The value of intergenerational relationships in the life of the church
“Cause of Our Joy” / Katie Faley
It’s said that we don’t know what we’ve got until we’ve lost it. I think that has become acutely true amidst the year’s changes to our regular lives.
I’ve come to reflect quite a bit on the importance of community in these last few months when community has taken on an entirely new meaning. Now that I am no longer interacting with the communities, both large and small, that I have been a part of, I am realizing just how life-giving those in-person exchanges truly have been to my faith. I have recalled one particular relationship that shaped my experience in the Catholic community.
I met Peggy at a Saturday morning talk I gave at the parish I worked in after graduating college. Both Peggy and her husband had been retired for several years, had three grown daughters older than myself, and were very active in our parish. At the end of the talk, she did something that nobody had ever done before: she invited me out to lunch.
Of course, I had forged some lovely surface-level friendships with parishioners over our weekly small talk after Mass, but I had been a part of the parish for nearly two years, and nobody had ever reached out to me like Peggy did. Peggy and I went out to lunch one Tuesday afternoon and chatted for two hours. She told me all about her favorite nun at the all-girl’s Catholic school she attended as a child, how her faith had developed over the years, how she came to find our parish in the 1980s, how she met her husband, and all about raising her daughters.
I peppered her with questions along the way, laughing hysterically at her story-telling prowess. It was such a delight going beyond the smalltalk. Peggy and I got together several more times before I moved away. She invited me for holidays with her family. She even gifted me a handmade quilt as a going away present that I have held on to and cherish.
YOUNG ADULTS ARE NOT ALL ALIKE
Being a young adult in the Catholic Church, and specifically in Catholic parish life, can be a bit bewildering. It can mean so many different things. Young adults are often described as those being between the ages of 18 and 39. An 18-year-old is certainly not in the same stage of life as most 39-year-olds. And where one 28-year-old is married with three kids, another 28-year-old may still be in school.
Grad school afforded me a very unique faith experience. For three consecutive summers I was able to live, work, and study alongside other faithful young, Catholics. We had common life circumstances, making it easy to connect. It was vibrant; it was fun; it was a little slice of Heaven. I hoped to find a strong and thriving young adult community to mirror my graduate Catholic community. When I failed to find that strong young adult presence after graduating, no longer in my young adult bubble, I felt a bit like a fish out of water.
But Peggy taught me something so important about parish life and the Catholic Church as a whole. Where I always silently complained that there was never a strong enough young adult presence, I was failing to recognize how life-giving and valuable intergenerational relationships are. They are not only valuable, but they are also integral to our reaching our full potential in our faith, as the Catechism tells us.
I have only experienced the life of the church for the last 25 years. Talking to Peggy, I gained an insight into what the church has looked like over the course of the last 70 years. Her stories of her own faith throughout the years gave me much encouragement in my own faith.
SUPPORT IN OUR FAITH JOURNEY
There are a wide array of benefits to forging intergenerational relationships. They create a stronger community and, therefore, a stronger sense of belonging in the church. When we have a strong Catholic community, we have supports in our faith journey that make the road to sainthood lighter.
A parish holds a valuable benefit to all society in that it gathers together people of all ages and creates an opportunity to form a community of young, old, and every age in between. There is so much to learn about the life of the church by coming to know the breadth and life of all the people that belong to that particular faith community, especially those outside our age bracket.
Katie Faley has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. A member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria, she is a former Echo Catechetical Leader at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naperville. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org .