The Frassati House seeks to create a culture conducive to holiness by evangelizing through community, faith, culture, and beauty.
“Our joy is made complete in the companions God gives us.” -St. Davinus the Pilgrim
- The Search for Communityadd
Many young adults struggle to find community. In the three years I've been a priest, I've had several young adults, both singles and married couples, approach me about finding community. They inquire as to where they can meet Catholics their age in hopes of forming friendships and community. They often mention how difficult but important this is to them. I usually try my best to connect them with others, and it's hit or miss.
If you were to call the Diocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry with this same desire, they would likely direct you to an upcoming event sometime in the next few months. Maybe you go, but you still have to wait a few months to meet these potential friends. And then you may only have a tiny window of opportunity at these events to connect. Or perhaps you forget to go, or you're busy or exhausted, or the event doesn't pique your interest. And even if you do go, you still have to wait another two months for the next event. This situation is hardly a solid foundation to form a community. Many young adults wonder: "Why is finding community so difficult?"
I have had close friends leave the Baton Rouge area because they wanted to go someplace that seems to have a more active Catholic young adult community. They want a community conducive to finding friends, a spouse, or raising a family. I was just talking with someone the other day who cited this very reason for moving away. Many young Catholic families seek a place that will provide the best chance of raising a holy, faith-filled family. Now, I don't wholly buy the arguments that other areas are better than Baton Rouge. To be honest, community life can be challenging to find in those places as well. As for myself, I've been blessed to connect with many families and peers in the Baton Rouge Diocese who have helped me discern and live my vocation. Without these connections, this diocese wouldn't have become my spiritual home and calling. We have plenty of young adult Catholics in Baton Rouge who desire to form a more robust community if given a chance.
Already, many efforts with varying results have ministered to and mobilized millennials with various formative socials and events, so I don't think the issue is the lack of people or lack of interest. No, the real answer is to provide a more natural way to foster community. Despite the prior efforts, forming an authentic Catholic community for young adults is a moving target. Many parishes and diocese throughout the world are struggling to envision the best way to reach out and draw in millennials. Young people have become much more transient than in the past, and so the community structures of the past are no longer fully intact and cannot be presumed effective in reaching everyone. Young adults are much less likely to end up living where they grew up or to remain with their original childhood parish.
- Dislocated Millennialsadd
I find the millennial trend of revitalizing inner-city areas to be fascinating. I was recently discussing real estate trends in New Orleans with a real estate attorney. We observed that Baby Boomers tend to move away from more densely populated city areas to seek bigger houses with more land and fewer people around. In contrast, many millennials move into smaller homes with more roommates and lots of neighbors and people around. Certainly, there are other factors, like cost and transportation. But many millennials desire to live with and around other people. Many of them want and welcome the prospect of making new connections and forming community.
With the social break down of nuclear families, whether from divorce or just moving away from family, it's not uncommon for children to live in cities far away from their family of origin. Or even if you remain in your hometown, perhaps all your closest childhood friends move away, or you grow apart as you go to college and make new friends only to have them ultimately live in a different city. It's very common for millennials to settle in areas where they have no prior history, or at the very least, feel disenfranchised with the communal affiliations with which they grew up. The struggle to find community is real.
- The Grass is Greener in the Other Churchadd
There is a trend of many millennials leaving the Catholic Church in favor of “younger” churches that have a more visible young adult community. Many of these churches specifically target millennial young adults with their outreach. These may be millennials who have a belief in God but don’t necessarily understand the theology of the Church and who feel disconnected from the Catholic community. I’ve heard ex-Catholics speak of not finding community in the Catholic Church; of not feeling like there is a place for them to belong. Sadly, they are usually right about the need for a healthier and more visible community beyond the typical one hour on a Sunday. When people go on tirades about what the Church needs, they’re usually correct. Unfortunately, they tend to forget that they are the Church, and the same recognition of the problem may also be an invitation to be a part of the solution.
- Religious "Nones" Seeking Community Elsewhereadd
An even greater crisis is when millennials ditch their affiliation with a church community altogether. There is a growing subset of young people that are called religious “nones” described as such because they choose “none” when asked to what church or belief system they affiliate (went from 8.2% of the U.S. population in 1990 to currently around 15% of the country). These "nones" don't necessarily identify as atheist, but don't belong to a particular Church. The lack of formation, the disconnect of theology from the lived experience of community, not understanding how the teachings of the Church are immensely relational and guides us to authentic freedom and love, all these have led to an indifference and abandonment of organized religion.
Thus while they may be open to God and being "spiritual" these unaffiliated religious "nones" do not see the value of belonging to a community of faith and being "religious." Yet the desire for community remains. And many spend a great deal of energy in search for meaningful community that should be available in the Church. Since their sense of justice, beauty, and spirituality remain, these millennials often seek community outside of the Church, whether in bars, coffee shops, or other social settings.
The hunger for community that God inscribes on the heart and provides through the Church doesn’t go away; we simply try to find other things to fill our basic needs. If we want to effectively reengage these "nones," then it's not through aggressive evangelization, but through an invitation to a community of friends, a place of encounter, a place to reengage the faith through relationship and beauty.
- Beauty Shall Save the Worldadd
The desire for fulfillment, for more than this world can offer, is why I firmly believe in the importance of evangelizing through beauty and culture. Many young people feel uncomfortable with definitive claims of the Church because they find it unloving and judgmental. This is why many are tempted to become unaffiliated with a religious community altogether. In other words, they have not experienced how the truths of the Church translates into a community of love. We must demonstrate in our theology and actions how the moral laws of the Church are not an arbitrary set of rules to follow but something that protects and invites us into life-giving relationships. What is needed is authentic Catholic community that makes sense of the theology, that incarnates the Gospel into everyday life. The greatest invitation into the Church are Catholics virtuously living the Gospel.
As we slowly emerge from the Coronavirus quarantine, some of us wonder how many people will not return to the Church now that the pattern of regular attendance is broken. We shall find out soon. I tend to remain more on the optimistic side, but I understand the pessimism. But regardless of the numbers, any decline in attendance will reveal a pre-quarantine pre-existing condition.
I imagine the way forward should include a renewed evangelization on the beauty and dignity of the Mass as the heart of our Catholic community. How many people understand that the Mass is profoundly relational? The Mass is fundamentally an exchange of love by which Christ offers himself to us through the community, the scriptures, the homily, the priest, and most profoundly in the Eucharist. In turn, through the ritual of the Mass, we must receive Christ under our roof and offer ourselves back to him. How differently would we experience the faith and our community if we knew that it is not about the rules but the relationship? Of course, we need the lived experience of a community of relationships to understand this better. But all this is a topic for another day.
- The Millennial Dollar Questionadd
As Millennials have struggled to find community, churches have struggled with envisioning how to offer community to young adults. So this is the millennial dollar question: How do we do young adult outreach? How can we meet millennials where they are and draw them into the community of believers, into the communion of saints, into the sacramental rhythm by which Christ’s sacred heart pumps life-giving blood to every member of his body making us one heart? These things are especially important because a community is essential in discerning our vocation and living the faith. Plenty of young adults want a Catholic experience that is more than just going to Mass. That’s precisely why some leave. So how do we offer more? How do we make sure we are not letting millennials fall through the cracks who want to be faithful, who want the Church community but do not know where to find it? And how do we call back other fallen away millennials who want the community that the Church offers, but up to now, have not experienced it and cannot fathom this possibility?
- Beyond a Theology of Communityadd
Now, I firmly believe that the Catholic Church has the best theology of community. However, what good is an excellent theology if we don’t have the corresponding reality? A community is not going to magically or accidentally form itself. Just as there has been a great emphasis within Catholic circles about intentional discipleship, it is important to speak of intentional community. Just like we are not going to magically or accidentally become disciples, because following Jesus must be an act of our freedom that pursues a relationship of love and faithfulness to Christ, so also community must be an intentional priority. Love is never an accident, but an intentional act of the will.
- Spiritual Atrophy and Learning to Swimadd
This lack of intentionality touches on the problem. The breakdown of community, the breakdown of friendships, and the breakdown of families often don’t come from intentional or malicious decisions, but often happen accidentally. One day people wake up and find themselves drifting downriver very far from the relationships they wanted to have and ask themselves: “how did we float this far from each other?”
G.K. Chesterton said, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” If we stop moving, the muscles in our bodies begin to break down immediately, and we can no longer swim. Instead, we drift with the currents of our fallen world. Atrophy is the breakdown of the body’s unity. If we want to be fully alive with strong bodies, we have to choose to exercise. We must learn to swim. We can’t just do nothing and expect to live out the love God calls us to give.
Analogously, the unity of the community (community = common unity) breaks down through spiritual atrophy. If you want any relationship to break down, all you have to do is nothing. Just sit on the couch. If you stop communicating, stop trying, stop forgiving, stop intentionally working towards unity with the other, and instead focus on other seemingly more important things, your relationships will naturally break down, just like the unused muscles in the body. Not all at once mind you, but gradually over time, you become weaker and weaker less capable of responding generously to the demands of love.
I think this is at the heart of the crisis of faith in our society. It’s not that people necessarily hate God; they just don’t care enough to swim to God. They become too busy, too distracted to focus on prayer, faith, family, and community. When God is not an intentional priority, we will non-intentionally drift away. And even in those moments where we want to make a different decision to pray more, go to Church more, to serve more, we will find ourselves too weakened by the complacency in which our spiritual muscles have decayed over time. But all is not lost. Christ provides a way to return. Through the power of Christ’s resurrection offered to us through sacraments and the community of faith.
- No Room in the Inn to Flourishadd
I feel sad for the many young adults that long for an authentic Catholic community and would be willing to put in the effort, but who find that balancing this priority is harder than it should be. And for those who leave the Church but would remain or even come back if they felt that they belonged. Without knowing where to start or where to go to find a community, it's easy for us to direct our attention to other things. Without community and without the leisure time and space that allows a community to flourish, we cannot discover and live our vocation to love. At the heart of the vocation crisis is a crisis of community. Community brings us out of the isolating prison of the self, invites us into love, and calls us to a greater unity and life than we could ever accomplish alone.
- Life is Hell without Eutrapeliaadd
On the Baton Rouge Youth Pilgrimage to the March for Life that I help direct every year, we bring nine buses of high school students to Washington D.C. The primary strategy that directs a lot of our programming is very simple. If we can get the high school students to take themselves less seriously, encounter one another, and focus on building community, then they will be more open to encountering God’s grace and having a life-changing experience. Why? Because they will become more receptive to grace, and Christ is always willing to show up and offer. He always longs to offer; he just waits for us to be ready to receive. The quality of play affects the quality of pray. In a world where we can be self-conscious about what other people think, or too distracted by our technology to see the person right in front of us, it is incredibly difficult to engage in lightheartedness, attentiveness, and openness. These things are essential because they help us become humble and more receptive, which, in turn, is what allows genuine connections with others to form.
Regarding the vice of taking one’s self too seriously, G.K. Chesterton remarks that Satan falls from grace because he is too serious. The devil, the divided one who has refused the community of heaven, is weighed down with the gravity of his own ego. He’d be happy if he focused more on God and others rather than getting sucked into his ego as a prison that weighs him down towards Hell. Contrarily, Chesterton says that “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” They think not so much of themselves, but of God and others. Thus they are free, lighthearted, and capable of being of one heart with God.
Thomas Aquinas speaks of the virtue of Eutrapelia, which connotes a type of lightheartedness that comes from leisure and fun. How do we provide the space and culture that invites people to stop thinking about themselves too seriously and encounter the people around them? The more we foster genuine receptivity towards human persons, others created in the image of God, the more receptivity we will have to Divine Persons. Conversely, the more we love God, the more we love each other, which is why on the March for Life Pilgrimage, we move quite naturally from periods of play to pray and vice versa. When we connect with others, we make a bridge that recognizes the deeper longing to connect with God. This receptivity clears out space in our hearts for the Holy Spirit, for the sacraments, and for the Church to make us “cor unum” (one heart). A culture of love must begin with a culture of encounter.
- Needed to Grow: Soil, Water, Warmth, and Sunlightadd
This need for community, need for space, and need for leisure and culture, all of these are reasons why the Frassati House holds so much potential to facilitate an authentic Catholic community. The name “Cor Unum” comes from the first Christians striving to live in harmony and unity. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind (cor unum et anima una), and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). We all long for this unity of being one heart, which reveals the unity of God, the Church, and the unity Christ desires to have with each of us.
While attending LSU and going to Christ the King, one of the greatest gifts was having a place to go. I knew as a Catholic college student that this place was for me. I belong there. Often the friendships that form the basis of a community don’t come only (or even primarily) from formal events, but from having an everyday place you can be. This everyday place facilitates those informal opportunities to bump into one another, to have spontaneous life-giving conversations that create unexpected connections. This type of leisure and recreation, this place for eutrapelia among friends builds community. To have a culture of encounter, we must have a place where we belong. And as millennials graduate from college, they slowly realize that there comes a point when it is awkward if they keep hanging around the college community. It is frustrating and disheartening to know that you don’t belong and no longer have an everyday place for community life.
- Bumper Carsadd
The Frassati House is a place for young adults to belong. Not just a place for formal events and socials, but a place for informal community life. Cor Unum will host an array of formative events and socials in collaboration with the Diocesan Office of Young Adult Ministry and other groups, like Dumb Ox Ministries (a Mandeville-based ministry which among other things educates young adults in the Theology of the Body). However, Cor Unum encourages the Frassati House members to take the lead. Frassati House is your place: you belong, and you must help form the community you long for. Bring your friends, come and bump into one another. Use the meeting rooms and facilities to have socials, meals together, meetings like bible studies, prayer groups, game nights, book groups, support groups, etc. The Frassati House wants to make establishing community easier.
The connections forged at the Frassati House can help the members respond more generously to God’s calling. Virtuous community empowers us to serve others. Community life inevitably reveals our shortcomings. Despite the early Christians striving to act as one heart, the writings of St. Paul reveal many issues that arose, which allowed the first Christians (and now us) to grow and rely on the mercy of Christ and others. But community life also reveals our gifts and goodness, which is one of the reasons we chose Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as the Patron of the House. His love of art, culture, and commitment to friendship was not disconnected from his love of the poor and suffering.
As far as I know, nothing like this Catholic Social Organization for young adult Catholics currently exists. Often people in the Church theorize about how to reach out to this demographic. Especially with the increase of younger millennials who decide not to affiliate with any church. The way forward must involve creating a culture of encounter to foster a community of faith and friendship.
We believe this apostolate will help form better families and strengthen the Church. And as I earlier lamented about some friends who have left the Baton Rouge area because of the lack of community, how wonderful would it be to have something that would attract faithful young adult Catholics to the Diocese? Your support makes this community of encounter, faith, fellowship, and fun possible.
- Mission and Identity of the Frassati Houseadd
With all of this in mind, I offer you the Mission and Identity section from the Frassati House Membership Manual:
This Catholic Social Organization, an apostolate of Cor Unum, serves Catholic young adults, ages 21 to 39. The Frassati House promotes a virtuous community of charity, respect, and support. As such, the Frassati House exists for the sake of its members, to be a place of community, faith, formation, friendship, and fun.
Often the balance of a healthy integrated life can become disrupted in everyday chaos. Where can we find a community that helps us become who we are meant to be and live our vocation to holiness? A what without a where is nowhere! And many Catholic young adults feel like there is nowhere for them to go for this kind of community. The Frassati House wants to provide this “where” to the “what” and function as a hub of the Catholic Young Adult Community.
The Frassati house promotes a culture of encounter—for meaningful life-giving relationships. This in turn forms the foundation of a culture of love. Community helps us cultivate the virtues necessary to grow in our human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions. While Cor Unum will provide formal events and formation, having a place to encounter others should not be underestimated. Simply having an everyday common space to be present provides the informal opportunity for members to “bump” into each other, to have spontaneous life-giving conversations, and create unexpected connections. This type of leisure and recreation among friends builds culture, but community life must not stop there. It must lead to bolder and fuller expressions of charity.
Faith comes to fruition in works of mercy, serving Christ in others. This requires a community effort of receiving and offering love to others. “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift” (Deus Caritas Est 7). Thus the Frassati House community, if it does what it’s supposed to do, should motivate its members towards charitable action, for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). An authentic Catholic community should compel its members toward service and love. Cor Unum encourages and expects Frassati House members to respond to the way God is calling them to serve others by participating and serving their local church parish and the greater community.
The Frassati House is named after Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Bl. Pier Giorgio excelled in the virtue of friendship. His deep spiritual life, centering around devotion to Christ in the Eucharist and Mother Mary, shaped the way he related to and loved others. He understood that his life, and even his career, was meant to always be in service to Christ. He studied to become a mining engineer in order to “serve Christ better among the miners.” Convicted by the Social Doctrine of the Church, he became a servant to the poor and suffering. He also enjoyed outings with his friends, going to the mountains, theater, opera, and museums. Love for life did not deter him from death. He became sick, most likely from the poor and suffering he served, and died as a young adult. Pope St. John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio Frassati, calling him the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes,” and remarking that as a young man he “was able to witness to Christ with singular effectiveness in this century of ours.”
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati embodies the mission of the Frassati House. His friendships, sense of adventure, spiritual life, cultivation of virtue, and participation in the arts all moved him to charitable action. The good things he received and the culture he enjoyed were never meant to be only for him. Rather, these gifts taught him of God’s goodness and love so that in the context of a community of faith he discovered his vocation to serve the poor and suffering.