New books explore young adult outreach in face of today's challenges
"What Matters Most: Empowering Young Catholics for Life's Big Decisions" by Leonard J. DeLorenzo. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2018). 224 pp., $16.95.
"Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus" by Katie Prejean McGrady. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Indiana, 2018). 160 pp., $13.95.
The foreign policy texts and mass-market spy thrillers of the late 1980s often inspire a feeling of "if only they knew." Examining the strengths of the Soviet bear in the last years before its collapse gives us reading now a sense of uncomfortable premonition, that we know something the authors didn't, trapping the analysis in amber no matter how sound the writing or scholarship.
That same feeling starts to arise when reading two new books about Catholicism and young adults that were written before the summer of the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the revelations about retired Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick. Their diagnosis of the spiritual emptiness facing many teens and young adults might be spotless, their prescriptions sound, but even books published in early 2018 feel a little bit from another era.
Saying this is not meant to slight the authors of these books at all. Katie Prejean McGrady, one of three young adult delegates selected to represent the United States at last March's pre-synod convocation at the Vatican, and Leonard DeLorenzo, a University of Notre Dame theology professor who leads an annual summer program for hundreds of high school students, both have a finger firmly on the pulse of what young people are looking for.
McGrady's book, "Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus," takes a direct approach, offering favored prayers, routines and practices to teenagers or college students interested in deepening their relationship with Christ.
"Follow" is a conversational read, detailing stories from McGrady's dating experiences, including a divinely inspired meet-cute story about her future husband, her professional career and moments along her spiritual journey.
She offers sound advice for developing a spiritual life, including an introduction to the practice of "lectio divina" (a form of prayerful meditation on the word of God) that is pitched just right for beginners, and weaves personal anecdotes about the power of prayer into prompts to encourage a deeper relationship with Christ. High school students interested in deepening their personal prayer practices couldn't pick up a book better suited for them.
"What Matters Most: Empowering Young Catholics for Life's Big Decisions," written by DeLorenzo, is a more pastoral book, aimed at parents and youth leaders in the position to offer counsel and advice to teens and young adults. DeLorenzo challenges readers to think about how the tools we use shape us, from the internet to cellphones to even the tyranny of a morning alarm clock.
"To form young people to be free and brave, to become capable of true vocational discernment and missionary discipleship," he writes, "we have to reclaim the power of patience."
Patience is required for moving outside the daily stream of nonstop information and activities to build space for students and young adults to truly listen to their call, DeLorenzo writes. If we examine the unthinking assumptions that make up our day-to-day responsibilities, we may just find ourselves contributing to a culture that prizes workaholism, materialism and utilitarianism. Those values are antithetical to the more humanist view of authentic flourishing for which DeLorenzo would advocate.
"What Matters Most" is intended for a more limited audience, perhaps especially for those who find themselves (or the students they mentor or teach) at risk of being seduced by a meritocratic view of society that treats material and reputational success as its own reward, rather than a means of facilitating our ability to do good. DeLorenzo's book is a bracing corrective to that fallacy, and a positive view of how Catholics can be a distinct leaven in the world, offering a bold alternative rather than a conformist echo.
Both of these books feel necessary and needed. They also feel, through no fault of their own, of slightly of a different time, given how much the ground has shifted since their writing.
Outreach to young adults is a challenge even in the best of times -- and these are far from the best of times.
The millennials and members of Generation Z who are McGrady's and DeLorenzo's direct and indirect intended audience weren't tuned into the clergy abuse revelations of 2002. The summer of 2018 was their first true taste of gut-punching revelations on a seemingly daily basis, and their trust in the church has been shaken like never before.
The church as an institution may struggle to combat disillusion, distrust and apathy in the wake of these revelations, yet the long-term existential spiritual needs detailed by the two authors are not going away.
Rebuilding trust in the church may require more dramatic measures than can be found in "Follow" and "What Matters Most," but that does not mean DeLorenzo's keen insights and McGrady's warm, personable approach can be ignored.
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Brown is a graduate student at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.