The National Catholic Youth Organization Federation (predecessor of the NFCYM) published the results of a symposium held in 1980 that was entitled Hope for the Decade: A Look at the Issues Facing Catholic Youth Ministry. As this was the year that I entered parish youth ministry and I have now recently returned to the same AND I found an old copy as I took full ownership over my new office and cleaned the bookshelves… I thought we might engage in a webposium series of articles looking at the issues then (with a pull-quote from the book) as well as now. Please add your own perspective on what we are facing in the present and future and how much or little we have actually grown as a field.
Sexuality: Youth and Intimacy
NOW: When you go back and read the view of the issues back then with the eyes of now, you are quick to note that the words homosexual, gay, lesbian, transgender are all missing from the perspective of then. When thinking outside the book, the Stonewall riots had occurred a decade previous to Hope’s publication; one could imagine the symposium breaking in the evening to watch Billy Crystal play a ground-breaking gay character on a national network comedy; and, personally, I remember having a gay friend or two back in the day… one who fell to the scourge of HIV/AIDS later in the same decade for which the book’s title indicate we were to have hope.
Nonetheless, now… Is our response to youth and intimacy still reactive to the perceived problems of a generation rather than proactive in contextualizing the experiences of young people? I spent four years in the 1990’s specifically attempting to address that question and I am not sure that there is significant improvement. I am aware however of the truth of Paul’s claim that if we seek to solve the problem despite our speaking “in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, (we are nothing more than) a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”
Our history of the recent decades must be taken into consideration, including the clergy sex abuse scandle tsunami that crested in the late 1980’s and flooded the national and worldwide news changed the landscape of the Church. We were focused on the misuse of intimacy, enmeshed in a defensive posture in the court systems and local legislatures, and reacting to the problem.
If we are to learn from all this, we must continue to broaden our own cultural understanding of intimacy as well as strive toward greater emotional intelligence in discussing what it means and demands from each individual. We need do that with the kids, of course, but also with the parents and collaborating adult with whom we serve.
When the issue of marriage arises, have we fully recognized that we are working from a reactive stance defending the problem of merging a sacramental view with an increasing expanding legal view. What we know is that this has been already in full discussion in over 2/3 of US states as well as in these “catholic” countries: Belgium, Canada, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil, France, Uruguay, Luxembourg, and, most recently Ireland. Countries with a Catholic majority or plurality make up half of those where two men or two women can now wed or will soon be able to.
Ireland approved same-sex marriage by a popular referendum. The margin wasn’t even close. About 62 percent of voters embraced marriage equality. If I could refer to the wisdom of Mad Men’s Don Draper, If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation. I am not suggesting that the Church is wrong on the political side of this question, but perhaps they are stubbornly pursuing the wrong question.
I am white; I don’t fully grasp being black, Asian, or Hispanic. Similarly, I am heterosexual… I don’t fully grasp the commonalities and differences of what it means to love a same-sex partner. While many might immediately dismiss a “Don’t love the sin, but must love the sinner” approach here, we do know that we are called to Mercy.
CCC 2358 teaches that “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.” We are all called to unite the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter. (For a recent review of how we as Church find ourselves responding to related issues, please see this National Catholic Register article.)
So, we are still addressing the challenges of 1980: Solving “problems is not the goal of education in sexuality, nor should it be the primary context in which we address young people.” In all the entirety of what is discussed above, we seem to be missing out on the JOY of intimacy of sexuality. A young person who has had an initial experience of holding hands or a first kiss understands that joy and wonders why the adult church seems to have forgotten something so wonderful.
Join the webposium! What are your thoughts on where we are at as a youth ministry field in addressing parish renewal and moving towards a community of believers?