I am nineteen years old and attend Sydney University where my chaplain is a nun without a habit or title, where lobbyists advocate every type of sin, where my faith is openly derided and mocked. I have to traipse from parish to parish in search of priests who do not change the form of the Mass, or give sermons containing error, or de-emphasise the Eucharist.
I see my friends who went to Catholic schools gradually drift away from their faith because of things they have not learned or do not understand. If I open a journal such as AD2000, I see all of the above repeated over and over, everywhere.
What can I do? If I am to believe what I read, then the Church in Australia was not always like this, and the more I look about, the more I am made to feel like the desperate remnant of a dying breed, which, if it does die, will mean the end of good. What can I do, but despair?
No, I cannot bring myself to that. I see much of adults defending their faith, doing what they can through organisations, journals, articles, conferences. Yet over all of this defence, there has settled a film of sheer desperation, like the first layer of dust settling upon a statue. The work continues, but there is a desperate edge to it, a question mark behind it, a sense of "Are we really having an effect?" And in few areas is this more apparent than with regard to young Catholics.
Certainly, the statistics are awful, and the remedies often seem inadequate. Numbers of us question, defy, leave. But when I read about these things, I cannot help but think - what about me? What about the friends with whom I pray the Rosary, the friend with whom I go to confession, the young I meet at Thomas More Centre sessions, at Summit, at pro-life gatherings? We may not be many, but we are still here. We are here, and we have developed in such a way that we are equipped to deal with the crisis.
For an older adult used to uniform Latin Masses, or regimented catechism lessons, and so forth, the transition of the Church from 'then' to 'now' must be bewildering, even heartbreaking. It must seem irreparable. But to us, it is not, because we do not have that background. We have grown up amidst wishy-washy religion lessons, weird Masses, open division and questioning. Thus, we have developed the ability to handle them.
Somehow we have learned to distinguish between good and bad Masses, priests, teachers, theologians. Our identity as Catholics was not tested for the first time at university, or work, after years of listening and learning. It has been tested since primary school, in the liturgy, and all the areas which once could have been taken for granted.
This means that we can cope! We have learned to extract the good from both the 'old' and the 'new' Catholicism. We can attend a Novus Ordo with genuine devotion and affection, while wearing our scapulars and carrying our Rosary beads. I can enter the church of an Anglican friend, and then proceed to question him about Transubstantiation. I can hear the poetry in vernacular rites and prayers, and can sing a Latin Tantum Ergo with great pleasure.
There may be few of us left, but those of us that are here are strong.
We have been forced to learn how to hang on to our faith at all costs, to know every aspect of it and to seek sacramental grace with a fierce desire which I would never have known if I did not have to fight for it. It would have been quite nice if the Church around us had been good and stable all this time, but it was not, and it is not as if we are the first to experience that.
This is the crucial difference between those who have lived through the changes, and those who have lived with them. I did not know the 'old' Church, so I do not have the same sense of overwhelming loss to weigh me down.
I do not see the post-Vatican II character of the Church as being inseparable from the problems in it. I can love the Novus Ordo, but fight 'inclusive' language in it. I have grown up with the problems, so I see no reason why they cannot be overcome.
And this is the specific task of all the young Catholics whom I know. We have been allowed to keep our faith when all around us have lost it - why? Because those young amongst us have to do something incredible. We are going to rebuild Rome. We are going to take this Church which has been let crumble, and build it up again. We cannot change what we have inherited, but we are responsible for what we pass on.
By prayer, penance and frequent sacraments, each of us will become the instruments which God can use. These were the tools of the saints, and they can overcome all things. Also, each of us must learn. Like it or not, this is an age of dialogue, and people ask questions. If we know our faith, if we really know its depths and its history and its reasons, then we will be equipped to participate actively in this dialogue.
When we have prayed, and when we have learned, those of us left can build. Whether as writers, doctors, teachers, religious, young Catholics are being offered the chance to rebuild a part of what has been let fall into ruin. We may each put in place only one brick, or we may build an entire wall.
Either way, it seems to me that God is offering each one of us a chance to be instrumental for Him. Every young Catholic can be a decisive player in the future of the Church, simply because there are many vacancies for the position of reformer, and few to apply for the job. For what reason has God kept us close to Him, if not for this? How could we refuse such a call?
This is why it is not necessary to despair. Young Catholics have been thrown into the deep end of an exhilarating and terrifying situation, and we will rise to it.
If every young Catholic whom I know becomes a saint, then Australia can easily match any other country - and we will!
Pray for us!