Act locally, think globally

Enough about being green. Let's talk about being beige. The visiting Bishop of Rhode Island declared he liked beige. He likes cafe au lait painted rooms. He likes tan shirts for his off hours. He even liked the beige walls where he was speaking recently in Newton for the Massachusetts Family Institute. But Bishop Thomas Tobin does not want us to act beige.

One wonders if we Catholics in Massachusetts have faded into the wallpaper. We have lost our mouth and our clout. We can't escape the problems of modernity by harkening back to "The Bells of St. Mary's" and a sweeter world. Things fall apart if we aren't vigilant. Act locally. We need to start at home.

First, let's not be beige in the household.

It is difficult and contentious to continually have to head off the tarted up fashions available to our daughters. We herald the mothers and dads who recognize that they are not their children's friends, but their parents. When teen necklines plunge, skirts hike upward and jeans downward, who is checking the appropriateness of dress when they leave for school or a Saturday outing. Why stop at Saturday? Some teens have forgotten about modesty even for Mass. Many parents turn their heads pretending they have no influence. In this case, we are still the parents and in charge. However, the message will never be received if it isn't delivered.

The slide away from sound moral principles is glacial, but steady. Perhaps every generation is shocked by what becomes acceptable behavior. Our mothers would have called such girls "vulgar." They would have reminded us of our reputations. Once a good opinion is lost, it is gone forever.

As parents we are responsible not just for our children's appearance, but their moral behavior. The state would like to take over, offering public service announcements masquerading as good advice. A marathon of self-improvement advertising clogs the airways. Recycle! Be a Dad! Don't eat fattening foods! Give up incandescent light bulbs! Chew your food!

Possibly the question of why the government agencies have taken up moralizing -- only its select issues -- is because our Catholic moral authority has dimmed. We are the beacon and Christ the great hope for true liberty. However, finding new ways to teach the faith to the young is a constantly shifting challenge.

And now for global thinking. Maybe there is another approach to infusing the young with knowledge of their Catholic heritage and what it means to be a Catholic. Borrowing again from our elder brothers, the Jews, we could send Catholic youths to Rome or Jerusalem for exposure to the richness of Catholic historical sites.

Over the last decade, a Jewish organization Taglit Birthright Israel has given more than a quarter million young Jews the opportunity to see Israel on a 10 day educational tour. More than 10,000 young people from the Boston area alone have visited the Holy Land funded by philanthropies and the Israeli government.

The Birthright program is ambitious. United Jewish Philanthropies raised millions for travel scholarships to Israel. A Brandeis University study shows the program increased a sense of attachment highly correlated with travel to the country. The Taglit-Birthright program expects that within five years it could be that a majority of American Jews by the age of 26 or 28 will have had direct experience in Israel.

Such an idea is worth funding for young Catholics. Young people who attended World Youth rallies around the world starting with the John Paul II years have come home with a heightened awareness of their faith. Who has not increased his faith by seeing Rome?

Maybe a Catholic organization or parish outreach group is looking for a new idea. What about a scholarship for a Catholic young person to travel to one of the holy sites so much a part of our geographically distant heritage?

Our Catholic young people need a sense of attachment to their historical roots. There is something to be gained from visiting towns and villages where Christ and apostles have slept and walked. There are other routes, such as following a path to Rome, or to walk the way of St. James, and biblical sites in the Holy Land.

Recent research on young Catholics shows they are lukewarm adherents to their faith. Only about 15 percent of young adults attend church weekly. A majority of the 30 percent who are regular church goers are "selective adherents" who follow certain aspects of their religious traditions, but ignore others. The fact is the great bulk of today's young adults are indifferent or, in some cases, hostile to religion. They are selective when it comes to teachings about the good life -- especially as they relate to some rather large issues, such as drinking, sex, and drugs.

Perhaps twenty-something Catholics need, as adults, to fall in love with the Church. They need to be born again. It is a serious wake-up call to stand in the place where St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred. It could give one pause. It sure beats sitting around playing video games and trading Jell-O shots with the boyos. After all, faith matters.

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan edited "Why I Am Still a Catholic" [Riverhead Books, 1998] and live in Chestnut Hill, Mass.