This November 1-3, Call To Action’s national conference, Living Our Baptismal Call, will bring together Catholics from every corner of the United States to form the largest gathering of progressive Catholics in the country. And here on Young Adult Catholics, we will feature some of this year’s conference speakers that we think young adults will be especially excited to see. Today, it’s Kaya Oakes, author of Radical Reinvention: an Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church. We are pumped for her presentation, Radical Reinvention: Finding the church within the Church. Sign up today — young adult scholarship applications due October 1.
People leave the Catholic Church for every conceivable reason. For most Gen Xers and Millennials, the reasons we leave are typical of our generations. We are skeptical about leaders of any sort. We live surrounded by agnostics, atheists, and “nones”. We exist in a more tenuous framework, without the promises of security that our parents and grandparents grew up with. The space for us within Catholicism is badly defined and difficult to discover. We’re not always made to feel welcome, or like we belong.
Yet, for many of us, and even for many of our Boomer and senior compatriots who also walked away from the church, something keeps tugging at us. The absence of ritual, the Eucharist, the communion of saints and the liturgical seasons create a void that seems impossible to fill. It’s a void that feels oppositional to everything we assume about our generation: that we rejected religion because we didn’t need it. Some of us needed it. Some of us could not live our authentic lives without it.
So, sometimes, a lapsed Catholic relapses. And she finds her way back. And the institutional church, the one that seems to be the antithesis of everything she stands for – feminism, equality, logic – still has a few tricks up its ancient sleeves. There is room for the skeptic, the progressive, and the doubter. Many of the saints were all of those things. There is a church inside of the Church: one with a hand always reaching out toward the marginalized, one where all people truly are welcome because of, and not in spite of, who they are. It is the church of radical inclusion.
But how do we find that church within the Church? And, more importantly, how do we create it in places where it seems not to exist? One beginning is in reflecting on our own spiritual autobiographies, the stories of each of our own faith lives and how they’ll pulled us into and out of religion. And that examination of consciousness can lead to grassroots organizing, and to manifest occasions of change.
Six years ago, I stepped back into Catholicism after a twenty plus year absence. Today, I help run a women’s theology and discussion group at my parish with over a hundred members, speak to book clubs and social action groups, teach spiritual autobiography, write for national Catholic magazines, and engage in community organizing. And I do all of it as a relapsed Catholic, one who brought her secular self back into the church with her. And I meet other relapsers all the time, all seeking what Dorothy Day called the answer to the long loneliness of seeking: the love that comes with community. That is what I hope we will never stop trying to find, and create.
Kaya Oakes is the author of Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church (Counterpoint Press, 2012), and the senior editor of Limina, an online magazine of women’s writing about faith. She teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley.