At the end of his Apostolic Visit to South America, Pope Francis instructed a crowd of young people to “make a ruckus.” He qualified, “Make . . . a ruckus that brings a free heart, a ruckus that brings solidarity, a ruckus that brings us hope, a ruckus that comes from knowing Jesus and knowing that God, once I know him, is my strength.”
This phrase should be familiar to millennials, as he used it two years ago at World Youth Day in front of a crowd of 3 million on Copacabana Beach. Though no one is certain as to what Pope Francis will say during his upcoming visit to the United States, if history repeats itself, he will likely instruct a generation of young adults to stir up the status quo.
Last month, in the span of two weeks, American millennial Catholics had to confront two of the most important issues facing our generation: the protection of the natural world and the redefinition of marriage in civil law. While these contentious issues have already generated a heightened interest in Pope Francis’ words and the American bishops’ public statements, they also call on young Catholics to reflect more deeply about the seriousness of their faith and Catholic identity.
At this moment, young Catholics should be asking themselves: Am I with the Church in full, or will I pick and choose from its teachings? Will I define the terms and conditions of discipleship, or will I allow myself to be challenged by the Gospel? The truth is that even if these questions are uncomfortable, they are also unavoidable. Employers, government officials, and pastors will be asking for answers to them soon enough.
It would be easy to take shelter in the categories determined by cultural and political ideologies: so-called conservative Catholics are expected to reject or downplay the urgency of environmental protection, and so-called liberal or progressive Catholics are expected to downplay marriage as the union of one man and one woman. However, Pope Francis has called us to resist such categories, as they reduce people. It is possible—and necessary—for us to witness to the fullness of our faith. The Gospel is too expansive for limits set on it from the outside. Perhaps he will say that we millennials must “make a mess” of the ideological constraints imposed upon faith in order to live it fully.
While Lumen Fidei, the first encyclical promulgated during Pope Francis’ pontificate, did not receive as much attention as his second, Laudato Si, it offers a helpful roadmap to navigate the questions of our times. Lumen Fidei captures the reality that the Catholic faith has an inherent integrity and unity. All of the teachings of the Church—from the profession of the Trinity, to the inviolability of all human life in every stage, to the preferential option for the poor—are like intersecting threads, which, when woven together, form a tapestry. To embrace only the teachings which one prefers, or those which are easiest to understand or integrate into one’s life, is akin to pulling out the tapestry’s threads and unraveling the whole.
In Lumen Fidei Pope Francis writes, “We find it hard to conceive of a unity in one truth. We tend to think that a unity of this sort is incompatible with freedom of thought and personal autonomy” (No. 47). But he continues, “Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole” (No. 48).
This is why, in his subsequent encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis says that the urgency with which we must change our relationship with the environment—our tendency to dominate instead of exercise dominion—must find its parallel in a re-ordering of our relationship with one another, with ourselves, and with God.
It should be no surprise to Catholics, who know that their faith has a unity, that it is actually possible to live out the “integral ecology” which Pope Francis outlines. In fact, to embrace and live out the fullness of the Catholic teaching is to embrace a life of consistency. Every Catholic teaching, from those pertaining to human sexuality and openness to children; to the affirmation of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and the respect and compassion owed to our gay brothers and sisters; to the intentional reduction of one’s carbon footprint and the preferential option for the poor, are the threads which weave together a consistent ethic of life. To reject any is to risk unraveling the tapestry.
The Good News is news that needs to be shared. The Gospel can accommodate what the world sees as contradictory, and millennial Catholics can live in a way that testifies to that truth. The only criterion, according to Pope Francis, is a willingness to make a mess.
Elise Italiano is the Director of Communications for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, VA and an Associate with Catholic Voices USA.