There is an article today in US Catholic about You Can Go Home Again that makes a very important point. Outreaches like Catholics Come Home and Landings are aimed at older adults who once had a strong sense of being Catholic and have drifted. I once spent quite a bit of time analyzing the images of the Catholic Come Home commercials and they were clearly aimed at the middle aged and older.
But constructing one's own identity is now a rite of passage for most western Anglo young adults. They don't inherit an identity, they expect to choose or create a life and personal identity out of the millions of possibilities based upon what they feel"fits" them.
The irony is that most young Traditional Catholics are essentially becoming Traditionalist in exactly the same manner as the majority of young adults raised without a faith are choosing a faith, and evangelicals like me become Catholic, and the much larger number of young Catholics are becoming "nones". As converts, voluntarily, out of personal choice. As an exercise in discernment, discovery, self-definition, and self-determination.
Because that's what you have to do in a world that offers an endless number of options in ideas, relationships, work, and lifestyle and where you seem to have access to almost everything instantly - at least virtually.
Which is why the Pew Study found that the majority of adults in American have left the faith of their childhood at some point. Only about 9% return. The rest have spun off into something else. Here's how US Catholic put it put it:
Many of the traditional methods of reaching out to inactive Catholics use language such as "come home" and "welcome back." But these approaches will not be as successful when trying to reach out to younger generations of Catholics, according to Paulist Father Frank DeSiano, president of the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA).
"There is a new paradigm of inactive Catholics. The old paradigm was the angry, marginalized, anti-church, very sensitive person, but they grew up with a strong Catholic identity," DeSiano explains. "People under 40 grew up with the idea that you can construct your own identity; it is not something that is handed down."
Young adults of this generation are more likely to experiment with their lives, try different types of spirituality, and question everything before they settle down with a family, career, and spiritual community. They might not even see the church as home, DeSiano says.
Returning to a bone deep religious identity is a very different journey that discovering something new or cobbling something together yourself. Which is why the "they'll come back when . . . "scenario isn't accurate anymore.
Cause most young adults who were raised Catholic don't experience choosing to practice the faith as "coming back" to something inherited from their parents at all. They experience it as a pioneer or convert does, discovering a new and amazing land for the first time.
We'd be smarter to call these younger seekers "discovering" Catholics rather than "returning" Catholics. Because it is a difference that makes all the difference in how they approach the faith and what they ask of us.