On Being the Adult in the Room

By Brookie (Own work)   Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
By Brookie (Own work) Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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)

However, we 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 the 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. 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.

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

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

27 Replies to “On Being the Adult in the Room”

  1. “Inordinate delay of marriage, widespread preference for the single life”

    While the Church does honor the importance of both marriage/family life, as well as the priesthood/religious life, there is a third state of life, being single in the world. Please do not forget those who either by choice or situations are single lay Catholics. Often they live their faith to the full each day.

    1. I believe the issue is not that single people do not have full and faithful lives but why some people choose to remain single neither committing to marriage or to religious life. As Fr. Barron often states, “your life is not about you”. If an individuals life is about God and His will then growing maturity would cause one to say what I want is not supreme and therefore I need to discern God’s will for me. If I chose to remain single so I can do what I want or I am not constrained by another then I am fairly confident that you are focused on yourself and not God’s will. Having read Msgr. Pope’s blog for several years now, I am also fairly confident that he is not looking at singleness (new word?) as a sin. The concern for those individuals is why they remain single.

      1. True, I do not believe so either that Msgr. Pope views being single as a sin. Rather the Church has seen that there is 3 known states of life, in its history married, priest/religious,and single in the world.

  2. What an interesting diagnoses of the illness gripping the Church and the world right now Msgr. Pope. In my humble opinion, the Church, our Mother and teacher of God’s truth has always been and will always be the adult in His creation. The root cause of this illness has been the bishops and priests, the men who were called, chosen and sent to be spiritual fathers to the children they had begotten through her, who have been dysfunctional and have behaved like delinquents, perennial adolescents who have caused chaos in God’s household. This dysfunction and delinquency can be seen throughout the broken world.

    1. In my opinion, the majority of priests and bishops (NOT ALL!) have become man-pleasers instead of God- pleasers. The majority of them are afraid to use the authority they have (#2) to reign in the flock. But there’s plenty of blame to spread around!! Personally, I think “parents” carry a huge part of the blame since they have sent their children off to public schools and universities to be brainwashed in secular, godless teachings, and have placed sports events above attending Mass. Furthermore, we have at our disposal all the information we need to know how to be faithful, practicing Catholics, but we’re too busy chasing our pleasures and vanities.

      1. There are several “Catholic” universities/colleges in this country which are worse than the secular schools!

        1. I don’t think slamming the priests and bishops is 100% correct—surely, the laity has been all-too-eager to follow in the way of the world, and now is so worldly that they literally could not care less what the Church has to say. I remember after World War II, when far too many bishops & priests played the game, “go along to get along,” the laity rose up en masse and a number of bishops & cardinals were deposed from their posts.
          Personally, I believe the refusal of the laity to take responsibility for their own spiritual progress and the working out of their own salvation is of far more importance than any perceived failures on the part of the clergy. If you are living here in the USA, you have ready access to more books, articles, etc., on the eternal truths of the Catholic faith than previous generations could even imagine–we must take responsibility for ourselves, and start becoming the “adults in the room,” which is what I believe was the gist of Monsignor’s fine article.

          1. Catharine, this is simply my diagnoses based on the state of the Church and her faith in Australia and the conduct of bishops around the world. No one is without a family in this world and the great family which is the Church finds expression in the diocesan and parish family. Bishops and priests administer the sacraments, they are the men who communicate divine life, supernatural grace in the Church, which is the home and family for everyone in the world. Like any father, in fact more so, they have to take responsibility for the souls to whom they have given life. They must provide, teach, discipline, guide, correct, exhort, and forgive them. Spiritually, the buck ultimately stops with them. Here in Aus the faith is moribund and over 90 percent of Catholics have fallen away from the Church and our divinely appointed priestly fathers couldn’ t care less. Many, in fact a great majority are self absorbed and live lives detached from the cares and welfare of their children. Currently, judging by their priestly fatherhood, of how many bishops can it be said that they are truly growing in love with their bride the Church and the children given to them? Just look at Europe.

  3. I don’t see anything especially controversial about this post. I don’t see anyway to change things, either.

  4. I’ve described this modern phenomenon as moral adolescence. It used to be that sometime well before middle age we outgrew the morality we thought was so profound in our teens and early 20s. We used to mature into a deeper and more reasoned understanding of true morality as we aged. This normal process has virtually stopped in these progressive and relativistic times. The majority of people remain moral adolescents for their entire lives, clinging to an immature morality, converting that morality into cultural norms and then into political policy that then washes over and instructs all of society. The only real obstacle to this danger is the Catholic Church. The only real obstacle to our addiction to falsehood and false freedom is the Truth that makes us free. Having a cordial conversation with a 40 or 70 year old teenager about moral truth is very often more difficult and disappointing than conversing with an 18 year old about it. The constant resistance to truth, even to common sense, everyday truths, is the hallmark of moral adolescence. They resist and turn away from the truths about sexuality, marriage, human life, order, dogma, authority, etc, not through right reason, but by re-defining words and calling names — in other words, by remaining in a perpetual state of moral immaturity. Only when they stop resisting the truth of things are they able find the courage to face the inconceivable idea that something in the world is wiser than they are. That thing is the Catholic Church, which is ultimately offering the world the very things that moral adolescents seek in all the wrong places — true and complete intellectual and spiritual liberation.

      1. Thank you Msgr and M.T. for excellent posts analyzing our current situation in North America! Blessedly, we see what we call the “young bucks” coming up in our diocese, that is, solid, well-formed young priests who are just waiting their turn to properly form the consciences of their congregations. One of them just arrived as pastor of our parish, and we are profoundly grateful. Deo gratias.

  5. To often we are governed by what we “want” in life and not by what we “need”, and we also tend to solve our problems by “fight” or “flight” thinking. I want God and I know I need Him in my life, but in order to see or hear Him I need to stop fighting and arguing. I need to look at myself and get rid of the behavior’s that get in the way of hearing Gods words. I want to be happy, but I am often more comfortable being miserable and then blaming it on someone or something else. Like wise I want a Church to fit in with what I want and I demand that it fits to my needs, but I am unwilling to accept what I have or work to make it better. We sometimes act like a pet to God running around Him wanting love and attention, but we need to do what God needs of us and be responsible to Him. Being responsible means we can get out of our selfish ways and get down to work, of prayer, of charity and of love. Working with the time and true methods of the Church instead of trying to reinvent a new way of doing business with God. It’s not what we want, but Gods’ Will and those that know it the best is the Church from the beginning of the Bible to the End.

    When Christ was in the garden of Gethsemani He begged for the Father for something different to come and in the end Christ accepted what was needed for all and the whole world. He took our punishment and insults and then bore our burden to His death. It is our responsibility to grow up and act more like Him.

    1. This is true as most people will not truly repent without personal suffering, or maybe even an entire nation has to suffer, such as happened with Israel many times in the Old Testament, before any repentance or penance.

  6. I think you have good criticisms Monsignor.

    “Do you think that we live in an overall healthy and mature culture?”

    I think we are members of one the most insane cultures in the history of the universe.

    One suggestion I have in context to theology, exegesis, etc. as well as all sectors of life is that we need to start learning, applying and passing on the conceptual tools of critical thinking and rational analysis. Teaching people how to think will make them grow up in a hurry. Theologians must start defining their key terms in dissertation or even in a blog article for their audiences. A theologian is committing a crime against humanity if he cannot define simple key concepts like object, concept, existence, life, reason, will, intellect, soul, spirit, cause, effect, event, grace, phenomenon, eternity, immortality, space, time, universe, motion, mediator, act, intention, moral object, circumstance, etc. in a crisp, clear, consistent, unambiguous, and restricted manner for the sake of his audience.

    We also need to learn critical thinking skills and apply them to reading Sacred Scripture. When I launched my Genesis 1, 2, & 3 project I was dismayed and appalled that no one in history cared to learn the concept of the Hebrew Aleph-Thao designative proposition (or prepository article), and trace it into the first verse of the Bible in front of Heaven and Earth. And place a note in the translation notes. This is inexcusable. I mean if God and the sacred author traced these characters should we have just ignored them for the sake of eloquence? It is a simple concept and crucial in that context. It would have saved a lot of trouble.

    I could cry a river, but we need to learn how to think. Everyone should be taught critical reasoning in high school. Everyone is graced with intelligence. In context to ontology no one is smarter than the other. Critical analysis/rational thinking = sanity. Resolving the ontological context of the referent = sanity. unambiguously defining crucial concepts=sanity. Identifying biases = sanity. Not performing verbs on concepts = sanity. Learning contextual grammar = sanity. Semantics is life or death in the real world.

    It is just a matter of choice and awakening the mind. If people do not know how to think then how will they be able to improve themselves? And how will they be able to embrace reality? How will they be able to read, translate and interpret Sacred Scripture? How will they be able to root out superstitions, wive’s tales, subjectivism, and abuses of language?

  7. Um….there were issues with Emerson….
    From wiki: “In the first section, Emerson argues that inside of each person is genius. He writes: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.” The remainder of this section is spent exploring this concept. Emerson claims that examples of people who trusted themselves above all else include Moses, Plato, and Milton.”

    Did Emerson seriously believe Moses trusted himself above all else? That doesn’t make sense.

    Otherwise, I loved the article Msgr Pope – and the video. I’m not so very familiar with Emerson, but I was sad to see this and many other comments in Wiki about his thoughts. I’ll just send my teen son to the Bible for his self-reliance training. Seems like the best place to go after mastering his Catechism.

  8. Msgr Pope,

    Another GREAT post! I find such blessing and comfort in your writing. Everytime I’m seeking answers the good Lord seems to direct me to your web page and it always hits the mark. I have struggled greatly with maturity of my faith, (maturity in general), but have, through prayer and service, over the past two years made great strides with the help of Our Savior Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for always helping me to see the Light. God bless you.

  9. Excellent take on our modern state of affairs! I agree with all points made and pray we may all grow in the Faith into much needed Christian adulthood!

  10. What an excellent post, Monsignor! When I first became a mother in my late 30s,(almost 6 yrs. ago) I realized how much of the adolescent was left in me, and have constantly tried to grow up since then.

    I had to make new friends and distance myself from old friends who were middle-aged teenagers who thought abortion was a woman’s right, and that sexual experimentation was a sign of mental health.

    Recently I even had to separate from my husband, who is now 51 years old but still acts like a teenager, and tries to look like one with the help of surgical assistance. I feel pity for him and for Madonna, with whom my husband was friends in the 80s and 90s when he was a successful model in New York. They cannot accept that God made us to be from ashes to ashes and dust to dust–and that we will eventually LOOK like ashes to ashes.
    I accept that I cannot remarry or seek male companionship since our marriage was valid. And I feel like an adult whose worldview coincides with reality. And I found your blog and the Catholic Church. It is not just about mean nuns…I’m ashamed that I didn’t work up the nerve to go into our local cathedral until about a year ago.

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