In his previous Letters to a Young Catholic column, writer and professor Lenny DeLorenzo wrote…
Like Obi-wan, be a mentor!
Young adulthood is a time of discovering our desire for deeper connection, meaning and purpose in life while seeking understanding of life’s biggest questions — not too unlike Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars.” So many young people follow the relativistic cultural trends or ideologies that lead them to separate themselves from religion and belief in God. Studies show that more than 50% of Catholics under 30 have disaffiliated from the Church at some point. This trend should bother us. What can we do? Be like Obi-wan Kenobi and mentor the young people in our lives through presence, witness and spiritual friendship.
Spiritual role models can help young people engage with their religious and spiritual hungers intervening before they drift or disaffiliate altogether. Multiple studies evaluating the lives of emerging adults reveal a shocking increase in loneliness and lack of meaning over previous generations with 39% saying they feel completely alone, and 20% rarely or never feel their life has meaning, prompting experts to call GenZ the loneliest generation on record. Despite being the most connected generation with virtual digital access to people and events around the world, meaningful connection has decreased. Virtual connection has replaced in-person interactions, with one young adult saying that social media is easier to use than having to take the trouble to plan to meet up in person.
Pope Francis intuitively says that the world of online relationships can be inhuman where “digital spaces blind us to the vulnerability of another human being and prevent us from our own self-reflection.” The lack of in-person interactions and the increased lure of pornography by immersion in the virtual world, he says, leads young people to feeling rootless and lonely.
There is great need of accompaniment by adults to help young people move from virtual contact to create healthy in-person relationships and to discover Christ as the beauty, truth and goodness they seek. Studies prove that having adult mentors increases meaning in life and reduces loneliness. Young people who have just one adult mentor in their life reduces the feeling their life has no purpose from 24% to 6%.
In “Star Wars” lore, where would Luke Skywalker be without Obi-wan Kenobi? Probably on the dark side. After Luke loses his family, Obi-wan becomes his teacher about the power of the Force, his mentor in guiding him to maturity to discover his gifts, and his friend by being with him even after he transitions to be united to the living Force. When Skywalker was most alone and unsure of himself, Obi-wan would appear and encourage him on his life’s path as the one chosen to bring balance to the Force: “Use the Force, Luke.” His guidance mitigated the dark side from engulfing the galaxy.
Spiritual mentors accompany through being present, listening to young people’s profoundest yearnings, and witnessing to their own faith in God. Truly desiring the best for another person requires being available to guide them along the journey of life by sharing one’s own experience. That includes sharing faith: How has your relationship with Christ transformed you? In discerning choices in life, what role did God’s will take in your decisions? How has Catholicism answered your questions about the meaning of life? Being a spiritual friend involves less telling someone about God and more accompanying them to encounter Christ as their true friend. Young adults value friendship over authority. And the witness of your relationship with Jesus in the sacraments speaks volumes.
So, the next time you feel impelled to complain about GenZ, offer to be a mentor to a young person. Even if they don’t show it, they long for an Obi-wan in their life. Remember, there would be no Skywalker without a Kenobi!
Sister Nancy Usselmann, FSP, is director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. She is a media literacy educator, writer, film reviewer, speaker and author of a theology of popular culture, “A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics.”