I don’t know many Catholics. Lauren knows some; she became good friends with a few during her graduate program. But I could count on one hand the number of practicing Catholics I’ve had a conversation with. Despite being the largest Christian denomination, despite its unparalleled influence on Western culture, despite the proximity of Christ the King Catholic Church to my apartment, I really don’t know much about Catholicism.
I don’t know much about the different saints. I know close to nothing about the non-Roman, Eastern rites within the Catholic Church. I can’t tell you much about mass, days of penance, their doctrine of baptism or of purgatory. I also don’t really get how the whole “pope” thing works. He has to change his name or something? And Benedict, when he quit, did he get to keep the name? Like, I assume he had to give the hat back, but he had just filled out all the paperwork to change his name, so did he have to go back to his previous name—Bill or whatever it was? Did he have to get a new driver’s license when he stepped down? There’s just so much I don’t know about Catholicism.
I remember reading a long time ago—near the end of high school, I think—an article about trends in young Christians attending “high church” congregations. High church, for the uninitiated, refers to denominations or specific congregations giving much attention to formality and liturgy (like Catholicism, Anglicanism, the Lutheran Church) often in resistance to modernization. According to this article, young—typically educated—Christians perceived in “low churches” (hear: Southern Baptist, Churches of Christ) a proclivity for spiritualizing and shallow worship.
Some years later when I was graduating college, I saw this same trend in my peers: a frustration with the evangelical congregations they grew up in and a longing for more formalized, more tradition-oriented church families.
This is intriguing to me for a number of reasons, but not least of which is because—again—I know next to nothing about the convictions and the history and the practices of these churches. Only yesterday I had to look up what a godfather technically does when they’re not being a mobster. But now I am forced to ask, what could possibly draw young Christians to these old, stuffy institutions? I am forced to dialogue with these branches of the faith so very different from the one I grew up in. They have a sense of mysticism to be admired, but also a rigidity and certainty that can only come from centuries of tradition. It’s hard to even recognize them as different sides of the same coin.
Anyone with only the slightest knowledge of European and American history knows that low church people and high church people have not always seen eye-to-eye, sometimes even leading to violence. But there is a lot of potential for growth when these two sides begin a conversation. There’s a lot that low church has forgotten in its time trying to distance itself from the high church branches of Christianity. For that reason, I am intrigued to see what will happen to this trend of young Christians, and see how believers handle these two disparate positions.
I hope we will not continue in ignorance, but listen. We may be listened to in return—and that would be nice—but first we might stand to learn what our youth see in those old stone chapels.