BROTHER Christian and I made our first profession a few weeks ago, during Mass on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.
At the very beginning of the Rite of Profession, having thrown ourselves prostrate, cruciform on the floor – with noses pressed firmly into the carpet before our eyes – the provincial asked a very simple question:
“What do you seek?”
And our response – the response of every Dominican who makes profession – was equally simple: “God’s mercy and yours”.
Our voices may well have been slightly muffled, courtesy of the carpet, but that brief exchange of question and answer is – I believe – profoundly telling.
As human beings, as men and women undertaking our pilgrimage upon this earth, our lives are characterised above and beyond all else by one thing: a search, a quest.
We all seek something, someone.
That initial question asked by the provincial bores to the heart of who we are: what do we seek?
What, ultimately, do we want more than anything else?
Now, as people of faith, we should all be able to answer that question echoing the words of the psalmist: “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face.” (Psalm 27:8-9)
We seek to know and love the God who created us and who redeemed us.
For we know from whence we have come and whither we are ultimately headed.
And so we spend our lives trying to grow closer to Our Lord, to become more attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to learn more about our faith.
After all, if we truly love someone we do all we can to find out as much as possible about them – to know them to the fullest possible extent, to love them more and more.
I have had occasion to witness many a young man and woman interact with one another in a social context, displaying what could euphemistically be described as “mild interest” in each other.
Their conversation seldom ceased after the question, “So what’s your name?”
And so – applying that same level of intense, focused interest to our shared faith – we spend our lives seeking to learn more about how we can best know, love and serve God in this life.
And my generation is no exception to this universal human trait; this innate searching drive which propels us forward.
We too are “strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find”, as Tennyson would have it.
We too participate in the perennial human hunt for meaning, substance and truth.
We too seek what everyone seeks; purpose in our lives, an explanation of our place in the universe – a meaningful existence.
Yet I have recently heard a number of individuals – decidedly not of my generation – propound at some length a currently prevailing theory that denies this fact.
I have now read in a number of different places that “the young” – I suppose that means me and my peers – are uninterested in “organised religion” and that, in fact, we have a decided preference for “unorganised spirituality”.
Now, there is no doubt that such statements seem to have some basis in fact.
I have often heard people my age characterised as “indecisive” and “flaky”, and there is certainly some truth in that.
But it would be a great shame for us to confuse cause and effect.
In my experience, my contemporaries are more interested in organised religion, in structure, in firm statements of belief – in doctrine and dogma – than any other age-bracket to which an arbitrary letter of the alphabet has been assigned.
No doubt some readers think I am either deluded or making this up; not so.
This paradoxical state of affairs is the result of our spectacularly amorphous education.
You see, my brothers and sisters, my generation has grown up in a world, in a society, in which no import has been placed – at any point throughout our lives – on any degree of substance or structure when it comes to faith or morals.
We were, generally speaking, not taught any hierarchy of values; we were left in the dark as to what should be given ultimate importance and what is really a secondary consideration.
The space in our hearts and minds which, by our age, ought to be filled with a clear understanding of our place in the universe and how our lives ought to be lived in light of that fact, is simply void.
There is nothing there.
Certainly, our education in mathematics, the sciences or even in technology was first rate.
We know very well that water is comprised of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.
Yet when it came to questions of “value” judgments – “religion” or “study” thereof was never a part of my educational curriculum – we were lent no such certainty. When it came to morality, faith and the ultimate questions which really drive our existence as men and women, we were given absolutely nothing.
We were denied the hearty meal which would have fed our intense desire – the intense desire of every human being – for meaning and purpose.
We were given fairy-floss instead.
“Well, that’s a matter of opinion.”
“It depends on your perspective.”
“It might be true for you, but not for me.”
“It’s really all quite relative.”
Now, I can understand that those of you privileged enough not to have been subjected to this nebulous, structure-less view of the world during your formative years might mistake cause and effect.
It is very easy to conclude that, because many young people seem directionless, vacuous and utterly lacking in any sort of drive that it is precisely a substance-less, structure-less, saccharine “spirituality” that they – what we – truly seek when it comes to matters of religion.
That is incorrect.
We do not want that: we want the exact opposite.
We seek the substance, the structure and the content that was denied us during our formative years.
We want dogma and doctrine.
We want to understand the faith because we want to understand our place in the world – in this world that seems so fluid and to have so many uncontrollable variables.
There is enough uncertainty in our lives: the question of our ultimate destiny is not something that we were delighted to see added to the pile by those who were meant to “teach” us.
In light of all this, no one could possibly believe that “the young” want even more “unorganised spirituality” – life in our society has become indefinite enough as it is.
The answer to engaging “the young” – to evangelising my generation – is not to attempt to fill the gaping hole in our lives with fluff pulled from the lint-trap on the dryer.
We want, instead, to be “clothed with salvation”. (Psalm 132:16; Isaiah 61:10)
We want to be “instructed and taught the way we should go”. (Psalm 32:8)
We want – we seek – the substance that was denied to us for so many years, often with the best of intentions.
We want the Truth that is only provided by our solid, dogmatic, doctrinal faith.
In the past couple of years I have been blessed with the opportunity to talk with many of my generation – devout Catholics as well as those who profess no belief in anything – about matters of faith and morals.
Not one of them ever expressed a desire for even more vague ambiguity in their lives.
They were all outstanding personifications of the human condition and, when asked that most telling question – “What do you seek?” – the answer, despite varied forms, always boiled down to the same thing.
They want meaning, substance, structure – the Truth.
Our Catholic Church, my brothers and sisters, is the Mystical Body of Christ; the Jesus-shaped piece that fills the gaping hole that exists in the lives of many of my contemporaries.
We do not have to water-down our faith, our structures or our doctrine: those are precisely what my peers are seeking.
For the most part the men and women of my generation have been fed sugar-pills all their lives: they are crying out for substance, for bread – “the living bread come down from heaven”. (John 6:51)
In view of all this, it is quite clear what my generation seeks.
We simply have to feed them that living bread. What are we waiting for?