At the initial meeting I have with an engaged couple to begin their preparation for married life, I always start with how they met and why they are now sitting across from me thinking about getting married. It is enjoyable to me to hear their stories and to see in them the way that God truly has brought them to this point, sometimes after long and intertwining paths to reach this point.
Part of the conversation also turns to why they want to get married in the Catholic Church, which also involves their Mass attendance in the recent past. During a recent meeting, the couple admitted that they did not attend Mass very often at all and our discussion centered around how and why this happens, for it happens all too often among young adults these days.
In reflecting with them, we centered on two ‘causes’ of this backsliding that so many of my generation fall into. On the part of the young person, in many ways, it just sort of happens. Entering college, they miss Mass a few times that initial year, then a few more the next year and by the final year of college, they go to Mass when home with mom and dad and well, then, the ‘habit’ is broken. By the time they settle into a working career, so many young adults no longer have the pattern of Sunday Mass into their weekend routine and just stop altogether.
But is this solely the fault of this generation? In reflecting on the work I see being done with young people today and the focus that many youth ministers are bringing to their work, as aspect that was sadly missing in previous generations has finally been rediscovered. In my own faith formation, it seems that we talked about Jesus a great deal, but the key component that was missing is that we were never actually introduced to him. There was never an encounter with the Living God so that our lives were changed by Him.
However, all is not lost! The good news is that there is a strong contingent of young adults who have had this encounter with the Living Christ and wish to fervently share this encounter with our young people! Even more exciting, so many of our young people (teens and high school students in particular) have also had this encounter and are leading a revolution in their families, schools and among their friends. They have found the pearl of great price and are willing to sacrifice everything they have and are to not only keep that pearl, but to also share it with their peers. The vibrancy and energy that they are bringing to the Gospel is powerful!
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, this might be a chance for a renewed focus on not only how we are forming our young people in the academic life, but also how we are forming our young people in Christ! Our Catholic schools have small signs in each classroom that is a reminder that Jesus is truly the reason for our schools, the unseen teacher of all that we do.
But our challenge is to make Him more than just unseen, but to help all of our young people to know and realize the unique and dynamic love that He has for each one of them; all the while helping our young people to return that dynamic love back to Him as well.
Also, this is a challenge that is not just for our Catholic schools, it is for every Catholic to embrace. The more that schools, parishes, youth ministry programs, families, and diocesan offices are able to work together with the focus of truly presenting Christ in all that we say and do, the more we can help fight back on the ways the culture has infiltrated our efforts to spread the Gospel message.
As we do so, surely Christ will bless these efforts, for He truly does desire for us to find that unique happiness and joy that comes from knowing, serving, and most of all loving Him in both this life and in the life to come.