I cannot speak for all millennials when it comes to specific beliefs and lifestyles, but I can speak of three pretty universal desires that all young adults have. We seek originality, authenticity and an identity. In a society where most of us have our basic needs met, these three quests can explain just about everything young adults do. Everything society offers, at best, falls a little short of what we're after; so we keep searching. We suffer from an elusive state of mind, and will not rest until we find the most original, authentic identity possible.
Never is this truer than when it comes to religion, perhaps the greatest quest of all. We’ve heard this classic elusiveness countless times before, when they say: “I’m spiritual but not religious,” or “I’m Catholic but I don’t really go to church.” This dodging of religious identity, I believe, is not their way of shunning religion. It’s an allusion to the young adult’s deeper quest for happiness, for something that epitomizes his self-discovered spirituality (which he often thinks is more well-rounded than the spirituality of the past).
A young adult can have a strong personal devotion to God without showing any religious piety. In general, milennial Catholics seek authentic encounters with Christ and don’t care where they come from. Unfortunately, for some reason—generally speaking—they tend to have these encounters outside of any religion, not just our own religion—but especially our own because it doesn’t seem original or authentic enough to us.
I believe the genuine Catholicism of the saints and the vibrant Catholic culture that built Western civilization hold the secrets to the original identity that millennial Catholics seek, but many of us simply do not know about that Catholicism. We seem to fit G.K Chesterton’s prophetic description of “the ill-educated Christian, turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud in which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.”
To encounter authentic Catholicism in her generation, a young adult must go off the beaten path. There she might find a neo-gothic church with open doors. With a bit of divine providence, the church might even have a Mass celebrated just for her age group. There may also be young adults participating as musicians, ushers and lectors. Afterwards they may meet for dinner in the parish hall or local favorite restaurant. All of this helps them know they’re not alone among their generation.
The young people in this group are part of the underground, today’s counter culture. Many of them discovered the group through a random google search for Catholic young adult groups in their area. Young Catholics go to this group under their own volition because they see normal lay people their age leading a Christ-like life in an authentic way. They respond in a positive way because the group meets their standards criteria: authentic and original, and an unabashed Catholic identity. Even though every city has at least one of these communities, they are still going to pass under the radar unless you're looking for them.
Yet they thrive because they meet a need: they provide a safe haven for weary young travelers on the faith journey.
Times have changed so much that leading a faithful Catholic life in today’s world requires a kind of creativity that demands daily practice, to figure out how to make ancient wisdom resonate in a post-modern society. Millennials wander far and wide searching for good jobs and careers, for love, for cool places to hang out, for new bands to listen to, for good reads, or something to believe in. We take trips around the globe and search throughout this post-modern world for the same truth, goodness and beauty that man has sought since the beginning of time.
But we do not search in vain. Those who seek shall find. Like Strider quietly sitting in the Prancing Pony, millennials are roaming through the wilderness, not in a confused or meaningless amble, but patiently waiting for God to call us by name. We know how much depends on us, and in God’s time we’ll prove that ‘not all who wander are lost,’ because despite all of the new media and technologies designed to grab our attention, there's still an unsatisfied desire to connect with people on a deeper level. So we tread down the path that so many truthseekers have gone down before us, and with God's grace we will find the truth so many saints came to find in the Catholic Church.