Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., speaks with young adults June 20 during Theology on Tap in Triumph Brewing Company, Princeton. EmmaLee Italia photos

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., speaks with young adults June 20 during Theology on Tap in Triumph Brewing Company, Princeton. EmmaLee Italia photos

By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., returned to Theology on Tap in Princeton June 20 for fellowship with young adults of the Diocese, and a discussion that laid bare the realities of the Church by the numbers and what role young adults have to play.

Speaking to a full room of more than 40 in the town’s Triumph Brewing Company, the Bishop talked about the new “Nones” – and not the kind who wear habits.

Young people today, the Bishop said, are claiming to be “spiritual, but not religious,” accounting for 23 percent of the U.S. population, which is corroborated by a Pew Research study. In fact, he noted, 35 percent of millennials – those born from 1981 to 1996 – are “Nones,” those with no religious affiliation, or who are atheist or agnostic.

Delineating more of the recent findings, Bishop O’Connell added that the reasons survey responders gave for being religiously unaffiliated included “simply not believing; they see too many Christians doing un-Christian things; they dislike organized religion ... they see it as hypocritical; some are basically just unsure.”

Becoming a “None,” he said, has become more socially acceptable, as has the tendency to be more outspoken about it.

“There are things people experience in the Church that keep them close [to the faith],” the Bishop noted, giving the examples of altar serving and Catholic education, which have a positive impact on the likelihood of people continuing in their faith. “And there are things that happen that keep people away.”

“The long and short of it is this: our Catholic Church is confronting a huge challenge for relevance, for significance, for importance,” Bishop O’Connell continued. “And the thing that I think about all the time is, how to keep young people interested and how to keep young people engaged in their faith.”

Catholic Mass attendance, church weddings and church funerals have all dramatically decreased – and according to lapsed Catholics who responded to the Bishop’s survey he distributed through Villanova University a few years ago, the primary reason centers around the Mass, with 92 percent claiming that they don’t find the homilies interesting or compelling.

Having reviewed the survey responses, in which he said there was “a little bit of truth here and there,” Bishop O’Connell drew inspiration from the words of St. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et Ratio” (Faith and Reason, 1998).

“‘Truth comes initially to the human being as a question: Does life have any meaning? Where is it going?’” he quoted. The encyclical explained that not only philosophers have doubts about the meaning of life; everyone does. “‘Faith is confident assurance of the things we hope for, and conviction about the things that we do not see ... Life can never be grounded upon doubt ... one may define a human being as one who seeks truth.’”

The choice before all of us, the Bishop said, is to choose Christ, his way of life and his command to follow him.

“We don’t make that choice once and for all – we make it every single day of our lives as Christians and as Catholics,” he emphasized.

Speaking with the Shepherd

Bishop O’Connell last attended Theology on Tap in 2017 at the brewery, and several young people in attendance June 20 said they appreciated the Bishop’s second visit.

Jen and Nick Petrillo of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, invited friends Megan Meier of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, and Kyle Titmas of Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, to the event.

Meier said that in spite of the sobering statistics the Bishop presented, her parish pastor “really brings in the young people – so it will be interesting to see what he can do to help out with [those numbers].” Both she and Titmas agreed that coming to Theology on Tap was encouraging, showing just how many young people are interested in their faith.

As coordinator for religious education in St. Aloysius Parish, Jen Petrillo said that one statistic the Bishop presented really made an impression.

“I work with Confirmation candidates,” she explained, “so I knew that Mass attendance was on the low end – but I was surprised that only five percent attend Mass the Sunday after being confirmed – and how that statistic and the drop-off of Mass attendance at 13 years old coincide.”

Petrillo believes just having the Bishop come to the heart of Princeton for a talk is a point of evangelization.

“How many people just came here for dinner, and then they see the Bishop walk in?” she mused. “He comes to be with us, and that’s a visual sign – he comes to be with his people, where they are.”

The Mystery of the Latin Mass

A question-and-answer session followed Bishop O’Connell’s talk, and he responded to questions the young adults posed via Twitter. He also asked for responses from the audience.

One person asked whether there would be more parishes celebrating Mass in the extraordinary form, to which the Bishop replied, “Tell me, what is the attraction to the Latin Mass? It’s interesting to me that the push for this is coming not from the old, but from the young.”

“I think what drew me to the Latin Mass was the beauty and the mystery,” said one responder. “It’s probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Bishop O’Connell agreed. “There’s something about the mystery of the Mass, in a time when many things are so mundane ... so for those for whom Latin is spiritual nourishment, I encourage it.”

Another attendee, Francis, called it “a beautiful, living history – it made me want to grow deeper in faith.”

“People are looking for an anchor,” the Bishop responded. “Never get used to Christ in the miracle of the Eucharist.”

Other questions included topics of Catholic education, adult faith formation, service opportunities for Catholics and non-Catholics on college campuses, scattering ashes, the distribution of relics, the age for Confirmation, the call to religious life, how to encourage non-Christian friends to pray, and “if you could tell Catholics only one thing, what would you say?”

“Fall in love with the Lord any way you can – in word, in action, in service – that’s my message,” Bishop O’Connell said.