Thursday, 05 July 2012 14:15
Editor’s note: This article was submitted by the priests who serve the Newman Centers at Wichita and Pittsburg State universities.
Many Catholics around the Diocese of Wichita are familiar with Newman Centers – they have the 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. Mass on Sunday! However, beyond being places to catch Mass if your alarm didn’t go off in the morning, the question still remains: What is a Newman Center?
Our first response: a Newman Center is a place to make spiritual adults, fed on the food of the faith: theology, philosophy, music, art, and the Catholic culture in general. It is a place where college students can meet friends to accompany them at this banquet of faith. It is the place where the church will spring anew if only we will let it!
It is not surprising that this mission seems unclear, as the primary focus of any Newman Center – the college student – occupies an increasingly unclear role in today’s society. What was widely expected only a couple of generations ago (both from young adults by society and from society by young adults) now seems up in the air. Will a college degree lead to a job? Could such a job support a family? Are young adults mature enough to even start families? For people in their late teens and early 20s, uncertainty clouds their future.
In a magnified way, the spiritual lives of young adults mirror the upheaval of their material prospects. The church hemorrhages young adult followers who abandon their faith during this crucial window between 18 and 25. When young adults do not hear meaningful responses from the church regarding the uncertainty of their lives, they turn elsewhere, entering society formed by the secular world’s stunted vision of adulthood. And as Our Lord so pointedly puts it, stunted plants bear no fruit.
Only one thing stunts the growth of any creature: lack of nourishment. If some other living thing comes along to rob it of nutrients, the creature will not grow. Thus, a gardener pulls weeds out of a garden to help the flowers blossom. Often, in the church we expect by sheer inertia that our young adults will keep coming to the sacraments. However, the ever present nature of “spiritual weeds” in our world chokes the lives of this age group, leaving little room for grace. If we want college students to flourish in the faith, we must tend to them actively.
Furthermore, feeding a creature food that cannot sustain it will only lead to stunted growth. We fail young adults in this manner precisely by not heeding the words of St. Paul. In 1 Cor. 3:2 St. Paul says “I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it.” He is speaking with new Christians, and points to the fact that, when he first began to preach to them, they were only ready for “spiritual milk.”
Because they were yet “little ones in Christ,” they were not ready to digest the fullness of the faith, the “spiritual food.” Quite the opposite for us, the church now appears too willing to give spiritual milk to those who are no longer infants, but are in fact entering both physically and spiritually into adulthood.
Young adults face one of the toughest economic realities we have seen in our lifetimes. The spiritual world can often seem just as bleak. Feeding young adults the same spiritual milk we did in high school or in CYO will not do.
This is not to take away from these programs at all: to everything, there is a season. But the season these young adults face is a new one, a challenging one, but one filled with hope and excitement if approached correctly.
Too many of our young adults enter the college years facing a spiritual fall, but given the food of spiritual adulthood, they can inaugurate a new spring for the Church. It is our job to provide the soil for this blossoming.