Years ago, in a former life, when priesthood and religious life were terrifying, and yet strangely appealing, at the same time, and long before I dared genuine conversation around the idea of vocation; I worked in the maintenance department of a local nursing home. In that role, I was mostly doing landscaping and yard work. It suited me; I had a lot of time to think. Working there I remember an area of barren land, in a particular corner of the courtyard, and every time I saw it, I found myself reminded of the definition of arid - lacking water. Here, written in the dirt, was a reminder of how long it had been since sky or hose had quenched the parched earth, and therefore a reminder that I was behind - did I mention I was an anxious young man? It was fascinating to me that the soil, when dry, would pull apart. The absence of life-giving water brought particular clumps of soil closer to one another, and further from 'that other' soil, causing a chasm to emerge. 'How deep could that possibly go?' I often wondered. I am beginning to realize the answer to that more philosophical question - very deep indeed.
I see those cracks once more, this time not in the barren soil, but in the fabric of the Church, the Bride of Christ, the presence of God active and alive in the world. These cracks pain me. As a millennial, I come with a seemingly natural mistrust of institutions - if you will, it has been an additive of the very air I have breathed from childhood. I am an old millennial, about as old as a millennial can be; over these years I have witnessed the dangers of the cult of individualism and what it can do to the human person's view of self and community. I have dedicated my life to the Church, to the Bride of Christ, because it offers a refuge from the storms and chaos of going it alone. The Catholic faith provides more than personal salvation, it extends God's gift of communion with God, and with the entire Body of Christ. The enemy of all that is good does not want us to be united, that unholy desire is to separate and divide.
The scandal of clerical sexual abuse remains, a scandal that I naively believed we were in the process of healing, has erupted once more along with the threat of its continual exposure looming against the horizon. That scandal threatens the unity of the Church but so does the watering down of the faith. This more palatable faith is often thought the means of drawing in the searching, inviting the stubborn, and sustaining the doubter. This is water that washes over the barren soil, lacking the force to penetrate the hardened and cracked surface. This is water that does not carry the life-giving qualities that marked the water Christ promised the wayward at the well. This is water that fails to satisfy.
As a millennial priest, I have eyes that recognize the Church as the last bastion of hope in a faltering world, I also see this bastion threatened from within, as much as it has ever been threatened from without. I remain dedicated to the Bride of Christ, for as Peter said, Lord where else can I go? Now, more than ever, I pray the words of the Holy Mass, after we have together recited the Lord's prayer, with genuine enthusiasm and heartfelt need:
"Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will."
For the millennial disciples of the Church, please know that you are not alone, your dedication to the faith, your support of the clergy, along with your demand for an authentically lived faith by that same clergy, is heard and appreciated. Please, do not abandon the faith. The sky may be dark - take heart! That only means that our Lord and Savior is about to pour a deluge of His life-giving grace down upon His beloved. For a time the parched earth may get a little muddy, but the cracks will be healed by the one from whom all blessings flow.
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