful young people with a deep desire to find a community that supports them. How blessed we are in the Archdiocese of New York that there is a strong young adult ministry from Tottenville to Tivoli.
One of the highlights is the monthly young adult Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Last month I concelebrated this Mass with Cardinal Dolan but could not join him in the sanctuary until the gospel because I, along with five other priests, was busy hearing confession for nearly an hour and half for the many young people who availed themselves of the sacrament. When I finally did join the Cardinal and looked out at the crowd assembled it was so edifying and uplifting to see the main section of the cathedral filled with well over 1,000 young people. Experiences like this cause me to take a deep breath and think to myself, “We’re going to be OK.” Now I don’t want anyone to think I am looking at this with rose-colored glasses. I understand there are significant challenges facing the Church as it reaches out to the youth. At the same time, however, it is important that we avoid a fatalism or gloom and doom scenario where we assume that things will just go from bad to worse.
While my hope is that some of these young adults will consider a call to the priesthood or religious life, I am encouraged by how many holy relationships and marriages are coming from these different young adult groups. Future vocations to the priesthood and religious life will come from marriages rooted in Christ. There are so many signs of hope, light shining in the darkness of our age. It may be tempting at times to lament over what we see around us but we need to always remember that Jesus promised to never abandon His Church. It is from His mouth that this assurance comes when he told Simon, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The Church has faced challenges worse than this before but we trust that Jesus is always with us. He certainly is present in the hearts of so many young people who love Him and His Church. That gives me reason to hope.