This article is rather typical of what we have been hearing for forty years.
“Declining numbers of young Massgoers is not unique to his St. Mary’s Parish in Dehiwela, near Colombo. Over the last few years, some priests have observed a drop of as much as 50 percent in the number of youths attending Mass.
‘Few visit the church, and those that do typically sit in the last row of pews or stand near the doors,’ Father Joseph said. They complain the liturgy is monotonous and not relevant to their lifestyle, he added, saying they want youth Masses, social groups, outings and explanations of religious activities …
Hillary Peiris, 21, of Sacred Heart Church in Rajigiriya, Colombo, called for youth social groups that hold weekly meetings, with one hour dedicated to social activities and one hour dedicated to spiritual activities. ‘It should be youth-oriented and a place where they can gather to discuss their difficulties, speak freely of their ideals, and gain knowledge of Church doctrines.’
Antonio Peiris, 17, from the same parish, feels traditional religious activities are often too regimented and do not make sense to the younger generation, who expect points to be properly explained.”
One just has to sigh. Of course these things have all been tried in the West with dismal results. None of these things – youth Masses, youth this, or youth that – are going to be able to compete with the electronic distractions and social temptations of modern youth culture. The problem is not that the Church has too few of such things: the problem is that it already has too many. The Church is seen by youth as a competitor in the same worldly race, just another voice trying to get their attention with condescending gimmicks. Perhaps they will listen today, but tomorrow, another voice will come along that seems more “relevent” and they’re gone.
Youth culture is something the Church needs to be fighting, not imitating. Youth culture is a new thing in the world, the product of mass public education and mass media. The Church cannot compete in this milieu and shouldn’t even try. The results of imitating the world’s youth culture are always disastrous: as soon as the youth are “won” on such terms, the Gospel is compromised.
Rather, the Church needs to build a counter-culture in which young people are not alone with themselves, their angst, and their entertainments the majority of the time. Love for Christ, devotion to the saints, respect for tradition, and honor for their elders should be in the very air they breathe. When the sacramental life of the Church becomes another option on the menu between MySpace and MTV, the youth are already lost, even if they happen to show up now and then for a change of scene.
What, practically speaking, can be done? Permit me to make a few suggestions:
1. Restore tradition to the liturgy. When a young person comes to Mass, let him find Christ whose kingdom is not of this world. The young person lives in a world of noise, in which everyone is assumed to have ADHD and is unable to endure ten seconds without external stimulation: let him be challenged by stillness and silence. The young person lives in a world of comfort: let him be challenged by manual acts of devotion. The young person lives in a world of chaos: let an ordered liturgy restore order to his soul. The young person lives in a world of self-consciousness: let him forget himself and worship his Creator. The young person lives in a world of ugliness: let him enter into a sanctuary of beauty. The young person lives in a world of irreverence and impiety: let him enter a world of solemnity and decorum.
2. Re-build the parishes. Let the parish church be the center of a re-vitalized Catholic neighborhood. Let there be many feasts, festivals, processions, rosaries, benedictions, novenas, sodalities, guilds, and other activities in which all ages are welcome – not something which further segregates youth into their own peer groups. The youth will find ways to get together at these activities, but still under the watchful eyes of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, priests and religious.
3. Homeschooling. This is probably the most practical way for many families to save their children from modern youth culture. So far, so good, but there is still much more to do.
4. Establish small traditional Catholic schools. As an alternative to homeschooling, these should have a relatively small adult-child ratio, so that a youth culture of its own does not get out of hand.
5. Severely limit exposure to popular culture. Modern entertainment is toxic for everyone across the board. Even “talk radio” – the playground of a gang of vulgarians who tout themselves as “conservative” – poisons the mind with depraved images and worldly attitudes.
6. Provide work and other projects in which children frequently work alongside adults. A small farm or homestead is ideal, but there are many other possibilities. A friend of mine is building a house for his family (something which I have no talent for). His kids – and the kids of those who help him out – are working on the project with him. Everyone has something to do, even the girls, who help their mothers with many important errands in support of the project. I’ve been extremely impressed with the results and the interest of the children in helping out. Of course they are all homeschooled, and the father has time to work at home also: otherwise this would not be possible.