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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Slavery in the World Today

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I borrowed this link from a priest-friend. It is an incredible story. The article is written by the late Alex Tizon.  Human trafficking or slavery has reached historic high numbers.  It is estimated that almost 30 million people throughout the world are currently reduced to slavery.  As many as 60,000 people might be victims of secret bondage in the United States.

Recommended Family Films

51Woc2j1sjL._SY445_These are movies that we have either shown to teens or are planning to show them.  They are entertaining and provide for important teaching moments.

The Boy Who Could Fly

Saving Grace

A Home of Our Own

The Mighty

The Boy with Green Hair

Spare Parts

Paper Planes

Endgame

The Perfect Game

We plan on showing and discussing THE PERFECT GAME at the Parish Confirmation & HS Teen Retreat this April.

Establishing a Home Altar or Shrine

There are some who put up wood cabinets, either free-standing or in the wall. These can be quite nice but also expensive. The top of a small wall table, mantle or shelf might do as well. The use of a cabinet makes it easier to store additional religious items.

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The home altar is a place for family and individual prayer but is also a visible reminder of our Catholicity. Every home should make room for Jesus and have visible signs of faith and divine protection. What does one place upon the altar? There should be a standing crucifix or one attached immediately to the wall behind the shelf or table. Often there is a statue of the Blessed Mother although one might substitute a statue of the Holy Family.

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If Mary is depicted alone then a parallel statue of St. Joseph might be in order. I am also a proponent that every home should be consecrated to the Sacred Heart. Either a statue or picture of the Sacred Heart should be displayed. Candles are traditional and some would add flowers. There should be Holy Water (font and bottle). Medals associated with devotions could be placed on the altar. The rosaries of family members may either sit upon the table or hooks adjacent in the wall or mantle itself. Various Holy Cards of special patrons could be set there. There should always be a Bible and individual prayer books. Many also include a missal so that if Mass attendance is impossible, the readings of the day can be studied. If a table is used, then a nice linen cloth should cover the top.

Here are a few suggestions that can be purchased online:

Large Standing San Damiano Marble Resin Cross Crucifix

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Holy Family Jesus Mary Joseph Religious Figurine

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Design Toscano Blessed Virgin Mary Statue

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12 Inch Sacred Heart Of Jesus Holy Figurine

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Saint Joseph with Child Statue

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Holy Spirit Holy Water Font

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Votive Candle Holders (use inexpensive tea lights)

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St. Joseph Daily & Sunday Missal

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The Didache Bible: Ignatius Bible (RSV-2CE) Edition

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Catholic Prayer Books

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8 Oz Holy Water Bottle / 5 oz Stainless Steel Round Holy Water Bottle

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San Damiano Corded Wood Rosary / Madonna and Child Hematite Rosary

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Counseling for Catholic Marriages

Catholics with marital problems should have readily available avenues within the Church for professional counseling in the hopes of salvaging their marriages.

More can be done to prepare priests for this kind of work but I think there is also a need for full-time professionals with training in psychology and intervention-counseling. These counselors should be well-versed with the Catholic faith. If they are not on the same page with us about human sexuality and the value of marriage, then they can escalate a problem instead of being part of the solution.

  • When red lights appear in the Pre-Cana preparation, referrals can be made before marriages in the Church.
  • When problems develop within marriages, referrals can be made to facilitate healing or reconciliation.
  • When questions arise about sexual identity and remaining in good standing with the Church, referrals might be made to assist people in coping and to counteract bias from non-Catholic sources.

While there are good independent counselors who charge fees, I would also recommend that there be professionals hired directly by the Church. Their salaries might be shared between parishes as within deaneries. They would work closely with pastors, while preserving confidentiality, to either prevent bad marriages or to salvage troubled ones. Such staffing should be viewed as serious as religious education directors, office managers and bookkeepers. In any case, a public list of counselors vetted by the Archdiocese should be readily available to pastors and the people they serve.

Catholic marriage counseling is necessarily different from that which is offered by those who do not share our understanding of marriage or our views about human sexuality. These counselors need to discern how a troubled Catholic marriage might be fixed. The truths of faith are integrated into our appreciation of psychology. The goal is to have couples living a daily vocation where there is both joy and sacrificial love. Marriage is viewed as a covenant and as a permanent union. Too many quickly jump to divorce as the answer. Catholics should see that as an option generally taken off the table.

Instead of urging an immediate divorce, a separation might be promoted so as to further the conversation or to prevent verbal and/or physical abuse. If a marriage has terminal problems and cannot be salvaged, then the counselor might suggest an annulment. That is where the pastor and/or the officials on a Church Tribunal would enter the picture. However, this is inherently always a sad or tragic situation. It means that avenues to save a marriage have failed.

Right now we have noble efforts like Retrouvaille but there is a pressing need for something more clinical.

A Few Thoughts about the Synod Relatio & Debates

My head is spinning about some of the things that are being seriously argued at the Vatican’s Synod on the Family. I am already concerned that a Commission was established to look at streamlining the process for annulments even prior to the start of the Synod. It seems to me that if such were a concern then the bishops would then request the Holy See to do so. Will the documents which will be formulated reflect the majority view and Catholic tradition or will there be attempts to steal the show for the minority progressives?

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What is it about this new Synod document that has critics saying it signals a revolutionary shift in favor of same-sex couples? It is acknowledged that this “relatio” urges clergy to make “fraternal space” for homosexuals. But what does it say? We read:

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Are we reading the same document? All I see are questions. Hopefully they are not rhetorical. Do we eject gay brothers and sisters from our churches? No we do not. Can we invite them forward for Holy Communion? Yes, provided that they maintain chaste and celibate lives. Can we affirm or value their sexual orientation? No, we cannot do so. Such would devalue the true meaning of marriage and human sexuality. We cannot move away from the assessment of disorientation or that same-sex carnality is mortal sin.

As a so-called case-in-point of past intolerance, the news contrasted this development with the story of Barb Webb who was fired from a Catholic school when she and her partner announced her pregnancy. Similarly, her partner, Kristen Moore was asked to resign from her post as a music director at a Catholic parish. The secular media glossed entirely over the moral issues that extend beyond same sex unions, like the freezing of embryos, donated semen and IVF technologies. All these elements are reckoned as moral evils and sinful.

This relatio is being interpreted precisely as Cardinal Kasper would suggest. The doctrinal truth is eclipsed, if it remains, for the sake of a pastoral provision or slackening of discipline. The same reasoning he uses for divorced and remarried couples is being applied to active homosexuals. I find this reckoning very disturbing. Discipline can be distinguished from doctrine but discipline is always at the service of doctrine. There are doctrinal elements that cannot be ignored. It is contradictory to say that gay acts are sinful and then to value, in any way, homosexuality. It is contradictory to say that marriage is a lifelong institution and that divorce is a sin, while inviting couples to receive Holy Communion who are living in adultery. The truths of Scripture are clear and we must always be at the service of the truth on every level: doctrinally, canonically and pastorally.

The document recognizes that same-sex couples live lives where they render “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” Critics are saying that this is a crack in the door that may one day lead to full acceptance. I would say that this is not the case. The statement is one that reflects the immediate horizontal human condition but says nothing about the vertical supernatural dimension. It is a mere statement of fact that these couples support each other in their day-to-day lives. However, this does not mean that they are in right standing before God. Mortal sin is still mortal sin. I suspect that there are many “nice and pleasant” people who make good neighbors and yet will suffer damnation and hellfire. We are not saved by simply being nice but by being faithful and obedient to God. The Church can relax certain disciplines but she cannot change divine positive law. My fear is that tolerant language might enable or encourage more sinners to remain within their sins. The Church must be a place for saving truth and grace. She should never be an enabler for sinful lifestyles or blasphemous acts like receiving the Eucharist while ill-disposed or in mortal sin. This document does NOT acknowledge the “holiness” of such couples as was suggested in the Huffington Post article by Antonia Blumberg (1/13/14). It simply asks if we might tolerate with passivity and silence the situation of people living in sin.

I cannot buy this application of any “law of graduality.” No matter how slow might be the movement to holiness; the Church should never compromise on the fullness of truth. Confessors can exhibit great understanding and compassion for married couples who use artificial contraception, with the hope that they will eventually come around to the Church’s understanding of human dignity and the full value of the marital act. It is here that I can well appreciate “graduality.” However, this is not the same as cohabitating, adulterous and same-sex couples. They have no right to a shared bed.  In their regard, where there is neither contrition nor amendment of life, absolution must be withheld. Similarly, while they should attend weekly Sunday Mass, they should abstain from taking Holy Communion. The priest will not usually embarrass people in public but he fails his sacerdotal charge if he does not challenge such couples in private.

This law or better yet, theory of graduality was very much the rationale for the “open table” of Anglicanism. It was hoped that this welcoming to receive the Eucharist would draw others into greater unity. Contrastingly, the “closed table” of Catholicism sees Holy Communion as an expression of an ecclesial unity that is already realized. This is representative of the ancient tradition wherein heretics and grievous sinners were denied the sacrament or even excommunicated. The Church’s censure of interdict would also illustrate this posture. One had to be properly disposed and graced to receive the sacrament. Anything less was judged as blasphemous and scandalous. One should not pretend there is a union that is not truly there. This resonates with the current debate about divorced and remarried couples as well as with active homosexuals. We cannot allow a false compassion to tolerate normalization for the sake of public acceptance while the pastoral accommodation is deceptive to the doctrinal truth and the spiritual state of souls before God. We can move away from using pejorative biblical terms like “sodomites” and “adulterers,” but the underlying reality will remain the same. Does this really serve the summons to repent and believe?

If we change the discipline for those in serious sin and the intrinsically disordered, would we not logically have to open up Holy Communion to others (particularly Christians) who might be in ignorance of the full ecclesial reality but who live moral lives? It is a real can of worms and I would prefer to leave it closed. But that is my opinion.

40 Days for Life

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From September 24 through November 2, you’re invited to join other Christians for 40 Days for Life – 40 days of prayer and fasting for an end to abortion.

You’re also invited to stand and peacefully pray during a 40-day vigil in the public right-of-way outside Metropolitan Family Planning, 5915 Greenbelt Road, College Park, MD.

If you’d like more information – and especially if you’d like to volunteer to pray, please contact: Tom Trunk at 240-593-6982 or 40daysforlifeMD@gmail.com.

Visit the website at http://www.40daysforlife.com/collegepark.

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Father Joseph Jenkins, our Council Chaplain and the Pastor of Holy Family Parish was scheduled to lead the Rosary in front of the Greenbelt Abortion Clinic on the first day of the prayer vigils, Wednesday, September 24 at 1:00 PM. He was accompanied by Jim Murry, PGK, PFN. He was joined by other Council Knights, Jimmy Cardano, DGK and Roger Doucet, Fraternal Benefits Advisor. Various others had come from other councils and parishes. People came and left, although numbers swelled into the 20’s at one point. A young woman came over and told us that the happiest day of her life was when she had an abortion and that she did not regret it. We did not debate her but simply let her know that we were praying for the unborn children, including hers, and for the conversion of the hearts and minds of mothers and fathers to the Gospel of Life. It was clear to see that she came over to incite some negative action. Instead, we extended love and prayers. After the Rosary was offered, Father Jenkins offered an extemporaneous prayer, invoking the grace and aid of the Holy Spirit upon the prayer champions for life and for this woman in particular. That she might come to repentance and instead of dispairing when her eyes are opened, that she might find hope in Christ’s mercy. A few people beeped their car horns at us. In the past we have had people shout and gesture obscenities. Our reaction is always non-violence. We hate no one and do not want to hurt anyone.

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Every year when we do this prayer of protest there are women who will also tell us that we made them rethink what they were doing and turn around. Babies are saved. Father Jenkins also made mention of SPIRITUAL ADOPTION and how our prayers are an expression that all children are miracles and wanted. We are Christians proclaiming the Gospel of Life. There is no such thing as a pro-abortion Christianity. We witness to life. The Council Knights and their families were urged to come throughout the month and to offer their prayers and rosaries, both outside the clinic and wherever else they find themselves. We should pray unceasingly against the scourge in our society. Father Jenkins was very defiant and exclaimed, “When the child in the womb is not safe, none of us are safe!”

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The Special Synod Faces Serious Issues

We all know that there are many people who come up for Holy Communion while ill-disposed for the sacrament. This is a deeper question than the plight of divorced-and-remarried Catholics.  There is regular scandal about pro-abortion politicians taking the sacrament.  All hell broke loose when a priest denied the Eucharist to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.  This does not even take into account the many communicants (unknown to the priest) who are ill-disposed by various mortal sins and lack of prayerful preparation.  There is also the question of non-Catholic participation, and their sense of alienation and not being welcome when Holy Communion is distributed.  Given these many scenarios, it seems that part of the special synod must be on the nature of the Eucharist, its reception and how we might deal with the growing tension.

Outside of Mass attendance, the special synod will necessarily have to discuss the evolving changes in the makeup of family units: one-spouse homes, broken families, children raised by grandparents, foster and adoptive parents, families with unmarried couples and illegitimate children and same-sex unions.  There are even bizarre situations, as when I had two women and a man come see me to prepare for the baptism of two children.  One belonged to the man’s wife and the other to his girlfriend or mistress.  They all lived under the same roof.  These things are less and less rare.  They make my head hurt.  How can it be fixed?  Must we live with the messiness?

No Where to Run, the Church & the World

It is argued that the Catholic Church has lost the contraception fight and now must move on. Similarly, I am today hearing the same said about other issues. Pope Francis is asked about homosexuals and he says, “Who am I to judge?” Critics rashly interpret this as a change in the Church’s stance and a leading gay magazine names the Pope as “Man of the Year.” A special synod is called on the family and revisionists suggest a coming change regarding the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics. But the Pope is still Catholic and I think the dissenters are in for a big surprise. It may be that we cannot judge the souls of individuals, but we can make moral distinctions between right and wrong. Those who commit serious sin are not in a proper disposition for the sacraments. The Pope is the servant of the Word, not its master. He cannot invalidate either divine positive law or natural law. Of course, what might happen is that many Catholics will become accustomed to an ever permeating silence— about birth control, about gay relationships, about invalid marriages, and God-forbid, even about the murder of unborn children. Here again with this last point, too many make too much of papal remarks about there being other moral concerns beyond abortion. The fact is the Church is facing conflict from every angle, including the martyrdom of Christians by ISIS swords.

An essential thrust to Vatican II was a dialogue with the world, not so that the Church might be converted to the world but that the world might be more receptive of Christ’s kingdom. Many of us feel that this remains an important mission for the Church. However, critics can rightly point at instances of impotency and weakness toward a hostile world that seems to be more successful than we are at winning hearts and minds. The Church faces a mocking atheistic secular modernity on one hand and a radical militant Islamic extremism on the other. The Church is not only caught in the middle but old friends have changed alliances.

Can the Church engage cultures that feign courtesy when we are on the same side of its agenda but otherwise find ourselves targeted for extinction? Fight against the death penalty for the guilty and we are applauded; but then we are commanded to lay down our arms in the battle against aborting children and euthanizing the sick and elderly. The bishops are praised for supporting healthcare but condemned for not wanting to provide free contraception and abortifacients. The Church was once rendered accolades for her orphanages and adoption services; but today is shut down for refusing adoptions to homosexuals and lesbians. The Islamic world once protected Christian minorities, and utilized them in government and in schools of higher learning; after all, they were the one minority that was so small it would never be a threat to the ruling powers. But today, fanatics will not rest until every drop of Christian blood is spilt or the men are converted. From the Islamic East to the Secular West, there is nowhere to run and no place to hide. It is for this reason that I fear silence. Peace today will only lead to worse wars tomorrow. Silence will be interpreted as assent, or worse still, retreat.

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?