Recently I read some alarming thing about how people are abandoning the faith younger and younger. I was reminded of one of the times some poor bird got into the church in Yonkers and everyone was discussing how to help it escape.
"Give it the sacrament of Confirmation," offered one sardonic soul.
Now I wouldn't risk offering some single reason for the apparent weakness of the faith in its competition with the world for the minds and hearts of the young, but I did note that about the same time as I read this particular article I arrived at the following passage from Dom Chautard's The Soul of the Apostolate, which I re-read from time to time just for my sanity.
I'm not saying he says it all, or everything that could be said, but he does say something. Something that clergy and other custodians of the faith ought to consider, in my little opinion.
For more than thirty years we have been able to observe, from afar, the progress of two orphanages for little girls, maintained by two separate congregations. Each one had to go through a period of evident decline. To be frank: out of sixteen orphans, all of whom had entered under the same conditions and had left upon coming of age, three from the first house and two from the second had passed, in from eight to fifteen months, from the practice of frequent Communion to the most degraded level of the social scale. Of the eleven others, one alone remained deeply Christian. And yet every one of them had been placed, on leaving, in a good situation.
In one of these orphanages, eleven years ago, there was a single change: a new Mother Superior was installed. Six months afterwards a radical transformation was apparent in the spirit of the house.
The same transformation was observed three years later in the other orphanage because, while the same superior and the same sisters remained, the chaplain had been changed.
Now since that time, not a single one of the poor girls who left, at the age of twenty-one, has been dragged down by Satan into the gutter. Every one, every single one of them without exception, has remained a good Christian.
The reason for these results is very simple. At the head of the house, or in the confessional, the spiritual direction previously given had not been really supernatural. And this was enough to paralyze, or at least to cripple, the action of grace. The former superior in one case and the former chaplain in the other, although sincerely pious people, had had no deep interior life and, consequently, exercised no deep or lasting influence. Theirs was a piety of the feelings, produced by their upbringing and environment, made up exclusively of pious practices and habits, and giving them nothing but vague beliefs, a love without strength, and virtues without deep root. It was a flabby piety, all in the show-window, mawkish, mechanical. It was a fake piety, capable of forming good little girls who would not make a nuisance of themselves, affected little creatures, full of pretty curtsies but with no force of character, dragged this way and that by their feelings and imaginations. A piety powerless to open up the wide horizons of Christian life, and form valiant women, ready to face a struggle; all it was good for was to keep these wretched little girls locked up in their cages, sighing for the day when they would be let out.
No doubt an attentive observer will have connected up similar effects to the same kind of causes in any number of boarding schools, day schools, hospitals, clubs, even parishes, communities, and seminaries.