July 25, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

How is the Holy Spirit calling us to evangelize the young Church?

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinFor the next six weeks, I plan to offer some reflections on the question I have been asking since I arrived here in central and southern Indiana more than 18 months ago: “Where is the Holy Spirit calling us to open doors in our archdiocese?”

Many people have shared their ideas, hopes and concerns with me in response to this question. As a result, I have identified six areas that have frequently presented themselves to me as “doors” that need to be opened as we journey together in our pilgrimage of faith, hope and love.

The first “door” that I have repeatedly encountered as I pose this question in all regions of southern and central Indiana is “evangelizing the young Church.” How is the Holy Spirit calling us to be more enthusiastic and effective in our efforts to engage young people in the Church’s mission and ministries?

There is immense competition for the time and attention of the young, and we adult Catholics often seem to be clueless about how to share our faith with younger generations in ways that will stir them to join us in the work we were given to do by our Lord: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19–20).

What can we do to open the door to what Pope Francis calls “missionary discipleship” for our young sisters and brothers who are not simply the Church of the future but, really and truly, the Church of today? How can we who are adults be both models and mentors for the members of the young Church? Even more important, how can we encourage and allow young people to encourage and give witness to us?

I think we need to start by recognizing that much vitality—and holiness—exists in the young Church in our archdiocese. I have had the privilege of meeting with many young people who are involved in ministry in their parishes, high schools and college campuses. I have also encountered young adults who participate actively in the life of the Church, and who seek new opportunities to grow in their faith and serve others. We should celebrate the faith of this vibrant young Church while we look for opportunities to strengthen and grow it.

So, beginning from a position of strength and hope, what is the Holy Spirit calling us to do? I want to offer some general ideas with the full knowledge that the specific, practical implications need to be worked out in greater detail in our pastoral planning at all levels.

First, I believe that the Holy Spirit is challenging us to make evangelizing our youths and young adults a real priority. This has resource implications for all of us.

It challenges us to invest the time, effort and money that is necessary to reach out to young people, speak to them in their own languages and cultural diversity, welcome them into the life and ministries of our Church, and identify places where young people gather such as the workplace, shopping areas, health clubs, campuses, athletic fields, and civic associations, and find appropriate ways to be present at these places of gathering.

Second, once the invitations are extended, it is important to match skills and talents with the needs of the community and to have a plan for follow-up.

Instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes by requiring young people to find space for themselves in the existing ministries of the parish, school or archdiocese, let’s help young people discern their gifts. Let’s ask them where and how they would like to participate in Church ministry. And let’s make sure we provide room for the Holy Spirit to guide and direct young people in discerning their gifts and in sharing their talents with others.

Finally, let’s work hard to make sure that our liturgy, our faith formation programs and our service opportunities are “youth sensitive.” This doesn’t mean that everything should be geared exclusively to the young, but that the needs and concerns of the young Church are anticipated, and where possible addressed, in everything that the Church does as part of its evangelizing mission.

If we truly make evangelizing the young Church a priority, the Holy Spirit will do his part—renewing, inspiring and sanctifying our poor efforts to invite and engage our younger brothers and sisters in the mission and ministries of his Church! †

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