November 6, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

A vibrant young Church renews us all

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Decisions that young people make today about their faith make a real difference—in their personal lives, in their family circumstances and in the way they live in the world. We can’t afford to let our young people drift away from the practice of their faith in the hopes that they’ll come back someday when they’re older and have families of their own. Too much is at stake. Someone has to be Christ for them. Someone has to speak his words of invitation to discipleship and to a personal relationship with him. This is what “youth ministry” is all about.

The responsibility for youth ministry begins in the family, but it is shared by the entire Church—parishes, schools and the archdiocese’s youth and young adult ministry programs. All of us have a serious obligation to make sure that young people are being introduced to the person of Christ through their participation in the sacraments, through their religious instruction, through fellowship and through engagement in outreach to the wider community. Parish communities throughout central and southern Indiana, supported by archdiocesan ministries, assist parents and youth ministers in carrying out this serious responsibility.

What is the greatest challenge young people face today? I think it is our contemporary culture—the world and what it offers all of us, but especially the young. Advertising and the entertainment media teach young people to consume and promise immediate gratification. Young people may find some sort of pleasure, but it soon fades away, leaving them feeling empty and alone. Then the siren song of consumerism tells them that they don’t have enough—stuff, relationships, “likes” on their Facebook page—whatever. The cycle begins again.

What Christ has to offer is freedom. He doesn’t say to us that our earthly possessions, physical appearance or circle of friends matter. Instead, Christ says that we matter. The Gospel constantly reminds us that our earthly possessions don’t make us who we are. God created us perfectly; we are made in God’s own image. But we allow ourselves to be consumed by our “stuff,” and this prevents us from being who we are perfectly created to be. Only by developing a personal relationship with Christ, and living as he lived over the course of a whole lifetime, can we be really free to reach our full potential as human persons.

Youth ministry is essential to the evangelizing mission of the Church. By building strong relationships with young people, by letting them know that they are welcome and needed, and by encouraging them to develop a personal relationship with Christ, parishes help parents carry out the work of evangelization. Prayer and worship, Mass and the sacraments are not old-fashioned in spite of the fact that they connect us with traditions that date back many thousands of years to the early Church and the faith of our Jewish sisters and brothers. The prayers we say, especially in the Eucharist, are both ancient and ever-new. We need to remind our youth frequently: You matter! Come to Mass! It’s important. That’s where we meet Christ face to face in word and sacrament. To stay away is to risk “spiritual anorexia.”

Sharing Christ with the young Church is also where we most effectively promote vocations—to the priesthood and diaconate, to consecrated life, to marriage and to the dedicated single life. Parish youth ministers help members of the young Church better understand God’s personal call, and they help teens begin to discern their life’s vocation in a safe environment. By inviting members of the young Church to grow in their relationships with Christ and his Church, parish youth ministers share their own faith and help hand on the Gospel to those who are called to be our leaders and faithful parishioners—both in the years to come and right now!

Prayer is the most powerful means of support that we can give to members of the young Church. As individuals, families, parish and school communities, and as an archdiocese, we must remember to pray each day for those who work with our children, youth and young adults. Our prayer helps them to stay positive and energetic in spite of the obstacles posed by our culture and, sometimes, by our Church. Our prayer for vocations to ordained ministry, consecrated life and lay ministry encourages gifted men and women to respond generously to Christ’s call.

Another way we can support youth ministers is by our encouragement and support. As human beings, we’re often quick to criticize but slow to offer praise. Let’s overcome our shyness and speak out whenever we see good things happening on behalf of our young Church. Let’s remember to recognize and thank all the dedicated youth ministers, teachers, parish and school staffs. Let’s make sure that all who work with children, youth and young adults in our archdiocese get the encouragement and support they need to continue this vitally important work of evangelization.

Decisions that young people make today often have lifelong consequences. It’s important that the Church is present for them in significant ways. Let’s say a special word of thanks to all who serve in youth ministries for their faithful stewardship of our young Church! †

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