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Why young women want a more ‘conservative’ faith

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A worshipper kneels in prayer during the Mass of the Nativity in St Mary's Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
A worshipper kneels in prayer during the Mass of the Nativity in St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

By Catherine phillips and Anna Harrison

Young women today are being told that anything goes, there is no objective truth, do whatever makes you “happy.” We’re told, in essence, that we’re our own Gods.

With confusion around identity in such a fluid and conflicting world, is it any wonder why young Catholic women are adhering to a more concrete and traditional faith, as the recent study by the University of Newcastle has found?

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The subjectivity of modern society has put young Catholic women at a crossroads, forcing themselves to ask the question: Do we relax the moral law on issues such as contraception or our place in church leadership, and try to discern the limits of reform ourselves?

Or do we simply turn to the universal and timeless wisdom of Holy Mother Church?

Young women appear to be rejecting the former approach and taking the road less travelled—just 21 percent of women aged 18-40 told the survey they strongly supported reform in the church, compared to 83 per cent of over-70s.

Why is this so? As young Catholic women working in youth ministry, we have the privilege of meeting thousands of high school students and young adults.

One of the joys of our job is seeing young women come to recognise the truth of their femininity, as expressed through Christ and his church.

But this isn’t because they’re carried by cultural Catholicism. Rather, young Catholics must be more intentional and proactive in their faith, and this is made possible by greater access to formation.

Young women today are lucky enough to have grown up in the wake of St John Paul II’s papacy. His legacy gave us clear teaching on the dignity of human life, sexuality and particularly women.

This asset of formation has provided younger generations with a greater appreciation for the beauty of sexual ethics, and the complementarity of the sexes, rather than a merely legalistic understanding of what one may or may not do.

Based on a US faith rally model for primary students, students learned about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Based on a US faith rally model for primary students, students learned about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

God invites us into obedience to his will. A zeal for the faith is neither a justification nor a right to lead in the church. No woman or man has a right to anything that God does not call. This is not a gendered thing—this is a Body of Christ thing.

Unlike previous generations where there existed minimal avenues for laity to genuinely share the faith, young women today have countless opportunities to serve the church without ever feeling the need to enter the liturgical space.

Whether in youth ministry, marriage support, charitable works, sacramental preparation, public school catechesis, teaching, administration or raising the next generation of saints, the space for feminine influence continues.

These charisms, held by women, are never to stray from the mystery of Catholic anthropology and the complementarity—not competition—between men and women.

Young Catholics of today are simply trying to protect these God-ordained differences.
Additionally, there seems to be a fear among the older generations that unless the church is entertaining or keeping up with the times, she will lose her young ones.

There were hints of this same sentiment at the most recent World Youth Day week in Portugal; the relentless noise and general lack of reverence felt more like Coachella than celebrating the mysteries of Christ.

It is no wonder that an overwhelming majority of young Catholics want to return to a more traditional participation in the faith.

But it is not tradition for tradition’s sake. We want to set our feet in the apostolic tradition for the sake of drawing upon the richness it provides, along with scripture and the church’s magisterium.

The truth, beauty, and goodness of the faith speaks for itself. Young people don’t need to be sold the faith with festivals or diluted teachings.

Young Catholics want to return to the basics, to the complementarity of men and women, the sacraments, and to Jesus himself. This is their identity, and the appeal of tradition.

Catherine Phillips and Anna Harrison are youth officers for Sydney Catholic Youth

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