Msgr. Charles Pope: On Being the Adult in the Room

Saint of the Day for October 29: Narcissus of Jerusalem (d. c. 216)
October 29, 2018
Edward Pentin: Youth Synod Final Document: Five Areas of Concern
October 29, 2018

By Msgr. Charles Pope, October 28, 2018

In the Letter to the Ephesians, from which we read at this past Saturday’s daily Mass, St. Paul has this to say:

And [Christ] gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ (Eph 4:11-15).

Coming to maturity is an important step in the Christian walk. Ideally the Church persistently helps people to do so. We are expected to grow, to come to an adult faith, and to draw others—especially our children—to this. The Letter to the Hebrews has something very similar to say:

You are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:11-14).

This is especially important today, when maturity is often significantly delayed. In fact, there are many who never seem to grow up. I have argued in other posts that one of the defining characteristics of our culture is its fixation with teenage issues and attitudes. In psychological terms, a person with a fixation is one who has not successfully navigated one of the stages of childhood and thus remains stuck to some degree in the thinking and patterns of that stage.

Our culture’s fixation on teenage issues and attitudes can be seen in some of the following:

  • Aversion to authority

  • Refusal to exercise the legitimate authority one has

  • Titillation and irresponsibility regarding sexuality

  • Lack of personal accountability

  • Irresponsibility

  • Demanding one’s rights while avoiding one’s responsibilities

  • Blaming others for one’s own personal failings

  • Being dominated by one’s emotions and carried away easily by the passions

  • Obsession with fairness, evidenced by the frequent cry, “It’s not fair!”

  • Expecting others (including the government) to do for one what one should do for oneself

  • Aversion to being instructed

  • Rejection of the wisdom of elders and tradition

  • Obsession with remaining and looking young

  • Aversion to becoming or appearing old

  • Lack of respect for elders

  • Obsession with having a thin, youthful body

  • Glorification of teenage idols

  • Inordinate delay of marriage and widespread preference for the single life


Some of the items in the list above have proper adult versions. For example, the “obsession with fairness” can mature and become a commitment to work for justice; aversion to authority can mature to a healthy and respectful insistence that those in authority be accountable to those whom they serve. It is also true that not every teenager has all the issues listed above. The point here is that the culture in which we live seems stuck on a lot of teenage attitudes and as a result our overall maturity is significantly delayed.

The description above certainly paints a less-than-flattering portrait of our culture. Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote recently on this topic, referring to it as “moral adolescence.” If you reject this assessment, how would you describe our culture? Do you think it is healthy and mature?

The call to maturity and the role of the Church – God’s expectation (expressed through His Scriptures) that we come to maturity, to the fullness of adult faith. Further, the Church is expected, as an essential part of her ministry, to bring this about in us through His grace. The Church does this in her better moments, when we who have leadership in the Church (clergy, parents, catechists, and elders) are faithful to our call. Notice that the Ephesians text says that Christ has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, to equip the holy ones unto this.

The Church is expected to be “the adult in the room.” She is to summon us to live responsible, mature lives. She summons us to be accountable before others, to be sober, serious, and deeply respectful of God’s authority over us by living lives that are obedient to the faith. She teaches us to master our emotions and gain authority over our passions, by God’s grace. She holds forth for us the wisdom of tradition and the teachings of the Scriptures, insisting on reverence for them. She insists on correct doctrine and that we no longer be infants, tossed by the waves of the latest fads and swept along by every wind of false teaching arising from human illusions. We are to be stable and mature in our faith and judge the world by it.

Unfortunately, there is currently something of an internal problem. The Church has faced the grave temptation to “put on jeans” and adopt the teenage fixations. Sadly, not all leaders in the Church have taken seriously their obligation to “equip the holy ones for the work of ministry … until we all attain to the unity of faith and … to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ.” Preferring popularity to the negative cries that our teachings are “unfair,” or “too hard,” many teachers and pastors have succumbed to the temptation to water down the faith and to tolerate grave immaturity on the part of fellow Catholics. We have a long way to go in terms of vigorously and credibly reasserting the call to maturity within the Church, let alone the world. Corruptio optimi pessima (the corruption of the best is the worst). Clergy and other Church leaders, catechists, and teachers must insist on their own personal maturity and hold one other accountable in attaining it. We must fulfill our role of equipping the faithful unto mature faith by first journeying to an adult faith ourselves.

The Church is not composed only of clergy and religious. Lay people must also take up their proper role as mature, adult Christians, active in renewing the temporal order. Many already have done this magnificently. but more must follow and be formed in this way. Our culture is in dire need of well-formed Christians to restore greater maturity, sobriety, and responsibility.

By God’s grace, we are called to be “the adult in the room.”

Here is a video (from a more mature time) on one aspect of maturity: proper self-reliance. It’s a little corny, but it does model something that is often lacking in families and in youth formation today: clear teaching by adults. The point made in the video is that we should not usually do for others what they can and should do for themselves. Part of maturing is learning that behavior has consequences, as well as learning the value of and need for hard work. While it is appropriate to rely on others to some degree and to rely completely on God, there is also a proper self-reliance in coming to maturity.