October 19 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Keep a space open for Catholics on a different path

Young orthodox views are welcomed, but room is still needed for Catholics with a different approach, says Sally Fraser

I am getting old. Certainly, in Church terms, I have turned the corner, I am officially not young anymore. I don’t have to feel bad for being too tired to attend youth events, and I wouldn’t have been eligible to sign the two letters from young people we have seen emerge over the summer—one showing a commitment to Humanae Vitae and the other proclaiming orthodox teaching.

But I wouldn’t have wanted to sign either. Is this because I am ancient and woefully out of touch with where the Catholic kids are at? Not entirely, I hope.

A few weeks ago I addressed the Catholic Men’s Society at their national conference. I told them a list of things I believed the Church had to offer young people.

That list included God of course, as I believe in a troubled world young people are much keener than we imagine to look to Faith for answers.

Also, the person of Jesus to newcomers can be an exciting, radical and revolutionary figure, leading the way on social justice in a manner that is really needed in the world today.

My list also included prayer, as I believe young people are more receptive to the idea of prayer than ever before, as an antidote to a fast-paced world and a collective action against terrifying world problems.

The Church offers community too: as we move further and further from our homes we need our Church to be family.

And it provides age, wisdom and endurance, in a world of quick fixes and botox.

In order for the Church to appeal to young people, it also needs to challenge sexism, embrace diversity and be open to ecumenical work—those with no Faith see infighting and divisions as contrary to the general message of peace, love and understanding.

This though was not entirely the vision put forward by the 100 young people who have written a letter about the need for a ‘uniquely Catholic’ Church, or indeed the 200 who have written in support of Humane Vitae.

These letters are beautiful and undoubtedly sincere. It is a very lovely thing to have a secure and grounded Faith, and to be passionate about particular forms of worship.

And, I can see that, for a group of young people who make heart-felt and serious decisions which will set them apart from many of their peers, it is important that they feel protected, that they have forums and spaces where they can express themselves and not feel pressured to conform to worldlier ideals.

But they concern me too. They point towards a lack of inclusivity which, while appealing to some, will alienate others. Orthodoxy and tradition can be beautiful, but life is messy and dangerous and often downright painful, and all of that somehow has to find its way into the Church too.

Jesus taught us about silence and prayer but he also got his hands very dirty and broke rules and was subversive, and I would like to hope young people can hold on to a bit of that because lets face it, the world and the Church badly need it. At risk of being guilty of ‘post-modern pessimism’: the world is burning. The writing is well and truly on the wall. It is radical kindness and love that we need.

With regards to the upholding of traditional marriage values, I applaud these epistles and young signatories. I am happy for them, and perhaps even envious. Would I hope that my own daughter, when she grows up, would find a nice devout boy like the ones on these lists, rather than most of the scumbags I misspent my youth with? Maybe.

I do realise as someone who has been married for 10 years that I am spared the horrors of trying to navigate the current sexual landscape. When I first started getting involved with boys you had to phone them on their landlines and usually speak to their mums first—it is a very far cry from the world of Tinder. But the laddette culture of my youth was still pretty brutally unsentimental, and I do wish I had a Faith back then, and a moral framework to protect me from some of its excesses.

But in my ancientness, I have concerns about forming an identity around something which is a negation—a ‘not doing something.’

I came to Faith through evangelical groups, many of which placed massive emphasis on not having sex before they were married. This formed cohesion, set them apart from other young people and gave them a sense of community—as did their uncanny ability to do Scottish country dancing without a drop of alcohol. But what of the doing instead of the not doing?

Abstinence and self-control are difficult and challenging, but they are not as difficult as truly committing ourselves to feeding lambs, to protecting the widow and orphan.

So if I were of a mind to take to letter writing myself, I would say to those young people: congratulations and well done. Enjoy your Faith in whatever flavour of worship connects you to God. I would want you to be spared the pain and heartbreak that brought me to know God in my own life in a messy, dark, Leonard Cohen kind of way.

But I would ask that in your confidence and your ‘big C’ Catholicism and your ‘big T’ Truth, that you keep a space open for all those who are a bit less black and white, and for all of us women-at-the-well whose lives have been different to yours. After all, Jesus quite liked us women with sketchy pasts, our tears on his feet, our hair and perfume to anoint him. He made room for us—that is my ‘big T’ Truth.

But then, you don’t need to listen to an old, out-of-touch 36 year old like me.

Sally Fraser is a pastoral associate at St Mary’s Star of the Sea in Leith, Edinburgh. She converted to Catholicism in her 20s and is married with two small children.


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