Catechists used to say grimly that Confirmation seemed, for too many Catholic youngsters, to be “graduation”: They would leave the practice of the faith after the ceremony just as schoolchildren leave school after they graduate. But that’s not true anymore, it seems.
Nowadays the “graduation” sacrament isn’t Confirmation: It’s First Holy Communion.
Here’s what a researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (sort of the Catholic Bishops’ research arm) had to say in recent report:
The interviews with youth and young adults who had left the Catholic Faith revealed that the typical age for this decision to leave was made at 13. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed, 63 percent, said they stopped being Catholic between the ages of 10 and 17. Another 23 percent say they left the Faith before the age of 10. […] Only 13 percent said they were ever likely to return to the Catholic Church.
Why does this happen? The research shows that there are a lot of reasons, but there is one primary one. In the words of the study’s author:
Those that are leaving for no religion – and a pretty big component of them saying they are atheist or agnostic – it turns out that when you probe a bit more deeply and you allow them to talk in their own words, that they are bringing up things that are related to science and a need for evidence and a need for proof.
Which leads us to “doubting” Thomas in today’s Gospel.
Thomas has often, in the past, gotten a bad reputation because of his skepticism and his demand for evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. But it may well be that he is the patron saint for our present circumstance; young people are doing just what Thomas did. In the Gospel Jesus responds; so the question has to be, How will Jesus respond now?
And the answer is, of course: Through us, if He is to respond at all. As St. Paul says, we are the Body of the Risen Christ now, after His Ascension.
Three things follow for us who are adults and who hope to have an influence for good on young people’s development in faith:
First, we must work toward deeper discipleship in ourselves, which involves facing our questions and doubts and working to answer them in a reasonable way.
Second, we must be clear ourselves, and make it clear to others, that Catholic Christianity does not have any problem with the issues some other Christians do such as evolution, the age of the universe, and the like.
Third, we must encourage young people’s questions about their faith and its relationship to what they are learning about scientific discoveries, and help them to find good answers.
We can also gain confidence in the process of skeptical questioning itself. For a little-noticed fact about the story in the Gospel is that “doubting” Thomas is the first person – the first person – in John’s Gospel to discover who Jesus truly is. He is the first to be able to say, “My Lord and my God!” Until next week, Peace
- Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics. St. Mary’s Press / CARA, 2017
- Dr. Mark Gray, quoted by the Catholic News Agency. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/why-catholics-are-leaving-the-faith-by-age-10-and-what-parents-can-do-about-it-48918.