Friday, July 31, 2015

The Institutions of the Church Need an Infusion of True Youth

During the summer months, I offer Mass each evening at 5:30pm with a handful of students, most of whom are here working at Boston University for the summer. These young men and women are living something beautiful together. They are living a friendship in the Church. For about 30 minutes before Mass, we banter back and forth, and then we make our way upstairs to the chapel. They argue over who will read (the winner is the one who doesn't read), they set up the altar, and light the candles. We pray the Angelus together, offer Mass, and then spend a few minutes in thanksgiving after Mass.

More and more I realize, that it all depends upon them. It all depends upon them and young people like them. They're young and maybe do not yet grasp the full import of their calling. But, it all depends upon them! The future of the Church in the United States depends upon them. Obviously it depends upon Christ, but Christ calls us to share in His work.

When I look at the young men and women whom I see each day at Mass at the Catholic Center, I am encouraged. They are evidence of the relentlessness of Christian Faith. Everything is against them. They have grown up and live in a culture that is against them. And yet, here they are attending Mass, coming to confession, praying the Rosary, going to adoration, living true friendship, growing in the virtues, witnessing before others, and living a life of charity. They live joyfully, charitably, and faithfully. When confronted by tremendous opposition, they are relentless in their fidelity, charity, and joy. Nobody seems capable of robbing them of their joy.

At times, I suspect that they might become frustrated by their elders in the Church. So often, because they are devoted to the sacraments, faithful to the teachings of the Church, and joyful in their friendship, they are opposed by their elders. This is the experience of many young, faithful Catholics. If I could offer a suggestion in this regard: their elders--instead of studying young people and opining about them--should take time to hang out with them, go out for dinner with them, and enjoy their company. The Church would be better served if bishops and priests spent more time actually engaged with faithful lay men and women rather than operating out of preconceived notions about them. They might discover that these young people are filled with a joy that is severely lacking in many who criticize them. If I were to give some advice to their elders, I would say that they should take the opportunity to hang out with these young people, hear their confessions, and enjoy their friendship. They would discover that these young people have a strong and healthy faith life. They'd find them to be joyful, faithful, and normal. They'd find kids who have become joyfully proficient in navigating and living all that the present culture has to offer with an evangelical joy. They know how to be normal kids and Catholic. They know how to bring the joy of the Gospel into the culture. 

The Church is depending upon them. Jesus is depending upon them. The Church needs young men and women who are unapologetically faithful to her teachings, devoted to the Sacraments, culturally adept, and joyful. What's beautiful to me is that, with very little theological training, they are doing precisely what the Church needs. They are living a joyful friendship. They are living in the present culture as seeds! They do not run away from those who disagree with them. Instead, they've become an open invitation to experience the joy of Christ. They are living the joy of the Gospel in the midst of the culture.

St. John Paul II knew how to reach out to young people. He recognized that young men and women are not attracted to a bland, compromised, chicken soup for the soul type Christianity. He knew that young men and women want to live the full challenge of the Gospel. Will every young person who hears the call of Christ to "Take up your cross and follow me," do it? No. St. John Paul II knew this, but he nonetheless relentlessly put the challenge to young people to follow Christ, to go out into the deep, to lay down your life for your friend. He did this because while some seed may fall on rocky ground or on the path, some seed would fall on fertile ground and would take root and produce a hundredfold. St. John Paul knew that this hundredfold is the future of the Church. 

Somewhere along the line, the young men and women I meet at the Catholic Center heard the clear invitation of Christ: "Come, follow me." They heard it from a parent, a teacher, a parish priest . . . they heard it somewhere. They have continued to be faithful to that call and their fidelity to Christ is producing a hundredfold. 

When we look at many of the Church's institutions--its parishes, dioceses, chanceries, schools, hospitals etc--we see that they are foundering and have become sterile, incapable of sustaining and producing life. In many instances this is because these institutions have abandoned the youth of the Gospel. The Gospel is always young, always new, always the same. When its members and institutions forget the youth of the Gospel--forget the directness and challenge of the initial encounter with Christ--they grow stale and lifeless. It is only when these institutions rediscover the young gospel, the gospel of "Come, follow me," that they can be renewed. Only the full gospel can restore the joy of our youth. There will be no meaningful renewal of any of the Church's institutions unless we are willing to risk everything on Gospel of our youth...the Gospel that demands everything of us.

I'm holding out hope that these young men and women who have accepted the Gospel in their youth will remain faithful to this initial encounter with Christ. Although time passes, there is no distance from the initial call of Christ. When we live in close fidelity to this initial encounter, it becomes a spring of youth, renewed daily in the Mass. The perpetual temptation is to substitute this youthful encounter with programs, bureaucracies, fads, and ideologies. When the Church's institutions become overly attached to these things and become forgetful of the encounter with Christ, they detach Christianity from Christ. And when the branches become detached from the vine, they wither and die. 

As I look at these young men and women who are living the joy of the encounter with Christ, I hope that fifty years from now, they are still living this encounter, still living the joy of their youth. The Church in the United States depends upon it.


  1. Don't lose faith, Father. We may not be in the media, we may not be loud, but we are teaching our children to thank God for our blessings and to pray that He keep us safe through the night. We know what is right because we listen to Him. Common Sense is what my dad called it, but I now recognize that as the sense we have from listening to God. Don't lose faith in God's people. We know that the Church God created will always prevail, because God told us it would.

  2. Interesting that many churches now are wasting huge amounts of money on renovations to make them "liturgically appropriate" while doing very little to encourage the few young parishioners left. This entry should be mandatory reading for parish priests.

  3. This morning, August 16, the celebrant and homilist was a young, newly ordained Capuchin priest. He preached a beautiful homily about the Eucharist and God's generosity to us. During the homily he had us laughing at his description of instances in which he had shared with others. He took the Gospel and its message seriously, but not himself.