The Challenge of Being the Adult in the Room

Boy Holding Dad's handWe live in times and in a culture where maturity is often significantly delayed. In fact there are many in our culture who never grow up. I have argued elsewhere that one paradigm of our culture is to that it is fixated on teenage years. Fixation is a psychological description of a person who has not successfully navigated one of the stages of infancy and youth and thus remains stuck in the thinking and patterns of that stage, to one degree or another. Out culture’s fixation on teenage issues and attitudes is manifest in some of the following:

  1. Irrational aversion to authority
  2. Refusal to use legitimately use the authority one has
  3. Titillation and irresponsibility regarding sexuality
  4. General irresponsibility and a lack of personal accountability
  5. Demanding all of one’s rights but avoiding most of one’s responsibilities
  6. Blaming others for one’s own personal failings
  7. Being dominated by one’s emotions and carried away easily by the passions
  8. Obsession with fairness evidenced by the frequent cry, “It’s not fair!”
  9. Expecting others and government agencies to do for me what I should do for myself
  10. Aversion to instruction
  11. Irrational rejection of the wisdom of elders and tradition
  12. Obsession with being and looking young, aversion to becoming or appearing old
  13. Lack of respect for elders
  14. Obsession with having thin and young looking bodies
  15. Glorification of irresponsible teenage idols
  16. Inordinate delay of marriage, widespread preference for the single life

Now it is true that some of the things above have proper adult version. For example, the “obsession with fairness” matures and becomes a commitment to work for justice. Aversion to authority can be matured to a healthy and respectful insistence that those in authority be accountable to those they serve. And so forth. You may choose to take issue with one of more of the above and you may wish to add some distinctions. It is also a fact that not every teenager has all the issues listed above. All that is fine, but the point here is that the culture in which we live seems stuck on a lot of teenage attitudes and maturity is significantly delayed on account of it.

Some may also allege a kind of arrogance in my description of our culture as teenage. I accept that it is a less than flattering portrait of our culture and welcome your discussion of it. But I ask, if you reject the image of “teenage,” how would you describe our culture? Do you think that we live in an overall healthy and mature culture?

The Call to Maturity and the role of the Church – In the midst of all this is the expectation of the God through his Scriptures that we grow up, that we come to maturity, to the fullness of faith, to an adult faith. Further, the Church is expected, as an essential part of her ministry, to bring this about in us through God’s grace.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul has this to say:

And [Christ] gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ(Eph 4:11-15)

Coming to maturity is a basic task in the Christian walk. We are expected grow and come to an adult faith. The Letter to the Hebrews has something very similar to say:

You are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)

Notice that the Ephesians text says that Christ has given Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones unto this. The Church is thus expected in a certain sense to be “the adult in the room.” She is to summon us to live responsible, mature lives. She summons us to be accountable before others, to be sober, serious, and deeply respectful of God’s authority over us by living lives that are obedient to the faith. She teaches us, by God’s grace, to master our emotions and gain authority over our passions. She holds forth for us the wisdom of tradition and teachings of the Scriptures and insists on reverence for these. She insists on correct doctrine and (as the text from Ephesians says) that we no longer be infants, tossed by the waves of the latest fads and stinking thinking, and that we not be swept along by every wind of false teaching arising from human illusions. We are to be stable and mature in our faith and judge the world by it.

Yes, the Church has the rather unpleasant but necessary task of being the adult in the room when the world is mired in things teenage and will often exhibit aversion to authority, rules, and cry out that orthodox teaching is “unfair” or “old fashioned.”

But here we encounter something of an internal problem. For the Church has faced the grave temptation to “put on jeans” and adopt the teenage fixations. Sadly, not all leaders in the Church have taken seriously their obligation to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry….until we all attain to the unity of faith and….to mature manhood and the…..full stature of Christ.” Preferring popularity to the negative cries of how one or more Biblical teaching is “unfair!,” many teachers and pastors of the faith have succumbed to the temptation to water down the faith and to tolerate grave immaturity on the part of fellow Catholics.

It would seem that things are improving but we have a long way to go in terms of vigorously reasserting the call to maturity within the Church. Corruptio optimi pessima– the corruption of the best, is the worst. Clergy and other Church leaders, catechists and teachers, must insist on their own personal maturity and hold each other accountable in attaining to it. We must fulfill our role of equipping the faithful unto mature faith by first journeying to an adult faith ourselves.

The Church does not simply include clergy and religious. Lay people must also take up their proper role as mature, adult Christians active in renewing the temporal order. Many already have done this magnificently. More must follow and be formed in this regard. Our culture is in need of well-formed Christians to restore a greater maturity, sobriety and responsibility to our culture.

By God’s grace we are called to be the adult in the room.

32 Replies to “The Challenge of Being the Adult in the Room”

  1. Wow, you make some great points, and it is so clear that for every issue
    that we face, Scripture has a voice that can help us and guide us.

    Very well written, and look at heroes of culture and pop star status. They usually get younger and younger.
    Age and wisdom and the grey head have been brushed aside for tighter clothes, paint for the hair, and
    rebellion and maturity against God almighty. You can even see in the song from 40-50 years ago that there was
    some “shame” by being the adult in the room. I think you wrote a fine piece of information that should be shared, and applied. Thank you Sir.

    Hopes, Hugs and Prayers for a more mature Church, from Brasil!

  2. Great piece, Monsignor. Is it fair to add certain aspects of the common way of celebrating the forma ordinaria as prime examples of “putting jeans” on the Church? Here I’m thinking of some of the music choices – of how “adult” chant is compared to the use of guitars or secular sounding hymns – the use of altar-girls, after all it’s “not fair” otherwise, even the old translation – with the “dumbing down” of the language of the Mass. I don’t mean to suggest the OF is intrinsically “teenage” – it certainly can be, and in places is, celebrated as beautifully as the EF – I’m simply speaking of the way it is commonly presented, at least in my neck of the woods.

  3. The single life is one of the major vocations in life, and to call those of us who are called to it immature because we are listening to God and following His will for our lives is a serious affront. Certainly there are some who refuse to make a commitment and are single for that reason, but many others of us have made a commitment to Jesus Christ and He has called us to be single as a sign to the world that it is possible to live chastely in the world, among other things.

    1. There is a good deal of debate in the Church about calling the single life a “vocation.” I don’t think we can call it such in the strict sense of the word. Further, I think you are trying to specify what is a general remark, perhaps taking it personally. That a particular person is single may have causes unrelated to maturity. But when a whole culture begins to step back from marriage as our is doing, there are questions to raise related to maturity. Hence the remark is to the general trend not to you specifically. So, perhaps the old saying comes to mind: if the shoe fits wear it, otherwise, let it pass over you.

      1. If there is widespread failure to marry, a possible explanation may be that there are far fewer jobs on the market which enable a man reliably to earn a wage capable of supporting a family. In these circumstances young men who are persistently unable to command a family wage are likely to be hostile to the notion of marriage, while young women are likely to view them as unworthy candidates to be the fathers of their children.

        1. Likely a contributing factor plus the “scam” of higher education that requires more and more advanced degrees. A lot of young people are still going to school until almost 30.

          There are other factors too, and frankly I think promiscuity is the biggest factor. One of the bigger incentives to marriage is largely gone in our culture

          1. Another key factor is no-fault divorce on demand. The Church should be as strongly opposed to divorce as it is to abortion. It’s impossible for any society to have a robust institution of marriage while tolerating divorce.

          2. I agree wholeheartedly that higher education is indeed a scam, whether you have to pay for it or not. If you need to work for your living, you need training in practical skills useful in the workplace, not an academic education.

        2. I must say the use of earning a wage to support a family is vague one, yes we do not want to marry and be able to support our family, but if you start with a base you can afford the essentials for a family. If a woman looks at you as a failure unable to support a family, is it because it is true, or is she looking for the material things in life.

          I ask you, do the youth of today look at all things and make a decision on what they need or what they want, as I see most young fulfilling the want and not the need. The young in all generations are told to keep up with your neighbor, if they have it you should have it. However the earlier generations fought the temptation to covet thy neighbors goods, because they were taught that this is wrong, today our society and government tell us it is wrong not to covet thy neighbors goods.

          Our current president has said as much when he vows to take from the haves and give to the have not. He has vowed to disperse all the wealth, so we will all have a fair shot at acquiring wealth. He has personified the teenager mentality, for he believes nothing is fair and we gain all from the government.

          I do not have a college degree and have never made more than 45K, I saved any and all monies when ever possible no matter how small, I buy only that for which I can afford, I do not have a mega house(as all young want today) and I used the tried and true method of knowing a price range, 1 1/2 – 2 times my gross income. i am married to the most wonderful woman, who committed to me through marriage because i was committed to a faithful life within my Catholic Faith, not how much I earn.

          I have two children, both are getting their degrees, one in Electrical Engineering one in Elementary education. These decisions were based on their talents and prayerful reflection with God. They know that if they are to marry they will choose a person committed to their Catholic faith and not the material world and what they can buy for them.

          I have been in your position and I avow that it can be done, only if you come in union with a faithful partner and in Communion with God.

          1. Nothing new about fighting to get the right priorities (or not fighting…):

            “It grieves them more to own a bad house than a bad life, as if it were man’s greatest good to have everything good but himself.” – St. Augustine

          2. You can’t raise a family on fresh air. You can’t get a mortgage, neither can you rent a family home, if you can get only a minumum-wage job, let alone if it doesn’t last very long. You yourself got lucky. But what makes you think that your son in electrical engineering will get a job in that field given that most of them are going to China?

    2. I would think that your inclusion of the term “live chastely” differentiates what you’re talking about with what Msgr. Pope is referencing. (In general) the aversion to marriage in our culture isn’t isn’t because people at large are choosing to live a life of chastity or celibacy. It instead is a trend of unregulated sex, living together without commitment, and other forms of selfish sexual irresponsibility.

      I don’t think those who maturely choose or feel called to live a chaste single life are part of the problem being pointed out here.

    3. As a friend of mine put it– while stereotypes are generally valuable truth-bearing high-level insights into what to expect out of groups qua groups, they tend to break down and certainly become less useful as we get to the HD pixel resolution of particular individuals. The microscope gives a different view than the binoculars, but it doesn’t follow that the one falsifies the other.

  4. Very thought provoking. Keys up a thought from a recent post where a commentor talked about the lack of self awareness and introspection in our culture. I would describe our culture as dominantly shallow which I think is in line with your thoughts in this post. We tend to operate on our first, emotional response to a situation versus taking the time to apply wisdom or be instructed. The Church has the mission from Christ to be in the forefront of this instruction but how do you create a willing and attentive audience? It is easy to listen to passioned homily about some sin and focus on the people we know who commit that sin versus examining our own actions. I see no alternative but years of consistent counter instruction. The Church will also have to work veyr hard to be internally consistent because that will be the first out for those of us who don’t want to change. Well the bishop did x so I am going to keep doing y etc. Therefore the need to go back to the pillars from your post yesterday. Create a nucleus of people willing to instruct and be instructed. Then we continue with the Holy Fathers instruction for the New Evangilization.

    Very logical construction Msgr. Pope. Thank you for the instruction. Need to do some examination of my own actions.

  5. Really nice. Great video. How seldom we address emotional maturity, with ourselves and our children.

  6. “Some may also allege a kind of arrogance in my description of our culture as teenage. I accept that it is a less than flattering portrait of our culture and welcome your discussion of it. But I ask, if you reject the image of “teenage,” how would you describe our culture? Do you think that we live in an overall healthy and mature culture?”

    My teenage daughter was reading this over my shoulder, and claims the girls she knows at her Catholic all-girls’ school are not like your list at the top of the post. (She is, herself, fairly responsible and obedient, except occasionally having trouble with 6, 7 and sometimes 10.) Could it be that these qualities are encouraged (rewarded) throughout our culture (I seem to see that), and they simply become more obnoxiously evident when children within our culture (not in countries that don’t have our culture) grow up enough that one ought to be able to expect them to begin to resemble adults? I suggest that the attitude of materialism (starting in early childhood and extending through the whole of adult life), which has been a problem for several generations, continues to bear its fruit. Most people are not seeking God first, not teaching their children to seek God first, and this is the result. (Under the circumstances, I think our country is doing surprisingly well – considering all of history. There’s still plenty of time for it to get worse, though.)

  7. You know what I’m really sick of? Going to the market and seeing half-naked women displaying themselves on the cover of magazines. We live in a disgusting culture! Yes, we should be healthy, but many of the covers are close to being PORNO. I want to OPT out of Liberal Land!

  8. Amen. This guy, Joe Sobran, who I respected, once said, “Normal is someone you don’t know very well.” His point was that from afar people appear normal, but closer up things aren’t always as they appear. I wrote a corollary to that adage: “There is nothing weirder than normal.” G. K. Chesterton’s adult vision for himself was to be the village idiot. Someone could have asked St. Francis Assissi, as he preached to the birds, “When are you going to grow up?” Jeremiah walking around town with a yolk on his shoulders.

    1. Well said. St. Francis has justifiably been called God’s Court Jester.

  9. Failure to consider long range consequences of behavior has results in our material world as well as spiritually.
    The “Baby Boom” generation, by largely choosing current acquisition of material goods and pleasures over bearing and parenting children, has caused the oncoming crisis in the Social Security program, where in a few years too few adults will be paying taxes to support the many aged. (That is, if being over the “normal retirement age of 67” is considered aged.)
    To bring Social Security and Medicare back into balance, the Baby Boomers should consider working full time until age 70 or later. In effect, working longer will be required to atone for their refusal to bear children.
    In Greece, for every 100 adults of grandparental age, there are only 46 grandchildren. This may explain why current pensioners in Greece are rioting in the streets, protesting cuts in their governmental pensions. Other countries in Western Europe are facing similar problems, but are not as far along in the path to the group suicide of their culture.
    Immaturity has consequences.

  10. After reading some of the replies to your insightful article, I think another measure of immaturity might be taking everything personally. That attitude taken to one common conclusion leads to disbelief in God because of the world’s troubles,

  11. Thank you, Monsignor, for a timely and needful discussion.

    One is prompted to wonder how long the cultural fixation you cite has been in the making. Particularly with respect to entitlement, American society has encouraged the abrogation of responsibility for the better part of a century. (Sadly, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has sung a similar “rights” tune for much of its history, muffling the obligations inherent in the corporal works of mercy.)

    Another irony is that so much of the entitlement mindset has blossomed subsequent to the 1962 publication of Eric Berne’s “Games People Play” and its exposition of the inappropriate (and often immature) roles assumed by supposedly reasonable individuals in dysfunctional transactions.

    May God grant us the grace to accept His yoke and guidance, to imitate the selfless example of His saints, and to bear our responsibilities in the spirit of Christ.

  12. One thing that may help is a better exposition as to what authority is. Today, authority has been largely identified with power–hardly new, see Thrasymachus, but now very widespread–and power is arbitrary.

    This leads to a few things: (1) the rejection of legitimate authority as being arbitrary, (2) the abuse of legitimate authority when those that have it reach beyond the bounds of their authority (by abuse they degrade their legit. authority into arbitrary power), (3) a breakdown in the family, because a healthy family requires an understanding of authority AND the thorough rejection of the use of arbitrary power by parents and children (or else parents really are just “bossing” around kids and kids are equally justified in manipulating their parents).

    An aversion to arbitrary power is rational and healthy, while an aversion to legitimate authority is not; so step one is to figure out a good way to communicate the difference, and step two is for those with authority to keep scrupulously in their bounds, because no matter if they think they are acting “for good”, if they user their power to act outside their authority they are undermining their fundamental rationale.

  13. Notice, among other things, that intellectual discourse for many “Catholics” revolves around the concept of authority. Rather than adopt an argument based on its own merits, they choose to ask, “Who says so?” or the very Protestant, “Is that in the Bible?” If the authority does not fall within their own arbitrary determination of legitimacy, they ignore it. Or even if it does comes from an authority they claim to recognize, they ignore it anyway because it’s inconvenient for them. It’s perfectly juvenile.

  14. This was very good. It is a good issue to approach in our time–so much selfishness and immaturity abounds in young people (I am an old buzzard myself). And Monsignor it is also proof that you have heard a lot of confessions ha-ha.

  15. Your list describes many priests I know – perpetual Peter Pan Syndrome. Often, it’s difficult to truly mature when all significant life choices are made for you.

  16. Not just young people. Older ones too–like priests who insist on chaniong the words of the mass….

  17. Excellent article Msgr. You just described the downfall of Western Civilization, and in this I’m implying God as the Adult in the Room. God Bless!

  18. Overall, people have become soft. Marriage is tough. Raising kids is tough. Going to Church on Sunday’s is tough. Doing the right thing is tough.. Many people are not mature enough to sacrifice, so the easier route is chosen. As the saying goes, “dead bodies float downstream”. “God, give us the strength to endure…”.

  19. I read this last week but was reflecting more throughout the weekend and it popped into my head that “peer pressure” could possibly be added to your list of teenage qualities on which we are fixated. There were two examples I was thinking about. The whole “Facebook” and “Twitter” mindset is one of trying to be popular and the social networking sites can and are used to manipulate others into thinking or doing what the crowd wants. Secondly, a large part of our media, seems to depend heavily on the concept of peer pressure, though the consumers are perhaps equally responsible for this. People do not think critically about what they are being told because of peer pressure, that is, fear of being chastised for thinking/speaking differently even if differently is honest and balanced. I haven’t fully thought about the peer pressure idea, but was wondering what thoughts anyone else might have on it.

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