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Liturgical Question: Sacrifice from Your Hands

WARRINGTON’S QUESTION:

Dear Fr Joe, thanks for your blog. It’s very useful even in my part of the world!

I had a query about the words, “may the Lord accept the sacrifice from your hands…” so I went to Catholic Answers and read the explanation (attached below). But my query remains: Is not “the sacrifice” Christ himself? If so, did not God send His Son to be the “sacrifice (Lamb)” for our sins? So why are we requesting God to accept “His” Son back to Him?

Unless the “sacrifice” referred to here is “our sacrifice (good works)”? Rather than “good works” (i.e., charity), I would like to think this reference to sacrifice might refer to “our life,” particularly a call to go outside our comfort zone to live a life for Christ.

Would you please clarify whether either of these is on the right track or am I completely missing the point?  Cheers!

CATHOLIC ANSWERS

Question

Why do we pray in the third person instead of addressing our pleas and praises directly to God? For example, the priest says, “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” and we answer, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church.” Could we say instead, “Lord, accept the sacrifice offered for the praise and glory of your name, for our good and the good of all of your Church”?

Answer

We don’t pray in the third person. The Church’s liturgy is its official public worship of God. Since it is not private worship, the members who are present are acknowledged throughout the service. So every so often, the priest-presider will address them with, “The Lord be with you,” and the people respond, “And also with you.” We are communicating with each other. This is not a prayer.

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church is not a prayer. It is addressed to the priest as an acknowledgement of the sacred action he is about to undertake. It is a response to his request: “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Even though he has just asked the people to pray, their response is to him and is not meant to be a prayer.

The ultimate offering prayer comes later: “Through him, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” Only the priest says this, and the people affirm the prayer with “Amen.” Both the priest’s words and the people’s words are prayer and are addressed directly to God.

FATHER JOE:

I would take exception with the assertion that the words in question are not prayer. Even the dialogue sections between the priest and people are parts of the great prayer of worship that is the Mass. The Mass is the Church’s most important communal prayer and it contains within it all other forms of prayer: praise, thanks, contrition, petition, and in a unique manner, propitiation. Let us look at the words that confuse you:

Facing the people, the priest says: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”

The congregation responds: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.

The priest then says his prayer over the offerings to which the people respond, “Amen.”

The priest is calling everyone to focus on the Eucharist. Implicit in the dialogue is the hope and expectation that God will accept us and our offering.  The celebrant addresses the people but he knows full well that our offering will only be received if God sees it as pleasing and desires to accept it.  We cannot force the hand of God.  The people respond to the celebrant by acknowledging his priestly work in union with Christ.  Yes, they are talking to the priest, but as with any intercessory prayer, its proper object is almighty God.  They are making the priest’s prayer and the work of Christ into something of their own.  This sacrifice is to the honor and praise of God.  It is also deemed efficacious for the local church at prayer and for the universal Church.  The corrected translation makes a distinction between the priest’s sacrifice and that of the people. It does not represent good works as such but targets the work of the Mass. This segment no more stands alone than any other part.  It leads us to the meat of the oration, the Prayer Over the Gifts.  The great High Priest of the liturgy is Jesus Christ. However, the celebrant at the altar participates or shares in this one priesthood through his ordination. While they cannot preside at the Mass, the laity is connected to Jesus and his sacrifice through their baptismal priesthood. Priests may take a stipend for a Mass they offer each day. The fruits that come to the priest may be applied to this intention, for anyone living or dead. You may note these names in the bulletin for the Masses said. This reflects the sacrifice and its benefits that come to the priest at the altar. The laity may come with their own intentions, which they are to bring to mind at the beginning of the Mass prior to the Opening Prayer or Collect. The people participate with their priest who makes possible the Mass and they benefit with fruits of grace. The reference to sacrifice is a direct acknowledgment that the Eucharist is a re-presentation of the bloody oblation of Christ on Calvary, albeit in an unbloody or clean manner upon the altar. The sacrifice of Jesus is not locked into time and place. At the words of consecration, Jesus is made REALLY present in Holy Communion— both in his full identity and person as well as in in saving activity. The only difference between Calvary and the Mass is OUR participation. Now we can offer ourselves grafted to Christ (the Lamb of God) as one perfect sacrifice to the eternal Father. The Mass surrenders to the heavenly Father the only gift that makes a difference and that earns our redemption, his Son, Jesus Christ.

The Mass enters us into Christ’s one-time offering of himself.

Parents as the Primary Educators of Faith

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Third, PARENTS must be the primary educators of faith to their children. I recall a test program over a decade ago in a Southern Maryland parish. The parish procured textbooks and teaching guidelines but instead of scheduling classes and catechist volunteers, the materials were given to parents and guardians. Certain assignments had to be returned to the director and there was an end-of-year test. The whole effort was based upon the home-schooling model which worked so very well for a few conservative and dedicated families. Everyone had high hopes. However, a year later, all hopes were dashed. The program was a dismal failure. Parents did not sit down with their children. Lessons were not covered and assignments were not completed. A furor erupted when sacraments were withheld and all except a small few had lost a year for catechesis that would now have to be repeated. There was a lot of anger. But it may be the effort was bound to fail. Many of our adults in the pews go to Mass out of habit, but not all are really committed or converted. The level of ignorance is amazing. The parish expected the clueless to instruct the children in faith. A few adults that tried remarked that they also learned a lot, even when they were using lower primary text books. They meant well, but they were essentially communicating that they as adults only had the faith awareness of a small child. How can parents give what they do not have? Others complained they were too busy. Of course, there was time to daily assist with Math, History, English and other subjects— but not enough for religion. The learning of the Catholic faith was regarded as expendable. Note that this is the status among those who occasionally attend Mass; many young people never see the inside of the Church, lack sacraments and know almost nothing about Jesus. I recall challenging one parent who came to the church door, made to feel guilty by the grandparents about such lapses. Now she was demanding the sacraments for her children. I said we would work with her, but the children would have to attend classes and participate at Sunday Mass. She became increasingly agitated and shouted, “Are you calling me a bad mother?” I suppose she thought that out of good manners I would fall on my sword and give her any allowance. Instead, I said, “Parents can clothe the body but leave children spiritually naked when they should be clothed in Christ and his grace. Parents can feed their children at the supper table but allow them to spiritually starve without knowledge of his Word and the food of the Eucharist. Parents can give their children computers and phones for all sorts of communication and texting but never enable their children to speak with God in prayer. If this description fits, then yes, such a person is a bad parent.”

Catechists assist parents but they cannot replace them. The same goes for youth ministers. We want to give a safe and fun environment for our children when so much in our society is spiritually dangerous or poison. Together, parents, pastors and catechists can make a difference. But the gravity is always with the parents. A priest preaches for a few minutes and a catechist may have an hour a week for thirty weeks or so. Those in Catholic schools will have much more formal instruction. However, the numbers have shifted away from parochial schools to parish-based religious education programs as normative. Children come home from school and play. Parents have them seven days a week. Only families have the time and resources to save their children from a hedonistic and materialistic society— and even they have a devilish fight on their hands. There are many forces that would undermine the authority and rights of the home. The Church has no desire to replace the authority and leadership of parents; rather, she would seek to help parents in answering their high calling.

Pastors praise God every day for good parents who make daily sacrifices for their children. They do without much that others regard as essential. However, they know that the family is their greatest treasure. They invoke God’s presence so that Christ might truly live in their homes. They have prayer corners and pray as a family. They open up God’s Word and strive to live moral lives. They seek out families that share their values. They march for life and volunteer time with efforts to help the poor and elderly. Such parents know there is no guarantee that children will stay close to the Church; nevertheless, they do all they can so that if they stray there will be a safe harbor to which they might return.

I know one family where the parents were berated by other family members and friends because they had so many children. There was a huge fight about it when the seventh one was born. I told them to tell the most vocal relatives, “Okay, I hear you. Look, I’ll line up my children and you tell me which ones should never have been born! Which ones would you kill off?” When they looked into the faces of her beautiful children, a few began to cry and one walked out. This tactic reflected back their selfishness, resentments and ugly anti-life attitude as in a mirror. They shut up after that. They were the ones with a problem, not this loving household filled with children. Their critics were supposed to be Catholic. But they had bought the lie that children are commodities to possess instead of being persons to cherish. Any one of them was worth all the money and all the material things in the world. When parents have the right attitude about children, more so than not, they are pious and responsible in transmitting the faith. Certain authorities lament today that most of the young seminarians and priests are very conservative, i.e. orthodox. Why is that? Faithful families did not contracept and abort. Those with more liberal agendas tended to contracept. Thus, they were unable to transmit their views and dissent to another generation. Look at the right to life marches. They seem to get younger every year. Their opponents who reject the Gospel of Life are making themselves extinct.

The Church is seeing a similar process. Because of this, certain analysts believe that the Church will one day contract and get smaller. However, they argue that the movement will be like lungs breathing. It will contract only to expand again— and this time with a more fervent and faithful remnant. Catechesis today is struggling to assist this remnant and to throw life buoys to a few floating outside the boat that is the Church.

There is problem enough with those in the pews, but the dilemma facing the Church goes deeper. If 75% of our Catholics are not going to Mass then it is a sure bet that their children are not praying and not receiving any catechesis. Of course, aging grandparents might guilt some of them into seeking the sacraments for children, but they are often “out of sequence” with their religious formation and quickly disappear after receiving first Holy Communion or Confirmation. There is a sick joke about this. One child was asked for the definition of Confirmation. He answered, “Confirmation is the sacrament you receive before leaving the Church.”

We try to teach. Priests and deacons preach. There is the presupposition that we are all on the same page. But this is not true. We have adults and youth who are only marginally Christian. We want to feed them but they are unconverted and have yet to really sit at the table. This requires a simpler and more fundamental message. We need to know our subjects, share what they need to hear and then submit everything to God. Yes, in baptism we are born again, but I have to wonder if maybe the work of regeneration is sometimes stunted. Children reach the age of reason. Some will go to Mass and be catechized. Others will not. But have any of them truly made the faith their own? Catechists and youth ministers will play a part. But parents and guardians have the greater share of responsibility. Does the family pray daily? Do they regularly break open God’s Word? Do they worship together each Sunday? Are their values and preoccupations in sync with the Gospel? Being made brand new is not a one-time deal. A living faith is never stagnant or in the past tense. It must touch the eternal now or the present. Every minute, hour, day and year is an opportunity for spiritual advancement. When we detour into sin, we beg pardon and return to following the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. God keeps us in existence at every moment. Material creation itself is constant and not a onetime event locked into pre-history or myth. If God were to forget us, even for a moment, we would cease to ever having existed. But God does not forget or abandon us. Similarly, he wants to spiritually perfect us in time, that through the gift of grace we might be truly holy. God wants to make us into the likeness of his Son, participating in that holiness or mysterious otherness that is divine. All this is to say that we must be the Christians we claim to be and that we should be God’s instruments in bringing conversion to our charges— that they will fall deeper and deeper in love with God. This love will manifest itself in a missionary manner. Those who enter this process of conversion or turning to the Lord function like dominoes, tipping others into loving and sharing the faith as well. Real love of God always results in prayer and service. If we see neither, then it is likely the faith and love that should be there has yet to materialize.

Do youth ministers and catechists pray for their children by name? Do we cry tears of supplication on their behalf, humbling ourselves on our knees before a divine providence we will never fully fathom in this world? Our youth might be saints. They might also be delinquents who are deep in sin and need help finding a way out. But whoever and whatever they are— they are ours.

The family is the “little church.” You cannot really give what you do not have. Catechists and pastors seek to help, but the transmission of the Gospel first takes place in the home. We learn our prayers and are taught the bible stories. We are taken to church. We are taught the commandments so that we might know the difference between right and wrong. If parents fail to do their part, not all is lost, but it is unlikely that a youth will immediately become the Christian he or she should be. God will always make sure the well has water, but what good would this be if no one has ever given us a bucket. Similarly grace is available; conversion and salvation are God’s gifts— but we need the tools to take advantage of them. If parents do not want their children to know Jesus, then I would urge them never to pray or to open their bibles. If parents want their children to engage in destructive behavior and fail in finding the true meaning of life, then I would argue to keep them away from religious education programs or at least never to help them with their catechetical homework. If parents want their children to grow up in a world void of God’s presence and compassion, then I would urge them to avoid any charity service to the poor, the oppressed or the unborn. If parents want their children to burn forever in the fires of hell, then I would suggest they make excuses to avoid the Sunday Mass and live today as if there is no God.

Catechists, directors of religious education and youth coordinators are often tempted to despair. They wonder if all their efforts are in vain. They find themselves struggling with children and even fighting with parents. While there are no guarantees, even in the most Christian of households, there is far more success when the faith is cherished at the center of family life. Peripheral Christianity treats the faith like a hobby or even as a reluctant obligation. The faith must instead be like the air we breathe. One should be no more willing to abandon the Church than one would be to chop off a leg or hand. Faith and God is not like the words written upon paper. No, it is like the paper itself. It is the basis and ground for everything else.

Inviting the Youth to Join and Supersede Us

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Second, the purpose of youth ministry is to ENABLE, not to entertain. It seems to me that much of youth ministry these days seeks to entertain; and yet, too much of their lives are already consumed by pursuing pleasure and gratification. Various synonyms for entertainment are telling: “beguile,” “distract,” “gratify,” “divert” and “indulge.” We do not want to beguile or fool our young people, but to have them encounter the truth. The last thing we want is any additional distraction when they need to be focused on the Lord. While there is a certain satisfaction with being in right relationship with God, this is a far cry from seeking pleasure for its own sake or selfishly losing ourselves in a contrived stupor, spiritual or otherwise. We need to work with our natural longing for purpose and meaning. It is here that we can share the compass setting toward Christ and the kingdom. We were made for God; nothing should divert us from this primary orientation.

Rather than wasting our time and resources on replicating worldly distractions; we should enable or equip or empower our young people with the power and promise of the Gospel. How do we translate these noble sentiments to the youth if we are not authentic and on fire? The youth minister or catechist is not properly an entertainer. Even if he or she is popular or a cult figure, what happens when he is no longer around? Some teachers try very hard to be hip. They will try to entice children with rewards for good behavior and for doing well on lessons. These teachers are also very quick to reprimand when students fail to respond to favors. Many teachers desire to be liked, a few would be satisfied with being feared, and yet the best ones imitate the posture of John the Baptizer, decreasing so that Christ might increase. We want to be successful, but it is by far more important that we be faithful. The true religious mentor witnesses the faith in word and action. He or she shares the faith in the hope that it will be contagious. We are all sinners needing God’s mercy. The ancient cry of the Church is echoed, “Repent and believe!” Youth may or may not like us; more importantly, they should be transformed ever more and more into the likeness of Christ. The good teacher wants his charges to know God’s grace and salvation. The devil could recite from memory the entire catechism— but he would spurn the love that God had for him. We want our charges to know the Lord and fall ever deeper in love with him. If we forget this part of the process, then we have missed the whole point. We seek to make the ground fertile for a saving encounter. God makes the offer; we hope that our youth will accept it. While only the Lord can save us; family, catechists and pastors have a part to play. God would have us be his instruments.

I recall a religion teacher many years ago who was considered dull and “not with it” by many of his fellow teachers. They thought for sure that he would be ineffective and would quickly quit. Instead of being wary of their own shortcomings, they gossiped about him. Later I took delight in their general shock when they noticed his pupils always talking about him in a positive light. Some of the youth saw their attitude and instead of joining in their critique or wanting him replaced, actually defended him. One child even said, “Those teachers always talk down about us, too; but he speaks to us as if every one of us matters.” Yes, he told corny jokes and spoke in a monotone voice, but the young people also recognized that he was authentic. He cared about them and did not pretend to be something he was not. When a couple of the boys were caught parodying his manner or style, he joined the laughter of their classmates. He knew how he was but what was important was sharing the saving faith. The kids began each class by reading about the important saints of the day or week. They took turns leading the class in prayer. They came to appreciate that they were also called to a relationship with Christ and to a holiness of life.

Youth ministry should not fall upon the shoulders of one or two volunteers. Rather, whole parishes with their pastors, catechists, families, and volunteers should engage the youth and others with the saving kerygma. Parishioners are urged to pass out our RCIA flyers for adults who might want to become Catholic or for Catholics missing sacraments. Parishioners are reminded of their need to catechize their children and to share this need with family and friends. I have heard people say that they do not want to nag others about their religious faith and responsibilities. Certainly, while we do not want to turn people off to religious faith, I suspect that a person who escapes hell and enjoys the bliss of heaven will be very thankful for a little well-meaning and needed nagging. We are all to proclaim the Good News. A failure to share the Gospel is a failure to love. If Jesus and the Church matter to us, then why would we not want to invite others to have what we have? Unlike other possessions, one can only hold on to a saving faith by giving it away to others.

Instead of always talking down to youth, we need to welcome and prepare them for full membership in our faith communities. We should not make Christianity easy or excuse opportunities for witness or service. Rather, we must make serious demands for discipleship. Yes, this would include activities and ministries like serving at the altar, reading from the pulpit, welcoming people at the church door, helping out at soup kitchens, volunteering to assist with the Special Olympics, tutoring kids who need help with their school work, cleaning up local streets, shopping for the elderly or doing other chores, visiting nursing homes, etc. It means shining with the LIGHT OF CHRIST in all the many ordinary things of life at home, at play, at school, at work and at church.

Is a reevaluation in order?  Are we really thinking with the mind of Christ when it comes to expectations for our youth? While knowledge plays a part, passing tests and good behavior are not immediately reflective of one’s spiritual status. How do Jesus and the teachings of faith inform the daily life and preoccupations of our youth? When kids can neither name the commandments nor the beatitudes then how can they live them out? If they have trouble understanding that Jesus is a divine person who becomes a human being to save us, then what exactly makes them a Christian? A believer (over the age of reason) must know who the Lord is and what he does for us. Jesus suffers and dies that we might be forgiven, healed and have a share in his life. We cannot save ourselves. Everything we have is gift and Jesus is the greatest gratuity of all.  Are our youth in regular prayerful communication with him?  Have we helped them in knowing how to pray and how to discern God’s will in their lives?  Are we where we should be in the spiritual life?

Our Lord wants us on fire with the faith. The Scriptures do not recommend any form of nominal Christianity. We read in Revelation 3:15-16:

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Fanaticism is only really wrong when it violates charity. One cannot be too Christian or overly converted. And yet, adults and youth alike temper their Christianity as something that can be departmentalized or restrained by secular good manners. Christianity, at its very heart, is intolerant to sin, hypocrisy and error. We would not know this from the many ways that faith is compromised or hidden today. It is as if we are ashamed to be Christians. Young people face this temptation all the time, particularly in contemporary language, music, dance, clothing and relationships. It is easier or convenient to forget one’s Christianity when it gets in the way or calls for witness. We treat the faith like a hat that can be removed or exchanged; instead, it should be like the skin that goes with us wherever we go.

Our ministry with youth should be as fire seeking to ignite a candle. This fire is not an empty emotionalism or a pretense at youthfulness. We do not seek to be buddies with them but sentinels to the great lover of souls. The fire illumines Christ and communicates that we should encounter Christ. There is urgency to the Gospel that Jesus constantly referenced and which is pertinent to the work we do. We will only have the children for a short while. We must make the best of the time and resources we have. We need to help them to know and to love the Lord. We must give them the tools to proclaim the Gospel and witness to the faith. The faith is only real when it is being spread. When we keep it to ourselves, it begins to die— no, more than this— we begin to die.

We often catechize the youth to parrot back the right words regarding faith; more importantly, we want them to embrace the faith in an evangelistic manner. Our youth will face far more tensions and opposition than previous generations. They must be enabled to defend the faith with an apologetics based upon a spirit of ecumenism that never compromises the truth. Each according to his or her vocation, we are a priestly people and recipients of the great commission:

“Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

I was privileged to see something of this fire in college teens that walked down the east coast as Crusaders for Life. They well understood that the Gospel of Life means that every child is a reflection of the Christ Child. All life is sacred and there is no pro-abortion Christianity. Abortion attacks the very heart of the faith, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. One cannot rightly say AMEN to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament while we deny the one made in his image within the womb. Sponsored by the American Life League, they were young and dedicated to this truth— so much so that they were attacked by angry politicians as fanatics and avoided by certain embarrassed churchmen who preferred to play things safe. But Christianity is not a safe religion. Jesus defended the dignity of women, called the children to him, ate with tax collectors and sinners, etc. He healed bodies and forgave souls their sins. He did “good” and that got him betrayed, libeled, scourged and crucified. We must prepare our children as Saint John Paul beseeched us. He told the youth at one of the World Youth Days that he saw blood and martyrdom in their future. In other words, he echoed Jesus who said that any who would come after him must take up his cross and follow. All this is a testimony to the quality of faith, not simply as a mental deliberation or as a verbal expression, but as a profound obedience to Christ and the mandate of love. We are beckoned to be signs of contradiction, loving our enemies and forgiving those who hurt us.

We need to pray with and for our youth. I have recommended in the past that youth compose their own prayers— writing them down and then delivering them. There is a tendency in certain programs for clergy or catechists or youth ministers to do all the praying. This is a mistake. While we need to study the mechanics of liturgy and the ABC’s of faith; inroads must be made for the Holy Spirit to touch our children. The Word of God should be made pertinent to their lives. God’s saving intervention is not locked in past history. Rather, the story of redemption needs to intersect all our personal stories. God is present. God is active. God loves us. When a person is touched by God, he or she will never be the same again. This is all so much deeper than worrying about youth group attendance or frustration that youth are not where we want them spiritually. The pertinent concern must be, instead, where they are now and how God can reach them. We must accept the youth we are given, good, bad and indifferent, and concentrate upon how we can facilitate an awakening to God’s presence and love. Nothing and no one benefits from imagining how different things might be if we only had different or better kids.

God’s Intervention: Conversion

When it comes to parental guidance and faith formation there is no perfect formula. Children from the same household often include both fervent believers and backsliders. The young person has to make choices for him- or herself. All we can do is give them the best witness and tools. Having said this, there are some families who have not done all they could. Sacraments were haphazard and Mass participation was poor. For them we recall the Scripture that says, “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

What are my general thoughts about the issue? Certain important points come to mind.

14_to_aFirst, just because a child was baptized as a baby, we must never omit the need for CONVERSION. There is the real need to take the faith that is given us and to make it our own. Catholics might not accept the notion of “once saved, always saved,” but we still treat membership in the Church as a “done deal” that needs little in the way of affirmation or verification. This point often muddies the waters when news reporters and poll-takers ask questions of Catholics. People who have not stepped foot in a church for many years will still identify themselves as Catholics. Their perspective on issues often is more reflective of a secular humanism than Christianity. Catholicism is reduced to a club which refuses to throw you out even when you fail to pay the required dues. In actual fact, while they remain juridically Catholics, many of these people are in practice Protestant or even atheists. They may live as if there is no God.

Many catechists are often disheartened when a child has reached Confirmation age in eighth grade, and he or she still struggles from a glaring ignorance of our religion. We know they were given all the content but it is as if it leaked out. Good Catholic kids go on to high school or college and fall away from the practice of their faith. At a time when the Christians of Mosul are facing expulsion and extermination for their faith; these kids surrender it without the whimper of a battle. As an old billboard used to advertise, a crucial question comes to mind, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Apparently Christian kids begin to talk and act as if there is no God.

The problem comes to a head as the youth matures; however, the seed was damaged from the beginning or hindered throughout. It is choked by weeds or has fallen on poor and rocky soil. There has been little or no watering. Despite all that parents, catechists and pastors did (or did not do); the simple fact remains that the youth may never have had an intimate and reciprocal friendship with Christ. Praying should be like breathing. We do not last long otherwise. We begin to die when we neglect the Lord.

We tend to speak about the “issues” that our children face or the difficulties they create. We need to stop thinking about “issues” and turn to dealing with “persons.” How do we facilitate an evangelical turning or metanoia to the Lord? Must we create a spiritual ghetto around our children, blocking out the distractions from peers, public schools and the media? How do we move religion from information to be memorized to a person we must encounter?

While I like youth groups and activities where young men and women can dialogue and come to a better understanding, as well as mutual respect, it also seems to me that there should be gender-based formation. Young women, mentored by faithful and mature females, can answer questions and speak to concerns that might never be mentioned in a mixed setting. Similarly, in a society that preaches a false equivalence, young men need mentoring by Christian gentlemen who know and practice the values of true manhood. Every young man should look upon the girls as potential spouses and the mothers of their children. Each young woman should seek out men who demonstrate strength of character and responsibility for their actions. While I prefer courtship to dating; young people should not feel coerced into romantic relationships prior to the time that they are ready or able to make genuine commitments. I also think that young men and women should be given a witness for the religious vocations to which God may call them. Do we have priests and brothers speaking to our boys about their callings and the satisfaction they receive in serving God? Do we have religious sisters giving presentations in youth groups and parishes about what it means to be a bride of Christ? I think we could do more in these areas. I lament that the archdiocese no longer has its own order of religious sisters. The fact that we had them seemed almost like a secret. If we want vocations for men and women, then they have to be visible and the word must be shared. They must also be happy. No one wants to join a group of angry old bachelors or cat-fighting spinsters.

I would also suggest the witness of proven Christian laity who live in the world and still belong to Christ. We have many god people who witness the faith to co-workers, family and friends. They volunteer to help the poor, to save and nurture babies, to bring care to the sick and dying, and to pass on the faith to the next generation. Along with the saints of heaven, these must be our role models— not the coarse basketball player or music personality preoccupied with money, fame and sex.

When it comes to youth group gatherings, we sometimes merely want to get a meeting over and satisfy the young people on a superficial level. But every gathering should go beyond entertaining with sports, music, games, movies or free pizza. We do not want to bribe our youth to attend. Youth ministers can make a number of honest mistakes. I recall a fellow years ago who gave a presentation about ministry that focused entirely on himself. He told us again and again that he received great personal satisfaction from the work. If that is simply the case, then we might become parasitical to the very youth we hope to help. But in contradiction, we do not do this work for what we can get out of it. The youth might put us through hell and yet in the end it could produce fruit if we persevere.

Ephesians 4:11-16 gives us our marching orders, both for catechesis and youth ministry:

“And he 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, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”

There are too many persons and things that would exploit our youth; we must illustrate the highest integrity in equipping young “saints.” We make ready the soil and pray that God will rain down with his grace. After doing all that we can, we beseech God for the conversion of our charges. If our youth do not open the Scriptures, say their prayers, participate at Mass, and help the poor then what exactly would make them Christian? They should be growing daily in the knowledge and love of Jesus. Mindful of the Pharisees, we must be careful of any hypocrisy. The youth will see this immediately and any movement to Christ would likely be stunted.

There are a number of poor models that poison youth work and evangelization. Making demands from authority turns people off and when there is sufficient distance or no longer any stick held over heads, the young people rebel and walk. Similarly bribing falls short when nothing that we can offer comes anywhere near to competing with popular music, large screen televisions, video games or the other stuff that youth and families accumulate. We try placing our message on computers and television, but talking heads and the Mass for Shut-ins just is not attractive or compelling to many. We get all excited about the Internet but then find that there are few hits and no one is reading or watching our materials. We pour money into solutions that really solve nothing and become just another element for critics to ridicule. The universal Church gets caught up in this as well. Are we really making converts or calling souls home with Twitter? I doubt it.

We do not need religious robots. No, instead we want faithful youth who are fully converted and see evangelization as a crucial factor in their lived discipleship. That is one of the reasons why I feel that adult moderators should encourage youth to develop their own programs and activities. This way, when they head off for college, it will no longer matter if parents and pastors are unable to look down their backs. Without any prodding, they will gather their own bible sharing and prayer groups. We want them to form “church” with a graced spontaneity. They need to be self-actuated in their discipleship. They will look around them and develop activities to respond to the needs of the community where they find themselves. All this is to say, that while we have them, we should be thinking… how can we empower these persons to be self-actuated leaders: teaching and serving others? Is this prospect even on our radar?

Saying Goodbye to the Padayhag Family

The Padayhag family are heading out today for Arizona. A teaching job opened up with sponsorship. 

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I am going to miss them very much.

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Prayers for a safe journey! Many blessings and much love!

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We Awaken to the Problem

The defection from faith is an important issue and why for the past two years I invited a young FOCUS missionary named Katie to give her appeal in the parish. Along with other young adults, FOCUS ministers to our youth on college campuses. The statistics are frightful. Some 80% of our youth fall way while at college. These young adults put their careers and much about their personal lives on hold so that they might make a difference for others.

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I think in truth the issues began long before our teens headed off for college or entered the work force. Minimally Catholic kids suddenly find that they do not have the watchful eyes of parents upon them. Quickly, they are influenced by peers who have no quarter in their lives for organized religion or traditional values. Liberal faculties deride Christianity and mock the sacraments as the domain of ignorance. Professor Paul Zachary Myers is the most blatant on this list, urging college students to steal consecrated hosts so that he can document on the Internet his desecration of the Eucharist. This is not representative of a civil debate about belief; rather, it is an emotional and militant attack upon people of faith.

College campuses will sometimes have Newman Centers and/or Catholic Student Associations. But many of the Catholic students fail to get involved. The attendance of Catholic students at Mass, even at Catholic schools is often pathetic. The best numbers I have heard are at places like St. Francis in Steubenville, Ohio and Ave Maria in Florida. I know one school where the chaplain schedules Masses at midnight so that students will have less competition for their time. One is more likely to see lewd photos on Facebook than posts about religious epiphanies and retreats or time before the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, many parents might not know because they are quickly blocked from seeing what is actually going on.

I am not saying that efforts to evangelize in college are in vain. Rather, I am suggesting that more could have been done (or done differently) earlier to minimize the damage later on. Catholic schools could also be more proactive with single-sex dorms, expectations about participation at Mass, and an uncompromised message about fidelity to the faith and the living out of the commandments. However, we have a problem— when honors are granted to those who seek to strip the Church of her religious liberty— when organizations that promote a homosexual agenda and lifestyle are given funds and recognition— when health service referrals include artificial contraception and abortions— and when crucifixes are removed from classroom walls so as not to offend— then we have become our own worst enemy.

The Situation We Face

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I have been giving some thought to the pressing issue of keeping our young people Catholic and in the Church. Before I lay fault at the proper doorposts, it must be said that many of our parents are faithful in raising their children in the faith and insuring the opportunity for the sacraments. When their kids abandon the faith and Mass attendance, these good people are the first ones who feel guilty and wonder if there be more they could have done. But they did their duty and there comes a point where we have to let go and trust the Holy Spirit. Similarly, there are pastors and catechists who try program after program in hoping that the next one might turn matters around. They join their tears to those of heaven praying that prodigals might come home and that the children might be counted among the saints. Too many have forgotten God. Too many have turned their backs on the practice of their faith.

I would not want to condemn anyone, even parents who are themselves “fallen away” Catholics. God will be their judge. But of course, we can target many sources for the current problem. Whole generations of Catholics were poorly catechized. Poor text books and an air of dissent infected the Church. I recall tried-and-true books being thrown away because they represented the thinking of “the old pre-Vatican II Church.” And yet, this mentality betrayed a false dichotomy. There are no two churches. The accidentals may change but the deposit of faith is faithfully transmitted generation after generation in the one true Church instituted by Jesus Christ. The later publication of the universal catechism was an attempt to correct any false thinking about this issue. Our appreciation of doctrine can develop but the public revelation is fixed. What is objectively true will always be true. The false “spirit of Vatican II” has been exposed and in many circles has increasingly lost sway as a general segment returned to orthodoxy. This is cause for hope.  Those resisting it have necessarily found themselves set adrift.  The truths of faith were never denied by the Magisterium, but progressive theologians and their enthusiasts wrestled to place the whim of men over the wisdom of God.

There is no denying that the dominoes began to fall. The damage was done.  Religious relativism, a false view of universal salvation, and the moral failure of churchmen to live out the faith compounded the situation. People fell away from the Church. The stakes did not seem as high as they once did. Meanwhile, the world was changing and Western Christian culture was collapsing. The process had begun prior to Vatican II. Indeed, the Enlightenment and later the French Revolution were signposts to what was fast approaching. Pope Pius IX promulgated his Syllabus of Errors. Pope Pius X confronted Modernism. When Vatican II arrived, many had hoped that there might be a dialogue with the modern world. Unfortunately, the world did not play fair and the council was unable to forestall the many negative agencies poised against her. A secular humanism was quickly taking hold. Man would be regarded as the measure of all things. The degree of hubris involved here would have been unthinkable in much of our earlier history. The “God is Dead” movement of the 1960’s and 70’s was thought by many as the final result of this movement. But there was more to come. Today many do not consider God as dead but rather, while rejecting the incarnation, declare that Man is God. The love of science, which in its place is a good thing, becomes a kind of idolatry where technology and the media are secular sacraments. There is the fantasy and/or pseudo-science that even death will one day succumb to man’s genius. Paralleling all this there has been the ascendance of a new paganism, expressed through heightened eroticism (homo- and heterosexual) and a general vulgarity in speech, music and behavior. Pleasure is sought as an ends to itself, not as an element of a greater good.

What does the baptized Catholic believe today? It is amazing how many false assumptions are made about the faith. While the Church teaches intelligent design and the complementarity between science, theology and philosophy; many view Catholicism through the prism of Protestant fundamentalism. Enthusiasts for evolution ridicule the Church for a literalism which she does not profess. Neither does Catholicism embrace a blind faith, which is rightly decried as mindless. While recognizing mystery, we espouse a faith seeking understanding and as a true companion to human reason. The Church argues for modesty and yet is not puritan in her aesthetic appreciation for the human body and the beauty of sexual love as a part of the divine plan. Nevertheless, some critics (even Catholics) mock the Church as if it is a Calvinist congregation or one knotted to Jansenism. The Church seeks to work with non-Catholics for a better world and for the remittance of human suffering; however, despite false allegations from traditionalists, lays hold to no ecumenism that would compromise her singular faith claims. It has also been a sad discovery that many Catholics suffer an impoverished understanding of the Trinity, the meaning of the incarnation, the value of the Mass, the mystery of the real presence in the Eucharist, the nature of the afterlife and the prayers for the dead, etc. Indeed, some believers deny the existence of hell despite the biblical testimony and the presence of evil that demands the full measure of divine justice. The occult has also infected believers, substituting magic for supernatural faith. It is ironic that atheism and the occult should simultaneously infect members of the Church. We need to do all we can to correct the errors of our times. There is no reincarnation. There is no parallel oriental bad force that counterbalances the good. We do no become angels after death as popularized in movies. The dead human body is a corpse. The human soul is a ghost. We are promised restitution in the resurrection of the dead. I cannot begin to say how many Catholics do not know the truth about these matters. Yes, even those in the pews need correction and a renewed formation. But, other than with preaching how do we do this? Many will not attend special classes or even online workshops. They fail to attend bible study or instruction classes. As for those not in the pews, is there any way left to bring them and their children home? How can the message of the Church compete with the many voices of the world?

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