News Weekly: We are seeing research that says young people are less religious than ever before. But then we also hear that there has been a big resurgence of interest in faith among young people during the covid19 pandemic. So, we talked to someone who’s right in the middle of this space.
Jen, what is your own faith background?
Jen Healey: I’m one of six kids and was raised Catholic. We grew up going to church together. Towards the end of my high school years, I realised that the faith wasn’t something that I wanted to continue practising as I went on to university. I stopped practising for about 18 months after finishing school.
You know, it’s very countercultural being Catholic. The world tells you one thing and the Catholic faith tells you another; so, I guess I was very confused.
“We have this idea of relativism in our world, in our schools, in our universities, where “your truth is not my truth”. There’s this idea that you can constantly construct your own truth.”
NW: It is common among young people that they drop the faith after high school and go on their own journey, and then oftentimes end up coming back. Has that experience helped you in your current role?
JH: Yes, it has definitely helped me to understand young people and why they don’t want to participate. I’ll be the first one to put up my hand and say, you know, I wasn’t always there.
Young people feel a division – that they’re either this really Catholic person who is constantly going to Mass, or they’re that person who’s going out every weekend and drinking with friends. We can definitely bring the two together – be “in the world, but not of the world”.
NW: People do have the idea that you are either one or the other, and that no sensible, normal young person would want to practise religion because that means they’re completely crazy! What’s your response?
“Before we go all guns blazing to change the world, we need to change ourselves.” – Jen Healey
JH: Coming from my experience, we have this idea of relativism in our world, in our schools, in our universities, where “your truth is not my truth”. There’s this idea that you can constantly construct your own truth. Whereas the Catholic faith is something that’s been around for 2,000 years, it provides stability, and it allows us truly to be free.
When you’re living in this world, you’re not free. You’re constantly falling victim to the way society tells you to be. And that’s constantly changing. You have only to take a look at politics to see how quickly things change, and how that dictates the way people act.
NW: Did anyone influence you to go back to the faith, whether in a positive or a negative way?
JH: The first couple of people who really showed me by their actions a way of living the faith were close friends. My closest friends are twins, and their grandfather was killed in a horrific accident.
The family came together and really trusted God through that trauma. In a time when you start asking those big questions, like, “Lord, why would you do something like this?” or, “Why would you cause so much pain or suffering?” they found so much comfort in the faith. That for me was a big eye-opener to what the faith really is. Being able to trust and that things don’t always go well.
NW: People of faith are often asked, “Why are there so many rules about what we can and can’t do? Aren’t God and faith all about love?”
JH: It’s one that I constantly get! As soon as you mention you’re Catholic, people go, “What about this? What about that?” It’s like, left, right, and centre, they’re coming at you!
But it is actually a really good question. A lot of young people get turned off by this long list of what to do and what not to do. They love the idea of freedom. When I was coming back to the faith – in finding my own journey back – it was these exact questions that I was asking. “I love doing this, but I can’t do it anymore.” “I love doing that with friends, but I can’t do that anymore.”
I think the biggest question was, “Am I happy? Am I satisfied? Is what I’m doing really going to calm this desire?”
The question becomes, “Is that freedom?” Whether constantly being drawn back to something and being stuck in the downward spiral of going back for more, time and time again means you are actually free?
NW: How can young people build a better society?
JH: It’s always easy to point the finger at society and at others. But I think we need to point the finger at ourselves first, and ask, “What am I doing in my own workplace, in my own family, or even in my own habits, and the way that I act, that is going to bring people to faith, or that’s going to change the way society thinks?” Before we go all guns blazing to change the world, we need to change ourselves.
NW: Do you have any last words of advice?
JH: Really look at the desires of your heart. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God. And God has put desires in our heart that he is going to fulfil.