I was robbed.
I am a "Generation X" Catholic, raised and catechized in the tumultuous aftermath of Vatican II. I was a victim of "renewal" and experimentation gone awry, and so were my peers. With great regret and without exaggeration, I contend that the results have been catastrophic for my generation. It is my firm belief that the overwhelming majority of young Catholics don't have even an elemental understanding of their Faith. As a direct result of that ignorance, young Catholics are leaving the Church in a steady stream (or, dare I say, tidal wave?).
It's not entirely accurate to say that I left the Catholic Church (though I considered it), but it's clear to me now that for most of my young adulthood, I was not in the Catholic Church. Let me give you an overview of my upbringing, which will sound familiar to countless young Catholics. I was born in the late 1960s into a believing and practicing Catholic family, and my sister and I were taught by our parents to love our Faith. Barring illness, we attended Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation without exception. We attended public schools, but we were enrolled in weekly CCD classes at our parish every year.
By the time I began religious education, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism was out, and feeling the "experience of Christ" was in. My parish priest, I believe, could not have known how the new, more "enlightened" philosophy of catechism would affect the moral development of those in his charge; at the time, he was simply caught up in the so-called "spirit of Vatican II," and was being obedient to what were considered Vatican II "mandates." Meanwhile, my parents, like the other parents, trusted that religious education classes would teach us the Faith. Sadly, that never happened.
In general, the volunteer CCD teachers were good-hearted parishioners who probably tried their best with the vacuous material they were given. Looking back, I can see that a couple of them must have been alarmed at the "new and improved" methods, and wanted to teach us the fundamentals of our Faith; for example, one year a teacher made us memorize the Ten Commandments; another year (9th or 10th grade, I believe) I heard the word transubstantiation for the first and last time. Aside from these rare moments, I assure you that precious little substantive information was imparted to us youngsters; the countless hours I spent in religious education were missed opportunities.
I can tell you in three phrases the content of a decade of catechesis: God is good, Jesus loves you, and love your neighbor. (All very good and true, don't get me wrong, but if you read your Bible you'll see that that's only half the Gospel. And sometimes half of the truth is more treacherous than an outright lie.) We were shown a lot of cartoon slide shows depicting Jesus and his parables, and I have nice images of multiplying loaves, the Good Samaritan, and Jesus' empty tomb. I don't remember anything particularly Catholic about the presentations, aside from a foray into the sacraments when it was time for First Communion or Confirmation. (But if you'd have asked me to explain what a sacrament was, I couldn't have told you.)
We weren't taught any Catholic prayers, although we all knew the Our Father from Mass attendance, and in my case from nightly prayers. I learned the Hail Mary along the way, but for many years I knew only the first half. We never discussed the lives of the saints, or even mentioned their names for that matter. (Sitting at Mass, I could never figure out who this "Paul" fellow was who wrote so many letters!)
I am thankful at least that I was born before the last vestiges of Catholic tradition could be stamped out, and in the 1970s some of the more pious and beautiful hymns were still often included in the Mass. Songs like The Church's One Foundation, Immaculate Mary, and At That First Eucharist were powerful to a child, and they have stuck with me to this day. The dramatic, colorful Bible story books I read at home also presented an unshakable image of a just and mighty God and his glorious and majestic Son. These haunting melodies and images, combined with my parents' faith and the common themes of my religious education did instill some important truths in my heart: I never wavered in my belief in God Almighty and in the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of His Son. Just who or what the Holy Spirit was or did was anybody's guess, although I did recognize that the Holy Spirit was one of the Persons of the Trinity -- whatever that meant. (I believe this particular bit of knowledge came from the repetition of another traditional hymn, which spoke of "God in three Persons, Blessed Trinity." Since traditional hymns are no longer sung on a regular basis, I can only surmise that young Catholics today are learning less than I did!)
I went through my school years believing I was a strong Catholic -- in fact, as I got older I would often identify myself as "devout" -- and after my high school graduation I chose to attend a Jesuit university, in part to increase my chances of meeting and marrying a nice Catholic man and raising children in a strong Catholic home. I made many Catholic friends during my years at Boston College, many of whom were products of Catholic elementary and high schools and most of whom were, like me, practicing Catholics. Just touching on this subject brings up many difficult emotions in me, but it is hard to overstate the tragedy occurring at most Catholic universities across the country -- namely, the betrayal of parents entrusting a child to a college that identifies itself as "Catholic" while it allows and even encourages fiercely anti-Catholic beliefs and practices to permeate the campus and poison impressionable minds. I do not know one Catholic who grew in his or her Faith at B.C. Indeed, many who entered Boston College as practicing Catholics graduated indifferent or hostile to Catholicism. I assure you that Satan is having a good time at B.C. and universities like it. Though modern sensibilities may scoff at this notion, I don't mean it metaphorically.