About three years ago, I started giving workshops entitled: "The Lost Generation: Reaching Out to Adult Catholics Disconnected from the Faith." The workshop grew out of emails, letters and in-person pleas I received in response to my book The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism. People kept coming up to me, telling me they'd never learned what was in my book, and sharing the stories of why and how they fell away from the faith of their birth.
And so I began to explore what I labeled the "lost generation," those Catholics -- like myself -- who came of age immediately after Vatican II and missed out on some of the basic teachings of the Church. (HERE is a story I did on this subject in the July 6, 2008 issue of OSV.)
As I say in my workshop, I was raised in the "era of the collage." The intentions were good but the lessons weren't always solid. Fortunately, I had a mom who was determined to make sure I got a good grounding in my faith no matter what was -- or was not -- being taught in CCD class. Not everyone was so lucky.
So, it was with great interest that I read stories about a recent conference at Fordham University that was focusing on a "lost generation," only the generation in question is the 20-something generation of today. The follow-up stories shared the good news that this generation isn't really lost at all.
Here's a quote from CNS:
"Catholic young adults aren’t as attached to the church as their counterparts from the 1940s and 1950s, but they are hardly a lost generation and have not abandoned the faith, according to speakers at a two-day forum at Jesuit-run Fordham University."
Notice who they're looking at: Catholic young adults and their "counterparts" from the 1940s and 50s. What about their counterparts from the 1960s and 70s? Their parents? That is the original lost generation, my generation, the folks who were lost along the way as the Church changed the methods and content of catechesis.
I have heard from these people. They are hungry for a closer connection to their Church. They are pained by their inability to get the basics they need so they can re-enter in a meaningful way. They feel lost, abandoned, let down. And now we can see why. They are completely missing from the discussions on how to reach adult Catholics, still lost between their own parents and their children.
As I have said in workshops from the Archdiocese of Denver to the Archdiocese of Newark, if we do not recognize this truly lost generation of Catholics, we will not be able to recapture the not-lost, but drifting generation that's coming along behind them. And the generations after that.
I see it in my own parish. I hear about every time I go out and speak on this topic. Here's a snippet from a post I wrote on this subject two years ago after giving a two-hour workshop in the Diocese of Albany:
How do we reach out to adult Catholics who feel cut off from their faith? How do we coax them back into the fold in unintimidating ways that will make them feel part of a faith community? There are no easy answers, but it absolutely has to begin with community first and catechesis second.
We can't expect people to show up for classes or meetings if they don't feel like they are part of something, if they have no stake in their parish or church. We have to give them ownership, welcome them, talk to them, answer their questions, and drop our preconceived notions about why they may or may not attend Mass, why they send their kids to faith formation but don't practice the faith at home. As I say in my talk, if they have any connection to the church at all -- no matter how tenuous -- it's a sign that they are within our grasp and may be hungry for something more.
...We need to reach the parents through the kids, educate the parents by involving them in the faith education of their children, connect with the parents not through mandatory meetings but through acts of solidarity and subtle, even hidden, catechesis. In other words, by making our faith real to them through our words and actions.
...We need to show people that their spiritual community can be a refuge in the midst of the chaos. But that means that parishes need to be truly welcoming, truly community-minded, truly open to new people and new ideas...We cannot demand discipleship. Instead we must extend an invitation that is so meaningful and so enticing that it simply cannot be refused.
There is a lost generation, a group of middle-aged Catholics who were left behind in the 1960s and 70s and remain so completely lost to us that no one even seems to notice they're gone. If we don't find a way to bring them back into the fold, we are in danger of losing the generations that follow. Then there won't be a lost generation but two or three lost generations.