Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education. He also teaches at Aquinas Learning, a classical Catholic homeschool program led by his wife Rosario. They have five children.
A new study by the Pew Research Center shows that less than half of American millennials—those young adults from age 23 to 38—call themselves Christians. This is the second recent study that should wake up Catholics to the very serious dangers of our secular culture and the urgent need to renew faithful Catholic education.
The other recent Pew study found that only 26% of self-professed Catholics under the age of 40 believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
These results are devastating! But sadly, they are not shocking. Our culture has rapidly fallen into that “age of infidelity” that Saint John Henry Newman predicted, and too many Catholic institutions have been complicit in the slide from faith and tradition.
It’s a clear generational decline. The Pew study shows that the Silent Generation currently identifies as 84% Christian; the Baby Boomers, 76%; and Generation X, 67%.
Now we find ourselves with young adults who are only 49% Christian, which raises the question: Where do we go from here? If the trend continues, the current youth of our country will be less than 36% Christian as adults.
Catholic parents, educators, and bishops must together renew our commitment to the Catholic formation of young people. The statistics are clear: if you go with the flow of secular society, there is a good chance that your child will lose his faith.
Public schools are controlled by governments that are no longer neutral to the faith, and they certainly do not provide formation in the most important things a child must learn and do. Lukewarm Catholic schools are a scandal, doing more harm by their example than they do by teaching some degree of values that are acceptable to the non-Catholics they strive to recruit. The Catholic faith simply cannot be taught as an add-on to life — not believably, anyhow — or it will quickly be discarded by students when confronted by reality.
The same goes for secular colleges — and the large number of secularized Catholic colleges. They actively push progressive agendas that are anti-Christian, chipping away at the faith and hope of young people.
Perhaps even worse than what students are learning in the classroom may be the hedonistic lifestyle on many Catholic college campuses. The drinking and hook-up culture is well-documented and well-ignored by many Catholic leaders and parents alike.
On the other hand, the best Catholic education shows students the unison of faith and reason, not only in studies but in life. It forms young people in mind, body and soul. They receive a solid grounding in Catholic thought, prayer, sacrament and morality. A faithful education includes participation in beautiful and reverent liturgy and authentic Christian community.
If this sounds out of reach, take a look at the Catholic schools and colleges that are getting it right. Take a look at Catholic homeschoolers, who give their children so much that is lacking from our schools, without any benefit of the resources that are wasted on poor schooling. The stakes are too great to not provide our children with a faithful Catholic education!
Of course, there is no guarantee that any student will keep the faith after graduation, especially in this toxic culture. But we must give them the very best chance of keeping it, and they cannot keep what we fail to teach them. With the souls of our young people at stake, it is essential to do everything that we can, and pray for God to lead them on the path to heaven.