‘This is how you do Church.’

‘This is how you do Church.’

As I settled into my pew at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago one recent Sunday morning, I gazed up at the beautiful interior, a feast for the eyes, and hoped for a liturgy that would be a feast for my soul. I was not disappointed; in fact, I was joyful, verging on giddy.

Thumbing through the cathedral bulletin before Mass, I read an informative public policy piece on growing anti-Catholic sentiments and religious liberty; a short reflection on that day’s Gospel story; and a reflection on the upcoming Feast of Mary Magdalene that made this Magdala fan-girl smile from ear to ear. In terms of a spiritual meal, this spread was a feast of delicious appetizers that left me content and looking forward to the main course, which was everything I’d hoped for and more.

The music was accessible and easy to sing. The homily was on-point and offered food for thought. The Liturgy of the Eucharist was reverent to the point of giving me goosebumps. The pews were filled with people young and old, families and singles, but, best of all, so many young adults. After a liturgy that was beautiful from start to finish, the lector ran through announcements about upcoming events — coffee and pastry in the courtyard after Mass, a summer jazz concert (BYO picnic dinner), a paint-and-sip party. Everything was free and open to anyone and everyone, no exceptions. I turned to my husband, Dennis, and said: “This is how you do Church.”

As we walked out of Mass, we were stopped multiple times by people encouraging us to join them in the courtyard. The young priest who wrote the Mary Magdalene reflection was greeting people in the back. (I knew he was the writer because he was wearing a name tag.) I stopped to thank him for the inspiration. Then I made my way over to the celebrant so I could thank him as well.

Maybe the hopefulness of that morning has something to do with the population of Chicago in general. I had felt a surge of hope as we wandered the halls of the Chicago Art Institute because it was so crowded with young adults and families, but I believe my Mass high was due to more than demographics. It was due to the intentional effort that had been made to welcome newcomers, to find points of connection, to offer something relevant and inviting, to recognize that, while the Eucharist is Source and Summit, we humans often need tangible benefits to go along with the transcendent intangibles.

For years I’ve given a talk called “Lost Generation,” which focuses on reaching out to adult Catholics disconnected from the faith. One of my key points has been that we cannot bridge the divide by starting with theology, or even with Eucharist. For many people who are inactive or uncatechized, the Eucharist is a Mystery that requires time, prayer and revelation that doesn’t always arrive all at once when someone walks through the door. We have to meet people at the door, connect with them where they are, and walk with them down the path until the mundane gives way to Mystery.

That connection begins with sincere welcome, with broad inclusion, with coffee gatherings and painting classes — not just once in a while and not just with minimum effort. Connection begins with a willingness to let go of the old mantra, “We’ve always done it this way,” and open our hearts and minds to new ways of doing things.

There’s a surefire way to know if we’re on target: Imagine you are a non-Catholic — or disconnected Catholic — walking into Sunday Mass at your church for the very first time. Would that experience of Church make you want to come back a second time? If the answer is not a resounding YES, it’s time to rethink the usual routines.

People are hungry for deep connection and loving community. If you build it, they will come. And they will bring their friends.

This column originally appeared in the Aug. 4, 2022, issue of The Evangelist.

Lost Generations? No one to blame but ourselves

Lost Generations? No one to blame but ourselves

Back when my husband, Dennis, and I were teaching a two-year confirmation prep program at our parish in upstate New York, I wrote a column saying that when I looked out at my students, I saw what I believed to be 75 percent “future ex-Catholics.” Most did not know much about the faith in which they were raised, and what they did know just made them confused or angry.


‘Like it or not, Facebook is the new parish hall’

‘Like it or not, Facebook is the new parish hall’

I’ve decided to share the panel presentation I gave to the U.S. bishops and Catholic journalists yesterday at “An Encounter with Social Media: Bishops and Bloggers Dialogue.” I was part of a four-person panel invited by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to speak before the start of the bishops’  fall meeting in Baltimore. My fellow panelists included Bishop Christopher Coyne, then-Auxiliary Bishop of Indianapolis; Rocco Palmo, founder of and blogger at Whispers in the Loggia; and Terry Mattingly, a blogger at GetReligion and author of the syndicated column “On Religion.” Our talks were in response to a study by the  Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) on the use of new media within the Catholic Church. Here you go: (more…)

The ‘lost generation’ everyone seems to miss

This is my post from OSV Daily Take today. I thought it was too important not to share here as well…

By Mary DeTurris Poust

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.

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