Archive for millennials

“Spirituality and the ‘Millennials'”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 15, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I was recently informed of a column that appeared in the newspaper The Catholic San Francisco that discussed a lecture I recently gave in Washington, DC, titled “Navigating the Spiritual Landscape of the Millennial Generation.” This article, written by a Paulist Priest, Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP, does a good job presenting a survey of my presentation as well as that of the other presenter in addition to his own reflections. One note of clarification — Fr. Ryan describes me as a Franciscan Father, I haven’t yet been ordained a priest, but I am scheduled to be in May.

Spirituality and the ‘millennials’

March 13th, 2012
By Father Thomas Ryan, CSP

My engagements during the past month afforded opportunities to speak with students at universities in Ohio, Tennessee and Minnesota. “The millennial generation” they’re called, born between 1982 and 2002, the majority of them in their late teens and twenties now.

On my return home, in leading a discussion in a parish on one of the presentations, “The Mystery of God,” in Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” series, I was struck by the fact that there was no one under 55 in the room.

Soon after, the Washington Theological Union sponsored a symposium titled “Attending to the Spiritual Landscape of the Millennial Generation.” Presenters were Franciscan Father Daniel Horan, a millennial and author of “Dating God,” and Patience Robbins, who has served as a spiritual director for the past 25 years with the Shalem Institute.

Statistics indicate that there is a significant increase in the number of young adults who are interested in religious practice. Often their putting off of commitments such as marriage or having children is ascribed to delayed maturity or to irresponsibility.

But, according to Horan, there are other factors involved, economic and career-related, such as employment opportunities or the requirement of travel in a job.

This also explains, he said, why they don’t settle into other commitments. “They oftentimes lack roots or stability, are always on the run – and not necessarily by choice.”

When it comes to engaging in faith practices, they’re expressing their interest in different ways than the traditional ones of Sunday mass, Benediction, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the rosary. Recent surveys show that while two-thirds of them acknowledge the importance of these practices, only 18 percent are coming to church to participate in them.

What does draw them are service-oriented immersion programs like Peace Corps or Americorps or spring break trips to places where they’ll do something like help to build homes or assist in cleaning up an area after a natural disaster. Praxis is first for them.

There is also a curiosity about practices in other religions, like Zen meditation or Muslim fasting or Hindu chanting. While many are interested in the traditional forms of spiritual practice in Christianity, it’s necessary to think outside the box in relating to millennials, said Horan. “They are interested in questions of deeper meaning, but the ways they express their faith are going to be very different. You’ll have to meet them where they are.”

Spiritual director Patience Robbins expanded on that theme. “Millennials want genuine, authentic mentors and spiritual guides. Meet and accept them where they’re at, and they’ll come back. Be open and flexible around forms of prayer and names for God. Let it emerge rather than imposing a top-down traditional model of practices.”

Robbins said the three themes she emphasizes in spiritual direction with millennials are: One, you are beloved of God. Two, cultivate listening for God in your life. Why am I here? What’s my role? Three is generosity. Be open; let the divine love flow through you to others.

“Such an approach is countercultural,” she said, “in the face of the current cultural emphases on ‘more’ and ‘faster’ because neither favors being grounded in the ‘now.’ What am I rushing for? There’s nowhere to go and nothing to ‘get’ – it’s here! And the next question becomes: If you’ve already got this deep connection with God, how do you want to cultivate it?”

Her words reminded me of something I saw happen in our family after my father died and my mother lived alone. One of her granddaughters, a nurse working in another state, liked to come and spend days at a time with her. She joined her for her meditation at the beginning of the day, and then accompanied her to daily Mass, and prayed the rosary with her at the end of the day.

And along the way I became aware that this granddaughter had begun going regularly to Mass at her local parish. Her grandmother was her mentor. She accepted her granddaughter where she was, but continued to live her own faith with integrity and conviction, to carry it in living form and to manifest its fruits. Her peace and serenity made of her life a living word. Her granddaughter saw it and, over time, reached out for it.

There is instruction and encouragement in that for us all.

Paulist Father Thomas Ryan lives in Washington, D.C., and has written several books on spirituality.

Photo: Stock

The Parable of the Young Adults (or, of Sheep and Harvests)

Posted in Solemn Vow Retreat with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Wednesday 5 July 2011

I was struck by yesterday’s Gospel. Taken from the ninth chapter of Matthew, a few of the closing verses of the selection for the day caught my attention and spoke to me of the state of the world today. Isn’t it something how Scripture continues to speak to us in our own day? The images of sheep and harvest remind me of today’s young adults, those men and women from about 18-35. Those who are just setting out in life around college age to those who are a beginning to find their way in their careers and starting families of their own.

The passage from the Gospel of Matthew reads:

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:36-38).

Having just spent a year teaching at a small liberal-arts college in New York, the first image that came to mind was that of the young college students first starting out on their own. Most of the freshman students were experiencing life “on their own” for the first time, having been reared in an age that is typified by the helicopter parent and the doting overseer.

So sheltered are some of these students prior to (and sometimes during) college, that they at once appear as sheep without a shepherd, children without parents to tell them what to do, how to do laundry, when to go to bed and what to eat. It can be a stressful time for many.

It is also a time when young adults really are able to embrace their own identities and establish relationships on their own terms. Previously, most had the compass of their families to orient their paths. Now they find themselves standing at a magnetic pole, equally able to move in any which direction. Statistically, it is clear that many, if not most, of these young adults are “un-churched,” largely unfamiliar with organized religion, dogmatic positions or religious practices. Simultaneously, these young adults are searching for meaning and desire to understand better what their lives are about.

What was planted, while perhaps occasionally nurtured by artificial fertilizer, as seedlings previously has begun to sprout and bloom. The harvest is upon us, but there are few there to gather the bounty. Instead, so many young people are left in the field, their roots planted wherever one is able to dig in, they lie in the harsh sun and cold night, full of fruit and potential, life untapped. They go to waste.

So many young people simply need a model or guide for the journey. They need a harvester who will recognize the bountiful harvest that has blossomed from the seedlings planted by their parents. But who will do this? Who will pay attention to the young adults? Who will teach them? Who will guide them? Who will shepherd them?

Today we cannot lose sight of the Spirit working through the Word of God. The harvest remains plentiful, the potential for justice, peace and God’s Reign in this world is abundant – but it requires laborers for the harvest. I understand some part of my own vocation to be one such laborer. Like so many others, I too was (or perhaps, still am) a sheep without a shepherd, yet the Franciscan tradition offered me a pathway and guidance for the journey. I believe it is partly my responsibility to serve the younger members of my generation and those who will come afterward as I have been so served by my peers and elders.

So many of today’s young adults are “harassed and helpless,” as hear from Jesus in the Scripture. So many factors lead to this state. What are we going to do about it? Are you willing to be a laborer in the field of God’s Kingdom?

Photo: Stock

Winning a 2011 Catholic Press Association Award

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 29, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

So, I didn’t even know that I was up for consideration. Yesterday, I simply received an email from the editor of the journal Spiritual Life informing me that my article, “Digital Natives and Franciscan Spirituality,” which appeared in volume 56 (Summer 2010) had won the First Place in the “Best Feature Article” award in the Catholic Press Association 2011 Press Awards in the category of “Prayer and Spirituality Publications.” I have no idea how the selection process works, but I’m presuming the respective periodical editors nominate various pieces for consideration. To whomever is responsible for the inclusion of my article, I am grateful. I am humbled by the recognition and grateful for the honor.

The citation that was included with the award (I understand a certificate of some sort is forthcoming) reads as follows:

This piece sets itself apart through its timely and relevant topic, provocative quotes, strong lead and voice. The author intelligently weaves together reflections on Millennials, the instant gratification of technology and the essence of a spiritual quest.

I’ve had a chance to briefly look at some of the other award winners in the various categories, including the book prizes, and I’m humbled to be included among such an outstanding group of writers.

For those who wish to check out the article in PDF format, you can find it among a sampling of my published work here.

Thomas Merton: The Next Generation

Posted in Thomas Merton, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 9, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

So, naturally I’ve been thinking a lot about Thomas Merton in recent days. Preparations and then travel to Chicago for the International Thomas Merton Society conference at Loyola University have necessarily brought the twentieth-century monk to the forefront of my mind. One of the things that I think about rather frequently — and even more so now that I feel the extra duty to be aware of Merton-consciousness in light of my new ITMS responsibility — is how to make sure that the work, thought and life of Thomas Merton is studied and shared by as many people who might be interested.

Merton’s continued relevance is a theme that has increasingly come to the fore, reaching something of a zenith in recent years in part due to then Bishop, now Cardinal, Donald Wuerl’s remarks about why Thomas Merton was removed from the new American Catholic Catechism. The text, aimed especially at young adults, was to include a prominent American Catholic at the beginning of each chapter, which would serve as a model of Christian living.

Wuerl, the chairman of the committee responsible for this project, explained that, among other reasons, “the generation we were speaking to had no idea who he was.” Implicit in Wuerl’s explanation, not to mention the misunderstanding of Merton’s own life and work, is the reality that the current Cardinal Archbishop of Washington sees Merton as an irrelevant figure in contemporary Christian life.

This statement predictably outraged scholars and enthusiasts of Merton’s work. But there is both a glimmer of truth (although not quite in the form proposed by Wuerl) in this critique and a significant misunderstanding. The truth comes in the ostensibly poor management of the “Merton brand” by way of effectively communicating the wisdom, resource, writings and story of Thomas Merton to many young people who were not part of the generation(s) that knew the Trappist’s name as a household figure in the wake of the success of his popular books.

Yet, the misunderstanding comes in a twofold form: first, the statement seems to imply that nobody of a certain (young) age knows Merton. As someone born after 1980, I can assure you that is patently untrue (see the photo above taken at a Merton conference 2 years ago featuring just a handful of the under-30 Merton crowd, including me).

Furthermore, just last week I was at the College Theology Society conference talking with a variety of young professors and doctoral students. Whenever we got on the subject of research interests, publications or schedules, I would inevitably mention Merton. Nearly EVERY person I spoke to in passing responded with admiration for Merton and his work. At one dinner table doctoral students at both GTU and Fordham university shared their love for Merton and his work (one even regularly worships at Corpus Christi Parish in Manhattan), yet none of them were members of ITMS (something I strongly encouraged all to do!).

Second, Wuerl’s statement seems to suggest that those who don’t know about Merton yet wouldn’t be interested to know, as if the Millennials (and perhaps the Gen-Xers before them) couldn’t find in Merton a spiritual guide, mentor and model. However, having given a number of public lectures as well as spoken informally with hundreds of young adults, those who are inevitably introduced to Merton always seem to like him and usually read more.

I am entirely convinced that if young people today are not “into Merton” it is only because they have not yet had the opportunity to be encouraged to explore his work. Sure, Merton (like any author) will not be for everybody, but to make a generational statement like Wuerl’s is unfounded and untrue.

Merton continues to be relevant today.

But one cannot be relevant today if no one knows about you and people come to know about you by meeting people where they are and sharing your story. For that reason, I believe that it is important for those engaged in Merton scholarship or those who are simply and personally inspired by his writing and story to share that with others. Encourage them to join the ITMS, to learn about current research and help support the organization that is committed to advancing Merton studies.

Today the 12th ITMS conference begins at Loyola University in Chicago and goes through Sunday. I hope to see many young people in attendance and hope even more that new folks might come to participate in events such as the ITMS conferences. One does not have to be a scholar or academic to attend, you can simply come and take in the papers and discussions. If we all do our part to spread the word, we can help ensure that Merton’s legacy will be passed on to the next generation!

Photo: Mike Brennan/ITMS

St. Francis and Young People Today

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 18, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM


What is it about an 800-year-old Saint that is so appealing for young adults today?

Today’s young adults see something inspiring in the life and spirituality of Francis of Assisi. In a survey conducted in Washington, D.C., and published in the book American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), young adults were asked which people in all of Church history are the most inspiring to them. After a first-place tie between Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, St. Francis was next.

For more on the inspiration and appeal of St. Francis and the Franciscan tradition for today’s young adults, check out “St. Francis and the Millennials: Kindred Spirits.” I thought this would be something readers may be interested in looking at in light of the student service trips going on this week from Siena College and other Franciscan schools.

Young adults, including college students that I teach and minister to at Siena, are very interested in the life and tradition of St. Francis. This is a significant dimension of the service trip to the Dominican Republic that I am on right now — not only am I a Franciscan friar and the students are from a Franciscan college, but we are working with a group of Franciscan Sisters who run a school and other ministries. This is no accident. We want our students to be aware of the broader Franciscan community worldwide and have an experience of the Franciscan family working together for the sake of all humanity, particularly the poor and marginalized.

Note: This post was pre-written and scheduled to be published while I am away on a service trip to the Dominican Republic with students from Siena College. Regular daily posts will resume upon my return. While away I am unable to respond to comments posted here.

Changes in the American Religious Landscape

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 8, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Following the Provincial Chapter of Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor (The Franciscans) I have been spending some time with my brothers in Silver Spring, MD, before jetting off yet again to my next stop in the Winter 2010-2011 Dan Horan traveling tour (Holiday visits to family and friends, religious community commitments, research trip to archives, etc.) before returning to Siena College to begin teaching in the Spring semester.

One of the themes that arose during the Chapter, and continues to appear now and then among the brothers in casual conversation since, is that of the shifting landscape of religious expression and commitment. It is most clearly seen in the different way younger people (and, really, all people in a postmodern cultural milieu) relate to religious institutions and forms of religious/spiritual expression.

How do we respond to the “signs of the time,” as the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes instructs us is the duty of the Church in the modern world? This is the pressing question of our age, it is — to borrow the theme of my province’s recently closed Chapter — “where our deepest longing meets the world’s greatest need.” This theme continues to afflict me with its urgency because it is the undercurrent of so much conversation.

This morning over breakfast some of my fellow friars and I were chatting about the way in which people today “think differently” from previous generations, a conversation not unlike one shared among a group of us friars participating in a social media working group a few nights ago. Older friars (and other religious, priests, laypeople, etc.) have a very difficult time understanding the structure (or lack thereof) of social media and its manifold importance to evangelization and communication today.

I think this is simply one example, one iteration of the American religious landscape today. What needs to be addressed — honestly — is the shifting context for young adults and men and women of this age. That we need to utilize the means of communication available to us (such as this blog, for example) to reach populations of the faithful, the disenfranchised or the completely indifferent is an imperative that need not be debated. It must be accepted.

This is something that the USCCB (the U.S. Catholic Bishops) have actually got right. In their November meeting one bishop gave a very significant report to the assembled leaders of the local churches in the U.S. and stressed this point, following the Pope’s own increased focus in this area. All religious congregations and individual ministers must take this shifting landscape seriously.

At the table this morning one of the friars who heads up an important international office of social justice in Rome asked, “what I want to know is how do we reach out, connect with people who are not already convinced and coming to church today?” To which I and another friar responded, “electronically!” The Spirit is working in our world today, enkindling faith in the hearts of many, but the old ways of connecting no longer work. We need to learn to adapt to these changes, accepting them not as better or worse than the way things were before, but simply different from the way things were done before.

Or, as Tony Jones writes in his very interesting book, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Jossey-Bass, 2008): “We are not becoming less religious, as some people argue. We are becoming differently religious. And the shift is significant.”

This is precisely what sociologists and theologians have been identifying in recent years. I and my friend and CARA sociologist Melissa Cidade co-authored a study that will be published in the Journal of Catholic Higher Education later this year, which states precisely this point. The affective religiosity of young adults — GenXers, Millennials and the youngest generation just being born today — cannot be measured by traditional parameters.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that young people are not religious and that the Church with its millennia-old tradition cannot meet their needs. On the contrary, it’s a matter of thinking anew and learning to express the faith in the language of the day.

As Pope John XXIII said to prophetically at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.”

It is time to take seriously the need for a new, “predominantly pastoral” expression of the faith for today.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 14, 2010 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

So, I’m honest enough to admit it.  I am addicted to noise.  The good news is that I’m not alone.  The bad news is…well…that I’m not alone.

Earlier this afternoon I was walking across the college campus where I work, heading home for lunch from my office located on the opposite end of the campus from the friary (the place where Franciscan friars live).  During my stroll, I, out of habit, popped in my iPod earbuds to play some music for my pedestrian commute.  I should say that I didn’t think anything of it.  When I was well on my way, I passed a young woman going in the opposite direction who was also wearing earbuds and zoned-in to her particular flavor of playlist or podcast, while almost totally zoned-out to the world.

As we passed we caught each other’s eyes, nodded slightly in acknowledgment and then continued on our respective ways in no way distracted by the courtesy normally required of two strangers encountering each other for the first time.  We were isolated pods, monads on our own trajectories, not obliged to do anything unrelated to our individual. particular tasks or missions, not even say hello.

At first it struck me as odd that we have isolated ourselves in such a manner.  Furthermore, it’s totally acceptable.  Whether walking across campus, waiting for a train, riding with my family in the car, studying in the library or sitting in my room, youth and young-adult culture in this country has made it wholly acceptable to zone-out of the world (and people) around you and zone-in to a more custom-made “me space” (not to be confused, of course, with ‘MySpace’).

I’m as guilty as many of the iPod/cell-phone/Blackberry offenders, meandering through life nearly oblivious to their surroundings.  What makes me wonder, though, is what the long-term effects of such wide-spread behavior might include.  When I was in college (not that long ago), iPods had not yet become as common as they are today, I seem to recall having to greet real human beings on my walks between buildings to and from class.  I remember the impromptu conversations, superficial though they may have been, that would occur while waiting in line for something.  Now there is silence induced by individually tailored noise.

There was an interesting — and scary — study released by The Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this year that highlighted some of the ways media play an increasingly more significant role in the lives of children and teenagers (ages 8-18).  Here is a short summary of some of the key findings:

  • Over the last five years, kids in the age range saw a “huge increase” in ownership of cell phones (39% to 66%) and iPods and other MP3 players (18% to 76%).
  • About three in 10 young people say their parents set rules for multimedia consumption, i.e. TV, video games, computer usage.
  • Two-thirds of young people say the TV is on in the home during meals, and 45% said the TV was left on in the home, even when no one was watching.
  • Heavy media users reported getting lower grades. (Though the connection between media use and grades is not easy to establish, the report cautioned.)
  • Black and Hispanic children spend more time with media than white children do.
  • Big changes in TV, the report says — The average amount of time spent watching regularly scheduled TV dropped by 25 minutes a day, but the new ways people consume video (Internet, cellphones, MP3 players) led to an actual INCREASE in total TV consumption
  • Time spent reading books didn’t drop over the five year period, but time with magazines and newspapers did.
  • Girls spent more time on social networking sites, listening to music, and reading, while boys spent more time playing console video games, computer games, and watching video sites, like Youtube.

I’m in no way a luddite.  I see the value in new information technologies and really do appreciate the convenience of MP3  players like my iPod.  However, like all things, we need to work better to find a balance.  We need to be aware of how we shut others out and what that means for our human relationships.  If keeping those ear buds in all the time keeps me from interacting the the people I see around me everyday, how much more does such a distraction keep me isolated from God?  What’s the spiritual (de)value of overusing technology like this?

Perhaps we could take our iPod earbuds out of our ears more often, so that next time I try to say hello and ask “can you hear me now?”  I might hope that you can answer “yes!”

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