The impetus to write an agapic love letter to the Catholic Church, a letter that grieves the loss of so many young people from our ecclesial communities without pretending to know what’s best for them, prompted this workshop. I wanted to write a love letter that calls our church to account. This agapic love sees young adults as gifts instead of liabilities, is curious about what their witness might have to teach the rest of the church, practices non-judgment, and ultimately casts out fear.
Given that this particular workshop was geared toward sabbatical students with ample experience in ministry, I felt concerned about how the material might be received. How would a room full of seasoned priests and vowed religious men and women respond to the research and recommendations I would share? We agreed early on that we would keep our minds open to the insights that emerged from our conversation together, and we committed ourselves to seeing the young people whose experience was represented in studies on generational identity and shifts in religious practice as teachers from whom we could learn. What might their choices teach us about how we do ministry, about how we construct church?
As one of the participants in my dissertation research has taught me, love is more than sentimental. Love, especially agapic love, calls us to ongoing conversion. It invites us to let go of our investments in practices that do not serve the ecclesial communities of which we are a part in favor of developing practices that liberate in their affirmation of our human dignity and contribution to the common good. In light of love's invitation to conversion, the workshop participants and I began to consider how the witness of young people, especially those who have left traditional Catholic practice behind, can encourage us to be church in a more agapic way. Where might this curiosity about the witness of young adults lead us as a church? How might we be converted by practicing non-judgment? What would it be like to be freed from fear in our practice of love?