While this is directed at our youth, I invite parents, grandparents, and other interested parties to read as well. Perhaps, this can become the jumping off point for some very fruitful discussions.
Last weekend, Pope Francis confirmed 44 teenagers, including two from the Untied States. In the homily for the Mass he reminded them that as they continued to grow that they were to not look like the world around them, but to be a positive alternative of faith. He told them “swim against the tide, it is good for the heart.” We all know that this isn’t easy.
I do not envy you for the world that you are growing up in these days. Truth be told, though, it has never been easy. You get many mixed messages: rebel but conform, be tolerant and intolerant, be good but enjoy bad, be generous but be self-centered. There is nothing new in that. Your parents, grandparents, and I grew up with the same mixed messages. What makes you different is the overwhelming volume in which you get it. Your parents and I grew up in a time before 24/7 TV, the internet, smart phones (or even cordless phones), i-pods, and such. The access that the voices had to send us these messages were few and far in between. You cannot get away from it.
Our age group just had to get good grades to get into the college of our choice. You have to have the grades, a list of extra-curricular activities, and volunteer work to get in. We were taught self-esteem is a by-product of achievement and you were taught that self-esteem is something to itself. You grow up in a culture far more hostile to faith of any kind. You belong to a generation who lost 25% of that generation before they drew their first breath due to abortion. You grow up in a society, which for all its scientific advances, has become angrier, more isolated, depressing, and frustrating. You have a fundamental decision: Will you stand with or in contrast to the society? Can you change it for the better or participate in its decline? I would imagine which of the two we your fellow parishioners would like you to do!
So there is challenge to standing up in contrast to this society. It is one that requires a fresh way of thinking and acting. It is a way that requires strength, courage, and internal nobility. For some of you, those qualities are already well exhibited. For some of you, those qualities are growing. But let’s be honest, for some, those qualities are being drowned out by a whole host of outside forces. These forces tell you that your church and other authorities are nosy killjoys for asking you to wait till marriage to engage in physical sexuality, for asking you to not get drunk and/or high, for asking you to selflessly serve others, and so on. They tell you that everything you should want should make you money, give you pleasure, be fun, or demand nothing of you. They tell you that it is too hard or unfair to live up to these standards. Be aware, though, that these voices will use you to their own ends and leave you by the wayside when you fall. You can and must do better and listen to those voices that seek your good both now for all eternity.
It is because we seek such good things to you, that this parish has ramped up its commitment to you. However, our commitment means nothing without your brave and positive response. Your Catholic faith is not a spectator sport; I can assure you that you will get absolutely nothing out faith if you put the same amount into faith! ENGAGE! Engage our faith! Engage our parish! Engage! As with all things in this life, you will get out of something the commitment you put into it. I encourage this in that I truly believe each of you has much to offer and are capable of truly astonishing good. We want to help develop that. The human brain is not fully developed until your 20’s. Your Church wants to help you to mature into the best Catholic and person you can be. Again, you cannot sit passively by and wait for something to happen…engage!!
In this parish, we have two major opportunities for you to engage. One was the mission trip to New Jersey to help others who lives were upended by Hurricane Sandy last year. That deadline has passed. The last full week of June, we will have a group called Totus Tuus (Latin for Completely Yours… Bl. John Paul II’s motto). During the day they will be running a vacation bible camp which you can help in running. During the evenings they will be running something for High School students. While it is not necessary for you to come every evening, it would be a true shame if you absented yourself altogether. In this parish we have a confirmation class that is a class. You have many voices that will tell you outright lies and half-truths about the Catholic faith. If you don’t know what we actually believe and why we do, then it will be all too easy to mislead you with those lies. Our parish is committed to your knowing the truth. Is it fun? Does it matter if it is? That whatever we engage in has to be fun and light IS one of the prevalent lies that society tells you. Sometimes it is necessary to buckle down and apply oneself.
In this diocese, we have 3 major experiences that mix the element of fun with prayer and reflection during the summer. There is a co-ed retreat called Christpower that focuses on service during the day and a variety of fun and prayer at night. It is for those currently in High School. There are two single gender camps : Camps Siena (for young ladies) and Camp Maccabee (for young men) which focus on being a strong, virtuous, confident, and courageous Catholic leader. These camps are for those who are current 8th graders- juniors. More information and the applications are available on the back table in front of the sacristy. There are several in parish, including myself, who are willing to pay your way to these events because we are invested in your futures.
You cannot say we are not trying. However, we do not force either. Nonetheless, I am being assertive about these things because the other side has your ears so very much more than the Church or God does. You can approach these as opportunities or you can approach them with excuses. I realize you have much going on during the summer; however, deepening your faith cannot be regulated to perhaps an hour on Sunday (with many not even doing that) or something that keeps getting pushed down as not a priority. There is so much that hinges on the effort you willing to make. We will afford you every opportunity because we believe that you and your futures are that important. Give us a chance. Take a chance. Your parish needs you to engage.