The House Divided

February 13, 2013

When it comes to writing about Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, I must admit my extreme bias.

The sisters have captivated my attention, even before coming to Dominican. Their commitment to feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, caring for the environment and educating the undocumented comes straight out of the Gospel. I have seen first-hand how they continue to fight for justice and to better the lives of the others. I know many retired sisters who continue to work simply because they love it so much. I have been so enthralled with the spiritual lives of the sisters that I have chosen to spend my spring break and other vacation time visiting their motherhouse, spending time with them, listening to their stories and hearing about how they changed people’s lives for the better.

The sisters have made an indelible mark upon my soul, and have contributed in my decision of giving a year of service after graduation. I know my life will never be the same after encountering Caritas et Veritas in these wonderful women of God.  They taught me that joy comes to those who sacrifice themselves in the service of others, loving their neighbors.

Last week I attended the movie screening of the “Band of Sisters,” hosted by the Siena Center.  This movie gave voice to the unyielding dedication, determination and prophetic witness of women religious in the United States over the past 40 years.   At the end of the movie, to my surprise, things really started boiling up and I am still trying to sort out everything I witnessed.

My first thought after being caught in-between a heated argument between a liberal and a conservative after the movie was that young adults used to make up a large portion of church participants, but sadly this is no longer the case. When I attend mass I see the majority of people being elderly or in their late adult lives. I have often pondered why this is the case, as in my personal experience I have seen friends who were once extremely involved and committed in the church slowly stray away and stay away.

Some sociologists point to an alarming trend when it comes to the attitudes and behaviors of young adults toward institutional religion.  Organized religion has become increasingly insignificant in the lives of the majority of young adults today.

What has contributed to this young adult mass exodus from organized religion?  Who or what is responsible for the decline in Mass participation?  These are big questions and this editorial certainly cannot even begin to address them, but let me at least conclude with one perspective.

Perhaps young adults are simply turned off by how polarized the Church has become.  The Catholic Church sometimes seems like a house divided against itself.  People my age simply do not want to be around people who speak to each other like the two adults did in front of me after the Band of Sisters movie: “It is because of people like you that I am going away from the church,” the liberal individual chastised the conservative.  The conservative’s response was, “Then find another church, because heretics will die off.”

When I picture effective civil discourse in Catholicism, this was a poor example.  This conversation is the type of thing that turns myself and my generation off from practicing our religion. Individuals who are mean-spirited do not embody Catholic values, but rather polarize, divide and isolate themselves. This polarization diminishes the Church and makes it insignificant in the eyes of people from my generation.   Heated arguments like this represent why young people are steering away from the church.

Conservative or liberal, traditionalist or progressive, the only way to understand each other, or reach across the table is to participate in civil discourse. We are a family and it is disagree but in respectful ways.  It is one thing that Catholics should be able to do, but regularly fail to do so. Being focused and engulfed in your own individualized culture makes a person believe that they can act independently and that their actions do not affect the Church as a whole.

Corinthians 27 tells us otherwise. “Now Christ’s body is yourselves, each of you with a part to play in the whole.” We tend to often forget that we are part of something bigger when trying to prove our point.

Civil discourse is important in any area: religion, education, or politics. This just happens to be my experience within my personal religion and faith.

People’s words do affect others. Just as I am careful in writing this editorial, others have to be conscious of their language because such language is what turns young people off. Polarization creates a disinterest in both politics and religion, perpetuating it only drives them further from it.

This is my plea to the older generations. Young adults are looking for worthwhile relationships with adults whom they can admire. They want to see healthy relationships between people involving discourse and agreement.

If there are any Sisters reading my editorial, don’t worry, because I was not particularly upset. I am firm in my beliefs, but it worries me about students and friends who may be in the middle. If they were to experience what I did that day, I can only imagine their reaction. I fear for them and their interests. Why would they want to attend these lectures or attend mass?

There are times where we should focus less on words and more on acts, as they are more effective to people of my generation. The simple acts of love, which the Sisters have given to many and continue to give me, are what I will always cherish and always remember.