Note: This is the second of Catholic Herald reporter Jenny Snarski’s two-part interview with Chris Hurtubise, associate director of Catholic Formation for the Diocese of Superior. Questions are based on Pope Francis’ 2017 Message for World Mission Day, which is available online at vatican.va.
Catholic Herald: Given the increasing numbers of 20- and 30-somethings not identifying with any religion, where and why are these young people leaving the practice of their faith? Is there still a trend of returning to the faith once a person marries and starts a family?
Hurtubise: Sadly, no. If you look at books like Sherry Waddell’s “Forming Intentional Disciples,” the data is starting to show young people are not being drawn back to the Church by milestone life events. In previous decades, getting married or having babies were often events that would bring young adults back to the practice of the faith they received in their own upbringing. The old mindset of “Well, they’ll come back” is not at all an adequate response to the challenge of young people leaving the church. Why is that happening? Well, that’s a very complicated question, but here are a few thoughts. Gone are the cultural stigmas of not raising children in the Church, as are the expectations of getting married in the Church and having your kids baptized. I think this is exactly what St. John Paul II was getting at with his call for a new evangelization. He spoke of the social pressure to just go on practicing the faith without any sort of interior conversion. And this is not, by any means, a sufficient support for lifelong practice of the faith in a post-Christian culture. In other words, the days of merely cultural Catholicism are over. We live in a post-Christian culture. At this point, if people are going to practice their faith, they are going to have to actively and positively choose to do so.
Catholic Herald: The third question the pope poses is “What are the essential approaches we need to take in carrying out our mission?” He then elaborates on three constants: a spirituality of constant exodus, the undertaking of constant pilgrimage and the sense of constant exile. Through these, he invites the faithful to come out of their comfort zones, to thirst for truth and justice and to renewed awareness of Heaven as their final home. Can you elaborate on how this process is effectively carried out in parishes and homes?
Hurtubise: An image I find very helpful is picturing a landscape painting that includes the sun. In the painting, you don’t have to include the sun, but you certainly include its effects, right? Here’s what I’m getting at: in our culture, any sort of faith practice is fine as long as it’s kept quiet and “personal.” But once it starts to become public, and something you want to share with others and see them come to value in their own lives, then it becomes controversial. But that’s not how the sun works, is it? Either the sun gives light to the whole landscape, or it’s not there and there’s darkness. If we treat God like he’s just an optional element in the painting – like a tree or a mountain – then we aren’t really talking about God. I can have a hobby that doesn’t really affect other areas of my life. But the sort of relationship that Jesus Christ invites us to is something far more than a hobby. He invites us to drop our nets like Peter and follow him. And that is what Pope Francis is getting at here: the process of discipleship is coming to realize that Jesus truly is what he said he is: the Way, the Truth and the Life, as well as the light of the world. And that colors everything, sheds light on everything, gives meaning to everything. Once we start to develop that understanding more robustly, we realize we in fact are not made for this world. We start to see that, in fact, we are made for union with God. And through the sacraments and prayer and meditating on the Church’s teachings and Scripture, we get a foretaste of that union here and now. But the fullness of that union is yet to come. Once we have that frame of vision, this life does indeed take on the atmosphere of a pilgrimage – a prayerful time of progression and moving ever onward towards deeper and deeper communion with the Lord.
Catholic Herald: What unique role do the clergy play in forming and energizing missionary disciples?
Hurtubise: The clergy have a very unique role in all of this – for now, we can look at two distinct ways. The first is, of course, the fact that God has seen fit to pass on His life to us through the sacraments. And it is only through the amazing gift of apostolic succession in the sacrament of holy orders that we are able to experience these gifts. It is the priest’s extreme honor and privilege to be able to dispense to us the divine life, sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit, God himself – without priests, we would not have access to this.
Secondly, in the structure and makeup of the Church, each parish has a pastor: someone the Church has invested deeply in and trained to follow the model of Christ himself in shepherding us. Jesus uses the language of shepherding quite frequently, but he also uses the language of discipleship in a very parallel way. The priest, of course, cannot individually disciple and accompany everyone in his parish, so he delegates certain aspects: to the director of religious education, to the youth minister, to the RCIA team, etc. But we have to be careful to avoid thinking that this work is the responsibility of the parish staff. Remember, all baptized members of the Body of Christ are entrusted with this most important mission. Nevertheless, it is the priest in each parish who is entrusted with overseeing this.