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On Being the Adult in the Room

September 16, 2015

Happy dancing people silhouettes

In the Letter to the Ephesians, St, 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).

However, we live in times and in a culture in which maturity is often significantly delayed. In fact there are many in our culture who never grow up. I have argued elsewhere that one of the defining characteristics of our culture is its fixation on the teenage years. In psychological terms, a person with a fixation is one who has not successfully navigated one of the stages of childhood and thus remains stuck to some degree in the thinking and patterns of that stage. Our 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 while 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 (including 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, young-looking bodies
  15. Glorification of irresponsible teenage idols
  16. Inordinate delay of marriage and widespread preference for the single life

Now it is true that some of the items in the list above have proper adult versions. For example, the “obsession with fairness” can mature and become a commitment to work for justice; aversion to authority can mature to a healthy and respectful insistence that those in authority be accountable to those whom they serve. You may take issue with one of more of the above and may wish to add some distinctions. It is also true that not every teenager has all of 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 if you reject my categorization then how would you describe our culture? Do you think that we live in a healthy and mature culture?

The call to maturity and the role of the Church – In the midst of all this is God’s expectation (through His Scriptures) that we grow up, that we come to maturity, to the fullness of adult faith. Further, the Church is expected, as an essential part of her ministry, to bring this about in us through God’s grace. 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 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 the teachings of the Scriptures, insisting 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, often exhibiting aversion to authority and rules, and crying out that orthodox teaching is “unfair” or “old-fashioned.”

But here we encounter something of an internal problem. 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 that our teachings are “unfair,” many teachers and pastors have succumbed to the temptation to water down the faith and to tolerate grave immaturity on the part of fellow Catholics. Although it would seem that things are improving, 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 one other accountable in attaining it. We must fulfill our role of equipping the faithful unto mature faith by first journeying to an adult faith ourselves.

The Church is not composed only of 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. But more must follow and be formed in this way. Our culture is in dire need of well-formed Christians to restore greater maturity, sobriety, and responsibility to our culture.

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

I realize that this post may cause controversy. But remember, this is a discussion. I am not pontificating (even though my name is Pope). I am expressing my opinion and trying to initiate a discussion based on a text from Scripture. What do you think?

Here’s a video (from a more mature time) on one aspect of maturity: proper self-reliance. It’s a little corny, but it does model something that is often lacking in families and in youth formation today. We should not usually do for others what they can and should do for themselves. Learning consequences as well as the value and need for hard work is part of maturing. And while there is an appropriate reliance to have on others and a complete reliance to have in God, there is also a proper self-reliance in coming to maturity.

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Comments (9)

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  1. Taylor says:

    A green grape tastes bitter until it ripens and becomes sweet. In nature, it seems that all of us must progress and “ripen.” What we need are persons who can be trusted to tend the garden so that the vines do not become uprooted and the grapes reach maturity in a timely and steady way.

  2. Cathy says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope, I tire of being 50 when so many my age are pursuing middle age as a time to get back into being a teenager. Not only does it make one’s peer group tiring, self-centered and over dramatic, it also leaves our young people without good example and leadership. Too many adults are experiencing crisis, and seem to latch on to younger people as an outlet and as a peer group.

  3. one anonymous says:

    Very good article! The populous are no longer being taught (and yes we learn and grow to maturity all our life) by a God centered society but instead by the secular self centered society. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are being taught, influenced, swayed by media, t.v., and every form of influences to get into our thinking towards the direction away from Jesus Christ and His Love and Goodness and maturity for us (and isn’t it the way of the devil to call so many evils “adult” this and “adult” that when in reality it is lust and emptiness and hatred of humanity). And if we do not follow God, you can be sure we are following the devil, there is no such thing as “do your own thing”, it is God or the evil one. Many would disagree but we are seeing the rotten grapes of evil in our society, we are seeing the stark results of turning our backs on God.

  4. WSquared says:

    Msgr. Pope, I absolutely agree with you with the description that our culture is “teenaged.” If that sounds unflattering to some, then so be it: perhaps one of the reasons why some folks find your description offensive is that they know deep down that a good gob of it is true.

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope, I tire of being 50 when so many my age are pursuing middle age as a time to get back into being a teenager. Not only does it make one’s peer group tiring, self-centered and over dramatic, it also leaves our young people without good example and leadership.

    Cathy, you just took the words right out of my mouth.

    You’ve essentially elaborated why, whenever Pope Francis talks about the treasure of grand-parental wisdom and how grandparents hand on the faith, I cringe. And I happen to be younger.

    Now, Francis is right of course. He’s describing the grandparents he had, and that other people may in fact have, and what grandparents should be. But in our culture, those kinds of grandparents seem quite rare.

    I compare what these folks whom you describe are doing to child saints who were both more mature in their faith, and therefore wiser: these kids had the wisdom of the ages– because they were receptive to God. Likewise, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis were and are all youthful. They’re younger, more joyful, more profound, and more truly alive than the average jaded teenager. Because they, too, are receptive to the same God that the child saints were and are– a God who is ever-living, and therefore Ever Ancient, Ever New. …gives perspective to “born of the Father before all Ages, doesn’t it?

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

    Speaking of which, why do we focus so much on religious education for children, when adult formation is both needed and necessary? Because what often happens is that we teach the faith to the children, and the kids’ parents often smother that gift of faith by the way they live at home– not necessarily deliberately, but mostly out of neglect and indifference.

  5. R says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Grew up in the Church (16 years of parochial schools) and self-deleted through divorce and remarriage. Therefore, my opinion and $2 will buy coffee at Starbucks.

    That being said my heart breaks for the Roman Catholic Church. The Church has and had enough smart people to realize that trying to be ‘relevant’ (cool) was a failure by 1970 – with the process of trying to be ecumenical that started in the Cincinnati Archdiocese (the example I know) in 1963. The typical ‘progressive’ (viciously left) solution was, of course, to try harder. The leaders never realized that there did not exist a set of behaviors and surrenders that would make the ‘progressives’ like them. Combine this with the homosexuality of so much of the religious and their homosexual preternatural nastiness, and the seeds of the current destruction were in place. Along the way, no one in real authority had the fortitude to remove 40% to 75% of the seminarians and novices (by rooting out homosexuality) when it would have most likely worked, so the untwisted self deported and vocations plummeted anyway. And the Church was damaged in a new way.

    What could have happened is that the Church could have cleansed itself and become a pole of attraction to those of that (my) generation who decided to leave their dissolution and return to something good and right. Now, these find that the Church has turned into something that fulfills no one seeking the truths that they need. This is true in lots of other instances – PC(USA) for example, but for the original Church to be in this circumstance is particularly disheartening.

    Sorry to whine at you. I am too sentimental for my own good.

  6. Catharine says:

    Father, thank you for a very excellent article. I would suggest that while our culture is indeed fixated on adolescence, it is not because they are actual adolescents: it is because this is a nation which has risen up in rage against God, rejects Jesus Christ, His teachings and His Church, and is hell-bent on, lemming-style, “doing it all my way.” All the way into Hell.
    I have long suspected that the USA may have long since passed the point of no return. After watching the covert videos of Planned Parenthood and its minions, I am now 100% convinced that we are well past the point of no return.
    While making sexual mistakes may be part of (fallen) human nature, esp. in adolescence, being insanely fixated on sexual promiscuity, in engaging in every sexual perversion under the sun, while refusing to accept the results of same (unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, broken homes and children being raised in broken families, etc.), and in defending the evils committed with hysterical rage, all of this is not, precisely speaking, adolescent behavior. This is sinful behavior of the vilest sort, claimed as a sort of “human right” or a right of self-expression, etc., and insisted on far beyond the point of ridiculousness.
    I believe that God, in his mercy, is pulling off the layers of Satanic lies, deception, and blindly obtuse self-deceit such that we are being forced to confront who we are as a nation, and what we have become.
    How PP and its fans, much less the American public as a whole, can watch a video in which an obviously traumatized former PP worker describes, not an aborted fetus, but a live human baby born, forced to be born prematurely, but still very much alive, breathing and kicking, being kept alive so that a lab tech with an extremely sharp pair of scissors can carefully cut his entire face off, so as to extract its intact brain for sale as a “biological specimen,” and not grow faint from the sheer horror of it, is beyond me. This is Nazi horror stuff, Communist China horror stuff, truly Satanic.
    Further, I now believe that Almighty God, in His mercy, is showing us by the most clear and incontrovertible proofs, little bit by little bit, why the wrath of God, when it does fall upon this nation, will be as horrible as it most likely will be.
    The Blessed Virgin, at both Fatima and Akita, spoke of a great need to repent, to convert, to amend one’s life on a voluntary basis, lest the hand of God be forced into action (to get the job done for us). We are still in the time of abundant mercy and grace. But, so few souls are truly converting, taken either in absolute numbers or as a percentage of the total population, that I wonder why the hand of God has not already struck!
    I believe this may be part of what the New Testament speaks of when it says that “those days will be shortened, because otherwise no one at all could be saved.” Could it possibly be that God is accelerating the rate of decomposition and/or putrefaction of the USA, which can only be described as a whole, as being in a state of advanced living putrefaction?
    To return to the point of your article: where the USA and its culture are is not, truly speaking, genuinely adolescent at all. It is vilely sinful, sexually perverted, psychopathic and sociopathic in nature, criminally sadistic, and if anything it is rapidly getting worse not better.
    I can only urge your entire readership to continue to work on their own profound repentance & conversion, with thorough amendment and reform of life, and to pray and offer most sincerely for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls. It may very well be that many, many souls are going to be saved via final repentance at the moment of death, if at all.
    May God have mercy on this nation!

  7. Nate says:

    It makes perfect sense for a person to adopt all of these traits you list if God doesn’t exist or if universalism was true. People will adopt mature Christian traits when they begin believing again in Christ (the real one, not the Easter Bunny version). Sacrifice and responsibility only make sense if they are needed to advance on the road to Heaven.

  8. Rob says:

    No doubt. I never really knew what the “New Evangelization” was until recently, I thought it was a church marketing gimmick or a social media thing. Now I see why there is a need to re-catechize and address these deficiencies. It’s as if Catholics are reading at a 2nd grade level. Everybody drank the kool-aid and didn’t realize they never grew up.

    I taught RCIA for a number of years at our local parish. It was well-intentioned but very frustrating. I was one of the more ‘conservative’ members of the RCIA team simply because I felt doctrine was important and needed to be taught. Social justice will only get you so far. I felt like even in RCIA, catechumens were getting shortchanged on teaching. There just weren’t enough Catholics who knew their stuff well enough to teach.

    I attend a men’s group at an inter-denominational church because there is nothing available at our local Catholic Church like this. You would not believe the number of ex-Catholics turned Evangelicals. I feel strong enough in my Catholic faith to find our places of common meeting (belief in Christ, pro-life values, etc) without feeling like I have to capitulate, and I do feel that in some ways its better to join forces with other Christians to fight the onslaught of secularism, rather than live in our denominational bubbles fighting separately. This church was not preying on poorly catechized Catholics–but they did seize on the opportunity to step in when they were vulnerable. We lost them. They met people with joy in their hearts, who knew The Lord and were serious about their faith and said ‘I want that. THAT’S what I’m looking for.’

    I think we as Catholics need to model both the joy and the authentic teaching that is the fullness of Truth. They go hand in hand, they are not diametrically opposed as the “I love Jesus but hate religion” people will have your believe. We need mature Catholics to model what it looks like to be both orthodox and joyful, as St. Paul says, “imitate me!” because the Corinthians literally had nobody to imitate in the flesh! Their culture is not unlike our own.

    Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more laborers…to teach, evangelize, and witness to the Truth. We need them here in the trenches!

  9. Frankie says:

    A fascinating topic in general in which others have noted — the infantilzation of society. Take for example the British actor and comedian Simon Pegg who was criticized earlier this year for making the same observation. http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/19/entertainment/simon-pegg-sci-fi-feat/
    I truly wonder what the origins of this infantilization are as well as the consequences (some of which you outline above).