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What the Young Can Teach Us About Living the Gospel


William Van Ornum - published on 08/09/14

Practice the Faith, don't just preach it.

Pope Francis would have us practice our faith rather than rely mainly on proselytizing. And he is open to learning things from young people. This leads to a question: Is there a sensus fidei in the faith of our young people?

Often cited in the context of sensus fidei are those who find deep meaning in and love for the Gospel, those who search for the Lord in the traditional rubrics of the faith, many of which were de-emphasized after Vatican II.

What of those 20-somethings (and others) who find they do not accept the teachings of the Church as they are clearly enunciated in the Catechism, whether rejecting them with an informed conscience after much soul-searching or simply going with the flow of 21st century culture?

A recent document by the International Theological Commission (ITC) offers a scholarly look at the concept of sensus fidei throughout the history of the Church. Because there is no mention of young people in this document, an extrapolation may be helpful.

The errors of young people are frequently discussed in the press and other media: they do not attend Church regularly; they cohabit; they may defiantly oppose some Church teaching (for example, supporting abortion in cases of rape).

But are there other qualities in the individual and collective behavior of the young that challenge the rest of us. Their behaviors invite us to confront our own hypocrisy and our failure to live according to the Gospel.

Section 80 of the ITC document addresses the thorny problem of what to do when a majority of Catholics, as we may consider our young people, do not follow a Magisterial teaching, bearing in mind that sensus fidei is not determined by counting votes and looking for a majority. The document states:

“There are occasions, however, when the reception of magisterial teaching by the faithful meets with difficulty and resistance, and appropriate action on both sides is required in such situations. The faithful must reflect on the teaching that has been given, making every effort to understand and accept it. Resistance, as a matter of principle, to the teaching of the magisterium is incompatible with the authentic sensus fidei. The magisterium must likewise reflect on the teaching that has been given and consider whether it needs clarification or reformulation in order to communicate more effectively the essential message. These mutual efforts in times of difficulty themselves express the communion that is essential to the life of the Church, and likewise a yearning for the grace of the Spirit who guides the Church ‘into all the truth’ (Jn 16:13).”

Note here the responsibility of those affirming the Magisterium. It is not to repeat or interpret the Magisterium to others but to realize when differences of acceptance occur “appropriate action on both sides is required.” How often do we try to put this in practice?

We can’t control what other people are going to do. Even trying to control others negates the free will God has entrusted them with.What the passage above suggests is that we look at our own behaviors to see what we could change to better proclaim Magisterial teaching to others, rather than repeating the same definitions and arguments. Again, is the amount of time we spend in rhetoric and preaching equivalent to “walking the walk?”

Likewise the document suggests that it is our responsibility to reformulate teachings in order to effectively communicate the same message. There is a radical suggestion here: that when are are not getting through to others, we may have a moral and Christian responsibility to try differently.

Perhaps no other subject roils our souls like abortion. Because of this, Catholics of good faith work to change the laws allowing abortion, bring pressure to legislators, conduct educational campaigns, and participate in political rallies where busloads of Catholics travel to cities where they can witness and convey their faith to others.

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