"Big Four" Highlights


Raising Palms

What millennials are missing during Holy Week

By Jason Godin

Over the course of seven years teaching United States history at a local community college, palms would often be raised high with questions for me to answer. The really great questions expressed an internal yearning in the student to address misunderstandings and inaccurate or incomplete information. They also showcased, with heavy doses of honorable humility, an inquisitiveness that acknowledged the boundaries of knowledge yet was still infinite in its thirst for absolute answers. Many times such student questions would serve as our daily departure points for the overall lesson.

You may have noticed that the journey of Holy Week began with palms raised, too, although the ones found rising high in the parish pews on Palm Sunday were fronds. They signaled that the faithful gathered together had found their savior, and helped pave the way for his coming into the city of Jerusalem on a lowly donkey. A person passing by might’ve mistaken the scene as a community recognizing a hometown hero. But it proved much more by the end for those participants present. What began as the humble, celebrated entry of recognized royalty, concluded – as Holy Week itself will in the coming days – with his sacrifice for our sins, with many shocked by his death and on their knees in silent prayer.

Every year a shadow of sadness hangs heavy over Holy Week, with questions asked and, at first, unanswered. Why did it happen? Did it have to happen? Who is responsible? What do we do now in the wake of such tragedy?

Another, more practical question has been added in recent years: why aren’t there greater numbers of younger people in our houses of worship to struggle to address those questions? The most recent Pew Research reports reveal that just 36% of millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) identify themselves as a “religious person.” If you take the U.S. Census figures showing millennials numbering approximately 75 million, it means only about 27 million millennials identify themselves as religious. In other words, a lot of young men and woman are religious, but a lot more of them are not and missing out.

As a member of that generation myself, it seems to me that as the joy of the Risen Christ approaches, Holy Week offers opportunities for us to change that dynamic, beginning with an approach that effective teachers have long used: instruction that relates important lessons in terms of the learner’s likes and language. Holy Thursday, for example, reveals the origins of the greatest gathering for a feast (Institution of the Holy Eucharist), and a clear example of altruism in action (Washing of Feet). Good Friday grants insider’s access to an event that changed the course of human history (Crucifixion of Christ). Holy Saturday finds local communities welcoming new members into a diverse, global network (Easter Vigil Mass).

The lack of religious identity among millennials is a clear cause for concern, particularly for the soul of our society moving forward. Yet like most members of that generation, I remain optimistic about the future. I know that personal witness and firsthand experience are vital elements to millennials. This fact is what leads me and others to raise our palms in witness to the joy we have found in the faith, in the hope that others of our generation will see what they are missing, and join us.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.