There are a lot of twenty- and thirtysomethings at the church I attend, which isn't particularly surprising: my parish is a lively and active one, located smack in the middle of an artsy neighborhood popular with college students and recent grads.
Some of the young people are energetically involved in the life of the parish, while a larger number are more or less just passing through: they're living in the area for a few years, they're in the habit of going to mass, and this is the most convenient church. Others really just seem to be passing through: probably once a month we wind up seated near a young couple who seem ill at ease and uncertain about even the basic responses or the order of the mass. My standard assumption is that such couples are church- or faith-shopping, or contemplating marriage: one or both might have been raised Catholic and been away for a while, and they're trying us on to see if we fit.
I've got no problem with that, or with passers-through of any variety; I've tried on churches myself. During one period of my life I was so unable to decide between one extremely conservative and one extremely progressive parish that I just floated back and forth between them for four years. (What attracted me to the one repelled me in the other, and vice versa.)
What I do have a problem with is those people who act as though whatever it is that they want or expect from a church requires nothing--no effort, no participation, not even a little friendliness and good humor--in return. They want to walk in and feel immediately comfortable, immediately special. Having some tenuous identity as Catholics means they should have RIGHTS! Rights to rites, in fact, for nowhere is this attitude on greater display than in nonpracticing Catholics who want to get married or have their kids baptized in the church.
Today was a baptism. We have a lot of baptisms at my church, sometimes as many as three or four a month, and I generally find them delightful. Babies tend to be cute; their families tend to be happy; and the two priests who serve our parish are warm and genial and extremely well-practiced (rarely does a baptism add five minutes to the usual length of the service). But today was not one of the delightful ones.
I was serving as lector, so I'd heard the parish administrator talking to the presider before mass about the baptismal family. She mentioned that they seemed confused and unfamiliar with the service, so would need more guidance from the priest than usual. Whatever, I thought. New parents are allowed to be flakey and confused, or the baptism might have been the grandparents' idea; who knows.
But I spent all mass staring at this family (they were seated in the first two rows and I was seated up in the sanctuary) and I couldn't figure out whose idea the baptism could possibly have been. They all looked like they'd been dragged there against their will. The parents, the godparents, all four grandparents, and several adult siblings were present, and no one seemed to have any idea what was going on. One set of grandparents made an effort--they sang the songs from the hymnal and used the pew cards to follow the new responses--but no one else did. No one else attempted a response, recited even the Lord's Prayer, or so much as picked up a pew card or opened a hymnal (though they all received communion). The baby's parents nudged each other and whispered during the homily. Throughout, the looks on the faces of the family members ranged from stoic endurance to sour displeasure.
And you know, I'm all for being welcoming. I'm fine with meeting people where they're at, and I understand that lots of cultural Catholics have a sentimental attachment to ritual and fetishize various signifiers of the religion without actually wanting to be a part of a community of faith. I don't love that attitude, but insofar as cultural Catholicism indicates a genuine attachment to the religion of a person's childhood, my position is that it's a net good for those of us who are practicing. Such people often send their kids to Catholic schools. They show up en masse for the baptisms and first communions of their nieces and nephews. They have relatives who go to church regularly--they may even have an aunt or uncle who's a nun or a priest--and many of them think occasionally that they really should start going to church again themselves. They belong to a community, in other words, that supports the community of actual believers.
As I say, I get this. What I do not get is people who think religion--or whatever symbolism or meaning or social benefits they think accrue to religion--comes entirely without participation. Belief may be personal, but religion is relational. It's about community. It depends on community. And being a part of a community means that you have to give at least a little something in return. Like, say, your engaged and interested presence, however infrequently you may show up.
But for some people, even that seems a terribly high bar.