The Kids Are All Right
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) recently described his book on our adolescent culture as something more than an old man yelling at the kids on his lawn. I agree with Sasse that our artistic, social and political milieu seems more juvenile, shallow and sensation-driven than ever, and I hope this column offers something similar to the senator’s aim — an example of harmony amidst the noise and hope among the pessimism.
I was in Orlando recently for a national gathering of Catholic leaders organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A near-decade in the making, it involved listening, information-sharing, and revival-like prayer. It was partly an attempt to get on the same page, with an urgency like the kind coming from Pope Francis, who pleads on a consistent basis that Christians take their religion seriously, which means living out its radical love.
The convocation, as it was called, came almost a year after I stood on stage at an arena in Krakow, as 20,000 English-speaking pilgrims stood and cheered an Iraqi archbishop as the hero that he is. His people are largely Christians who fled the so-called Islamic State yet manage to find peace and joy amidst utter uncertainty about how and even where they will live their lives in the future.
The young people, many of them Americans, were at the Krakow arena for World Youth Day, a triennial international faith event organized by the Catholic church. When I talked to them and some of the adults chaperoning them, I didn’t hear the cynicism, anger and despair so common in political and social discourse these days. Because these young people seemed to know two important things: Politics isn’t everything; and we ought to stop fluctuating between acting like it is, using it for entertainment, and being indifferent or apathetic to it.
The Orlando gathering I recently attended was described by at least one bishop as a World Youth Day for adults. Among other things, he was no doubt commenting on the beautiful music and depth of prayer. There was a palpable sense that the world needs Christians to get the foundations right: real faith and the Beatitudes. With a lot of focus on the joy of the Gospel and the necessity to go out to the peripheries with it, as the pope is wont to say, it’s worth noting that more people think about the Ten Commandments when they consider Christianity than they do about the Sermon on the Mount. Working on changing that that was a clear theme of the gathering.
When I moderated a panel on media and culture in Orlando, the star of the show seemed to be a new book by an African cardinal on the vital need for silence. As one of the days in Orlando coincided with the memorial of Saint Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, who Pope Francis celebrated as a saint for the first time when he was in Washington, DC, in the fall of 2015, the pope’s words that day seemed to be in the background, too. He talked at the time about how we often find ourselves racing and drowning and worried. To relax, we may just be overwhelming our senses with noise or images that can overstimulate us to the point of anesthetization.
So, what’s an alternative? Real, self-giving, sacrificial love of the kind that Christianity is all about. In Orlando, the final homily from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Texas, current president of the bishops conference, focused on the need for contemplation for that kind of love to be possible.
I recently heard someone describe the United States as being in midlife crisis mode. Maybe it’s something different. Maybe it’s actually the natural growing pains of a still-young country? In which case, a little wisdom might not hurt. Not so much stay off the lawn, but look up from the screens. Be silent and experience life together!
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