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Exploring Young Adult Community Life (creative commons license)

As a twenty-something Catholic, I desired an authentic and intentional community life with other young adult Catholics. Below was my amateur proposal of what such a community could look like, and my explanation for why it was---and I still believe is---needed.

While the communities mentioned in this article have since dissolved, the values upon which they were founded are still relevant.


by The Rambler | on July 26, 2012

Despite what the tabloids suggest, there are many young adults who are looking for a new way of life, refusing to conform to popular culture. They’re looking for a place where they can practice a holistic lifestyle, one that unites workplace with residence, social gatherings with beliefs, and worldview with way of life.

They have searched for a place where they can serve God with the fullness of their being, rather than in just different compartments of their lives. In their quest they have become frustrated and disheartened by one ambiguous reality: What they are looking for simply doesn’t exist, because the modern structure of society is high on utilitarian efficiency and low on spiritual proficiency.

A holy, holistic lifestyle in our culture defies modern mores because there is, in our day, a disconnect between the spiritual and the tangible, between the body, mind and soul, in fact even between what we do and who we are, or at least who we want to be.

Young adults are sent to college to learn a trade, get a job in that trade, and make money so they can make a living. They specialize in one field, because that is their ticket to livelihood in today’s society, but along this course there is hardly an opportunity for reflection and serious discernment about one’s life.

A college degree hardly even guarantees a good-paying job anymore. But what’s even more important is the fact that specializing in one subject tends to impair our view of the natural unity and balance between the humanities and sciences, thereby endorsing isolation of thoughts, beliefs and lifestyles.

Pope Benedict XVI offered a glimmer of hope in his encyclical Charity in Truth. This encyclical was the impetus of our community’s mission as it says what has already been on many of our hearts and then also leads us in a practical direction.

“Throughout the document, the Holy Father approaches and presents various topics not as a series of rigidly delineated compartments, but as organic, integrated wholes. This is perhaps most evident in his insistence that all development be directed towards ‘the whole of the person in every single dimension’”[1].

The intention of the community we built was to make its members whole, or in other words holy, in a fragmented world.

Seeking to live a more united lifestyle in this way will undoubtedly and naturally improve our lives physically, mentally and spiritually, but most specifically it will show us the unity already inherent in all life and the entire world.

This unity is important to notice because in order to genuinely love and serve our neighbors we must know how we are united to them in a common search for joy, love, truth, goodness and beauty. By living in a community where every aspect of life is linked to a common vision, one also begins to notice how all truth is intertwined, and how the prevailing philosophy of relativism only works for those who isolate and divide their lives.

Where to Begin

As a beginning, a group of Catholic young adults from many and various professions and places have gathered in Philadelphia (among other cities). Last time I checked, there were seven communities with young Catholic residents living an intentional community life in houses all around the Cradle of Independence. Their intention is to build a strongly unified, self-sufficient, spiritual lay community unlike anything they have seen or heard.

This intention is a response to the Pope’s calling, and a pursuit of their heart’s desire, to live a life full of diversity in things that don’t matter much, but free from division in the things that do matter.

The success of each of these holistic faith-based communities is due to their positive influence on the surrounding community, and the community members gain such an influence by forming and transforming themselves into Christ-like members of society at large. This society of believers is on a bold mission. It does not shy away from meeting the imminent new needs of the Church, and confidently conveys the modern world’s undying need for the Church.

“The Church….[has] a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation” (Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth, 9).

Influence and Enculturation

To have a deep impression on modern Western society we have to do more than just engage it. We have to impress it, impact it, and improve it. That is the proper rule of engagement in America’s competitive, selective society. Popular culture is not our enemy. Even if some people with secular ideals make the Catholic Church their enemy, we are still called to love them, and it is the nature of love to imitate the beloved.

Many of today’s Catholics have completed, and are working on, commendable and inspiring projects that invite believers and non-believers into a vibrant, impressive, innovative Catholicism. They are using new technologies to share the timeless truths of Christianity. They’re working hard to present the Catholic Church’s universal beauty to a sensationalist culture.

As we live a life that proves how Catholicism can be integrated into every aspect of a young adult’s life, we join the many institutes, apostolates, and communities that are committed to making Catholicism more understood in the modern world.

Ancient yet always new, the principles of the Christian life are lived out a little differently in every age, while sustaining a mystical connection with the Communion of Saints. When our peers expect us to apologize for our faith, we ought to be ready to explain and show them why we are proud to be Catholic. But to do this we must know who we are, and one great way to learn who we are is to live who we are in a home that embodies who we are.

Social Justice and a United Purpose

Far from being just a set of beliefs that help us make sense of life and the world, Catholicism is a dynamic and indispensable vessel for good in the world. As governments and institutes try to figure out how to solve the many consistent problems in across the globe, those who know Christ see tragedy as a chance to console, poverty as a chance to be charitable, and suffering as a chance to heal.

“Life in Christ is the first and principal factor of development” said Pope Benedict XVI. Development of impoverished communities demands “all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength”. Instead of searching for solutions on high governing levels, our community pursues the “ardour of charity” and the “wisdom of truth” on a personal level, by seeking Christ who is Charity and Truth itself.

We favor unity, within a person and among persons, but also acknowledge the need for subsidiarity; and a small community such as our own is the ideal setting to live out that balance. Humanity’s journey toward unity can be beautiful, but only if we practice unity in Christ with those around us in our daily lives. If institutions like the Church do not endorse unity between individuals and small communities, man’s natural ambition to unite will occur on a global level, thereby overlooking the organic unity among individuals and making true charity all the more misunderstood.

“The cause of underdevelopment,” said Pope Benedict XVI, “is the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples. Will it ever be possible to obtain this brotherhood by human effort alone? As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers.” [2]

The Concept of Community

Our society has no self-sustainable center of activity because it has a very weak concept in this regard. “Community”, as many of my peers interpret it, connotes excessive commitment, compliance and protection. It’s often interpreted as a group of people who are so at odds with popular culture that they decide to try and create their own bubble of blissful ignorance. If there is any trace of that interpretation of community in your head, I suggest you get rid of it. Not only is it far from the concept of community that I speak of; it’s far from the actual meaning of the term as well.

The full concept of community denotes an interdependent group of people living in one place. The villages of medieval Europe were communities made up of academies, guilds and markets that served each other, so much so that if a delegate of the crown rode to the village and told the peasants to bow to the king in the capital, for example, the peasants would respond, "We have no king but Jesus Christ who reigns in our hearts?" They had no need for outside assistance.

When a person reaches out from a self-sustained community, it’s more often than not a gesture of welcome rather than a petition for outside help. Faith and prayer communities that meet at most a few times a week cannot do this. They’re too circumstantial and dependent on other facets. I have attended many Catholic young adult group meetings and have been encouraged by the faith, support and fellowship of their members; but at the end of the day I cannot help but desire a deeper sense of united purpose.

Living Where You Work

“The truth of development consists in its completeness: if it does not involve the whole man and every man, it is not true development.” – Pope Benedict XVI

The Christian faith is ineffective unless it permeates every part of a person. If the ministries and faith communities I attend are in an isolated part of my life, it will be easy for me to keep my faith in an isolated part of my life. This young adult community has discovered this, and has concluded that a logical solution is to move in with fellow believers in order to daily hold each other accountable in our Christian walk.

However, as of now we still go to work at our secular jobs every day, and we still acquiescently go to bars, clubs, concerts, etc. for a more vibrant social life – and in these settings there is great temptation to compromise and minimize our faith.

“That seems to be the way things work here,” wrote Michael Higgins and Andy Coval [2] in their article in The Publican. “People move around, commute from suburbs to cities, have friends all over. Everyone’s spread out, and so are we—especially when it comes to work. There’s fissures running all through our lives, but the broadest and deepest of them cuts between our work and everything else. Indeed, this overarching sense of fragmentation seems to sprout primarily from the fundamental rupture between work and life. And it’s grating on us.”

The spirituality of Opus Dei has tried to solve this problem with daily devotions that teach its members to seek good in the midst of the work they do. “Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him,” said St. JoseMaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. This has proved to be effective for many people, but some--especially young Catholics of my generation--desire a closer unity between their spirituality and their work.

"For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person.
Here there is no private area reserved for an 'I' which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be 'off duty'; here there is no 'I' separate from the work; the 'I' is the work and the work is the 'I'". - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger( Pope Benedict XVI)

Cardinal Ratzinger did not mean we are what we do, but rather that as Christians we ought to do what we are. I am not defined by the work I do, but the work the Christian does ought to be a reflection--in fact a direct embodiment--of who we are. The office ought to be an integral part of our development mentally and spiritually. By making our work an embodiment of our beliefs, we are making it a sacrament (small 's'). In other words, we are making it a physical representation of a spiritual reality. This sacramental understanding of the bond between spirituality and work is essential to a fruitful Christian life.

Furthermore, if we truly intend to further God’s kingdom then we must toil accordingly day in and day out so that our work may bear fruit in the world. The members of this community prefer working where they live, not simply because they consider such a lifestyle to be more beneficial to their own spiritual and mental lives. Ultimately, the community wants to be built on this structure so that it may be more efficient in its evangelical mission.

The Economic Dimension

Technological and economic progress in our society are not running course with cultural and moral progress. Many companies have noticed this, resulting in the emergence of a new subject of study: business ethics. With the Great Recession, businesses throughout the industrialized world began to notice how bad ethics results in bad business. On an even deeper level though, bad business can also affect the moral dimension of the individual.

In comparison with the casualties of industrial society in the past, unemployment today provokes new forms of economic marginalization. Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering. [4]

With the Great Recession showing no sign of receding, now is the time to offer young adults an alternative to traditional career paths and dead-end jobs. Almost 13% of professionals in their 20s are unemployed. Pope Benedict is emphatic about uniting the concept of community with economic practicality. He encourages communities like ours to find a source of income through some communal effort:

“In commercial relationships the principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and must find their place within normal economic activity.”[5]

As young Catholics searching for a way to make a living, we are in an ideal position to provide the sort of fraternal, communal, gratuitous market so evidently needed in an economy crumbling due to its poor ethical practices. “Hunger is not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional,” said the Pope. That is what these Catholic young adults seek to create: an institution that serves the larger community while also strengthening its own spirituality.

A lay person should be able to make a living and support a family by simply working for the Church. There are already several Catholic businesses and organizations that provide jobs; and collectively, the Church is already the largest employer in the world, even when her religious vocations are excluded (Currently the company with the most employees is Walmart, with over 2 million employees. The Catholic Church employs more than that through her schools alone).

Vatican II paved the way for many lay apostolates, which employ a whole new kind of community, one that must integrate faith into its workplace. Catholic publications, pastoral centers, schools, retreat centers, etc. provide a good framework for the business dimension of our community. The foundation is already there. It just needs to be built upon.

”It must be remembered that the market does not exist in the pure state” said the Pope in paragraph 36 of Charity in Truth, “It is shaped by the cultural configurations which define it and give it direction.”

Thus, it is the job of the laity to give flesh to the ideals the Church teaches. In our culture the capitalistic structure of economics is the most feasible guide when seeking profit. We need to be assertive and acknowledge that, in a capitalistic society, seeking a profit in an ethical manner serves the common good by generating wealth for everyone.

Furthermore, being located in the Northeast Corridor, our community already has its roots in the heart of arguably the strongest economy on the planet. The dynamism already present in our community conveys the spirit of brotherhood present in Philadelphia and the philosophy of pragmatic capitalism resonating from New York City. It would be foolish to regard our region’s culture as contrary to our mission; and it would be wise to utilize the energy diffused by nearby cultural, economic and academic hubs.

Corporations and institutions may compete in the same field while ultimately being united in providing the same service or product, and if they keep their eyes on the common good they will commend the success of their competitors. The Catholic Church should challenge other humanitarian, academic and religious organizations, knowing that she is serving more than just humanity. Her service is directed to God. It is this transcendent direction of servitude that enables her to see far beyond herself and the world.

The Social Life

Everyone has multiple networks that hardly ever interact with each other. We have our family, friends, our family friends, our friends from high school, college, work, church, online communities, etc. These multiple networks keep us from being an island, but only by making us an archipelago.

In other words, they’re not all connected. They’re a bunch of islands. They satisfy our desire for friendship, but they are counter-intuitive for someone who wants to lead a holistic, unified, holy life because they’re all separate and encourage a divided lifestyle.

Oftentimes, to become more serious about our faith we have to let go of friends, but sometimes it is possible to invite other networks of friends into our network. Sometimes all that is needed is a bridge that these friends will respect and enjoy. The place we envision can be that bridge.

As you might have noticed, the interwoven threads throughout our philosophy--charity and truth--simply weave together the fragments within every part of our lives. In regards to socialization, we hope to unite our networks of friends through charity and truth.

St. Paul’s House on Allegheny Ave. in Northern Philadelphia has served as a social hub for young adult Catholics for some time now. It’s just an example of the potential a Catholic young adult house can have on a young person’s social life.

A Center for Dialogue

You may be wondering how we intend to build up a place that serves as a great social hub, while providing a source of income and still sustaining a fervent community of prayer and service. We don’t need to make our own proposal, because the Pope has already provided Catholics with an answer. We just need to put the answer to practice.

In a society with countless isolated communities, Pope Benedict encourages Catholics to provide a place where dialogue between these diverse communities can occur. It’s a poverty that such a simple need is not met in our culture. But is it not the very mission of the Church to meet people where they are?

Charity in Truth, paragraph 57 states:

“Fruitful dialogue between faith and reason cannot but render the work of charity more effective within society, and it constitutes the most appropriate framework for promoting fraternal collaboration between believers and non-believers in their shared commitment to working for justice and the peace of the human family.”

Only a few generations ago, the Church had much less difficulty erecting new schools, convents, and monasteries. Today it is a different matter, but that’s only because a new sort of institution is needed to meet the new needs of society.

“Today the possibilities of interaction between cultures have increased significantly,” said Pope Benedict, “giving rise to new openings for intercultural dialogue: a dialogue that, if it is to be effective, has to set out from a deep-seated knowledge of the specific identity of the various dialogue partners.” [6]

A center for dialogue among people with different creeds, backgrounds, political views, ideas, etc. may just be what is needed today. Keep in mind that dialogue doesn’t always have to be the use of words. People can dialogue through music, artwork, food, videos and various different customs.

Would people pay to hear, read or experience such dialogue? I believe technology offers many alternatives. A free will offering at an event often appeals to a person’s generosity, but there are also blogs and countless means of publication that could provide income. If we clearly convey the service we are trying to provide, people will notice the need for it in this relativistic culture. Clarity is sought after, and people will pay to acquire it.

“Open to the truth, from whichever branch of knowledge it comes, the Church’s social doctrine receives it, assembles into a unity the fragments in which it is often found, and mediates it within the constantly changing life-patterns of the society of peoples and nations.” [7]

Conformity and Transformation

With all of this talk about ideals, it’s easy to forget that some tangible structure is needed for a community to be successful. In addition, if one is to propose a structure, there are others who will have to obey and conform to this structure. This is naturally a turn-off for most people, but hear me out.

Structure gives an idea more concreteness, and without a plan an idea is just an idea. A plan, structure and foundation provide a place to start, something to work with and refer back to.

Christians believe in the Bible, but too often they think believing in the Bible and putting it into action are two separate things. If those who believed in the Bible put it into action, they would be in communities like the kind I’m speaking of. Or they would be missionaries or evangelists so on fire for the gospel that it would consume their lives.

But we shy away from that kind of commitment because it requires an all-in mentality. And even though we’d be doing what we know is right for ourselves, we see that at some degree we would have to follow and be governed by someone or something before we acquire a sense of true freedom.

Please keep in mind that all structure and leadership in these young adult communities ought to be based on a higher structure: that of the Catholic Church. Without the universality of Catholicism on their side, the houses would become nothing more than hippie communes. It’s the communal structure of the Church, the visible entity of Christ on earth, that makes these communities feasible. This video on the St. Augustine House, Philadelphia is an small example of what I’m talking about:

Young adults join these kinds of communities for self-sanctification—an aspiration that apparently isn’t too popular in our culture. But in sanctifying themselves, they participate in the sanctification of the world; and their pursuit of holiness as a community sets an extra Christian example, a testimony they can’t make on their own, and that community shows another way of life—a new way of life, an ancient way of life.

This brotherhood serves as a constant reminder that its members can iron out their own faults by loving and serving all others in their lives.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” -----Romans 12:2

A Trinitarian Leadership Structure

Many different structures of community life can be proposed, and the structure outlined below is just one.

The Church already has a structure that a young adult community can use. I recommend that every young adult house be under the auspices of the parish it is within. The parish is under the diocese, and the diocese is under The Vatican, thus the young adult houses will be less likely to fall into schism and/or heresy.

The young adults will already have plenty on their hands if they simply do what they can to help the parish their house is within.

"For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” ( 1 Corinthians 3:11).

No solitary person can be in charge of every affair that takes place in a community, and three branches of authority have been successful in numerous governing structures. The democratic government of the United States is divided into three branches: the legislative, executive and judicial. A family consists of three inseparable parts: husband, wife and children. As mentioned before, The Church hierarchy has three levels of governance; the parish, the diocese and The Vatican (or the pastor, the bishop, and the Pope). And, of course, God himself demonstrates perfect love through his inseparable union of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A young adult community can have a triune concept by having a domestic manager, a spiritual guide, and a ministerial leader (actual titles subject to change) leading each individual house.

Don’t Forget about Domestics

The domestic manager would govern the finances and housekeeping duties. He or she is not responsible for performing all house chores, but is in charge of keeping a fair, balanced and organized checklist of assignments, and will participate in their completion.

It is important for the domestic manager to deal with finances in a just manner. He or she will not be reluctant in telling community members if they are behind in rent, and will do what is necessary when members don’t pay their dues or do their chores. The domestic manager might organize a chore chart and a bill chart, and each community member would follow it accordingly. Likewise, as he or she oversees the domestic duties of the house, the domestic manager will justly consider the schedules and monetary limitations that each community member is already bound to in their lives.

A Personal Spiritual Mentor

The spiritual guide, or mentor, would determine the prayer schedule as well as any other contemplative and meditative needs of the community’s members. Due to his or her compassion and meekness, the spiritual guide will be most fit to give advice in these areas. He or she is not a spiritual director, but if the spiritual guide recommends a certain spiritual director to a community member, out of honor and respect for the community’s structure the member should strongly consider the recommendation.

The spiritual guide or mentor is there for personal support in the spiritual life of each community member. The inner spiritual life is different from the outer evangelical life of a Christian. Without a strong personal relationship with Christ, any and all evangelization is vain from the start. All true charity begins with a strong inner spirituality.

Ministerial Leader: For the Art of Evangelization

The ministerial leader, or head evangelizer, would be in charge of the evangelical outreach efforts of the community. He or she will wisely weigh all of the ministerial ideas presented by the community members, and will have final executive powers in the execution of those ideas.

Every evangelical ambition for the community must pass through the ministerial leader. His or her experience, success and good judgment in ministry will be the gifts that make him or her qualified for this position. When the ministerial leader proposes evangelical projects, he or she must inform all other community members. Participation is not mandatory for other members. The ministerial leader reserves the right to execute a project in the name of the community without the consent of the rest of the community, while all other members must first ask the head evangelizer for this permission.

The ministerial leader has this power to prevent the community’s outreach ministry from becoming stagnant, should the other members lose their ambition to evangelize. When organizing projects, the ministerial leader also reserves the right to ask for help outside the community; but it is important that this outside helper understands the connection between the project and the community, otherwise the concept of the community will be diluted and in danger of splitting.

One Body, Many Parts

It is important to involve every community member in the community’s mission in some way, and for all members to acknowledge and respect the duties of all other members. The community is one body made up of many parts, and a testimony to how people can practice a life of unity among diversity. The Catholic Church being our patron and mother, we already have before us an institution that has been most successful in this regard – reaching all the ends of the earth while professing the same creed.

The Millennial Middle Way

There are religious communities that make vows of celibacy, poverty and other sacrifices – to the glory of God — but the young adults I have spoken with don’t feel called to any religious vocation. There are common young lay men and women throughout the world searching for a community that complements their desire to integrate their Christian faith into every aspect of their lives. They don’t want to compromise their vision to fit the few options available to them, not because they’re not serious about their vision, but because the options available to them don’t correspond with the deepest desires of their hearts.

Many who want to evangelize don’t want to leave home, not because they’re afraid but because they see the need for a deeper Christianity in their area. Many young adults who work for apostolates or non-profit Church organizations still desire a faith community outside the workplace. Many Christian college graduates aren’t ready to marry. The list goes on, but the point is many young adults lose interest in the Church because it simply doesn’t complement the kind of life they want to live, and the kind of life they want to live is not necessarily selfish or bad. In fact, oftentimes it’s new, different and exciting.

The young adult lay community concept described above offers a new option. In the post-Vatican II era, God’s calling to laypeople is different than in past ages. Never before has the Church called the laity so directly to live a life of holiness. Never before has there been such a clearly defined sanctification of the common life, or a clash between the sacred and the mundane. I believe the coming age will be the age of lay saints like St. Thomas More and St. Joseph the Worker.

Catholicism has always been a religion of the people, and it is from among the people that saints emerge, but a holy life is difficult as it is – and it’s even more difficult without a holy environment. In today’s secularized society, where can a lay person go, what kind of life should he lead, if he desires holiness? Hopefully the young adult community we envision can provide an answer.


[1]“A Place to Start”, published in The Publican Winter 2010 issue, by Andrew Coval and Michael Higgins.

[2] Caritas in Veritate, 19

[3] "A Place to Start", Coval and Higgins

[4] Caritas in Veritate, 25

[5] Ibid., 36

[6] Ibid., 26

[7] Ibid., 9


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