As a pastor, parents often share with me the grief they have when a child of theirs leaves the faith. I won't bore you with statistics, but suffice it to say that many young adults today seem to leave their faith behind, shedding it as if it were one more remnant of childhood to be boxed up and stored in Mom and Dad's attic.
I know a woman who understands this heartache. While she was a woman of great faith, her husband was not. He was violent and abusive. The woman tried to raise her three children well, but in such an atmosphere, it was difficult. And yet, two of her three children became exemplary Christians. Her other child, a son, was a brilliant young man who thought faith had no place in a reasonably lived life. All the woman could do was pray.
And pray she did, for years. She watched her son make terrible decisions: alcohol, sexual licentiousness, mistresses, fathering a child out-of-wedlock. She grieved, but she prayed. In the end, it was her son's reason, intellect, and hunger for truth that led him to belief. It came at great cost to both him and his mother, but her faith did not waver even as she watched her son throw away the beliefs she had instilled in him as a child.
Today, we see the "Millennials" doing much the same. Many claim they are "spiritual but not religious," others say they believe but don't "get anything" out of organized religion. I have to say I understand these young people. I was a prodigal son myself, looking for truth in all the wrong places.
I wish to encourage any parents who find themselves in this situation. In the Catholic Church, we see the enormous response from young people at World Youth Days. Pastors from other faith traditions tell me about the young adults who lead mission trips, Bible studies, youth groups. These young men and women bring a vitality and sense of hope to the church as a whole. We must continue to do more to reach out to young people in a culture that seems to almost literally drag them away from the faith, but there is hope.
Many believe that faith and reason cannot co-exist, and that is why many young adults struggle with the faith. They want reason and intellect; they want things to make sense. They do not want to settle for answers like, "It's the way we've always done things," or "It's tradition." They hunger for a full, well-reasoned, sound explanation for why they should believe.
The young man I spoke of above is, of course, St. Augustine. He is one of the greatest intellects of the Church, yet nearly drove his mother to the brink by his wild ways. He brought to the faith his intellect and reason; he did not leave them at the door of the church when he was received into the faith. He knew that reason and faith could not only co-exist; they must co-exist. Our God is a God of reason, of pattern and method, of prudence and sense. Any faith that tries to divorce God from His very nature holds no truth.
Every summer at the Acton Institute, our office hums with the excitement of interns. They truly are among the best and brightest. They come from across the world, with various talents, an eagerness to learn and serve, and in most cases, a deep faith. I can say the same about the many young people who make great sacrifices to attend Acton University. I hope that their time with Acton helps them grow in both intellect and faith.
Christians must be a reasonable people. We must be a joyful people. We must be a faithful people. We serve a God Who is all this and more.
Rev. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute.