July 11, 2008

Be Our Guest / Erik Vagenius

Young people are today’s Church, not tomorrow’s

Several weeks ago, I made my semi-annual trip to St. Jude Parish in Boca Raton, Fla.

The mission was to speak at an Engaged Encounter. My presentation was titled “Protecting Your Marriage,” which translated was an “Overview of Addiction,” not just substances (alcohol and other drugs), but also process addictions (work, credit cards, shopping).

Due to a scarcity of group leaders, I was asked to stay on to facilitate a group discussion. Little did I realize the enlightenment I was about to experience.

Two questions were posed:

  • What traditions do you want to teach your children?
  • What values do you want to teach your children?

Regarding the first question, the group agreed on the importance of the evening family meal as a priority.

I posed a concern about all the after-school activities, Little League, soccer and Scouting, to name a few.

Several of the participants related that they were heavily involved in extracurricular activities, and rarely did their evening family gathering take a backseat to their schedules.

Their parents had adjusted the dinner hour, but had not scheduled individual meal times. The group consensus was that both could co-exist with a little negotiation and sacrifice on both sides.

I had earlier presented study findings that had stated that the evening family meal was the primary preventative measure for avoiding alcohol and drug use in today’s young people. The second is the young person’s affiliation with a religious community.

Responses to the second question were even more revealing.

Respect was the first value presented.

A first-grade teacher in the group shared how absent this was among many of her students. Disrespect for teachers, authority and fellow students was prevalent.

Those parents who did appear for a requested family interview were generally cooperative and concerned about their children. As expected, many parents were unresponsive to a parent-teacher interview request.

The second value brought up by the group was the need to establish a strong work ethic in their children. Giving their children anything and everything they desired was not a healthy or responsible habit to establish.

The feeling of entitlement was a destructive foundation to form. Making their children earn what they get was paramount to their children’s formation, the group said.

Two other values which were seen as essential for their children were family and religion. The attendees noted gratitude to their parents for these values in their lives as 20- to 30-year-olds embarking on the most important vocation they would ever encounter—marriage and parenting.

While discussing the importance of Church and religion in their lives, many group members stated that they wished they were made to feel more welcome in their parish community. Something as simple as a greeting with a smile when they entered church would be appreciated. It is a challenge to us all as we attempt to keep “building the city of God” among us.

As the 20 minutes came to an end, I shared a few reflections of my experience.

I was astounded by the precious values they had. They seemed to run contrary to the “rugged individualism and goal to succeed at any cost” that the Holy Father had just confronted in his visit.

These wonderful men and women had focused on core Christian values as the heart and soul of their new lives together. I told them that had I sat there with my eyes closed, I would have sworn I was among my peers. I thanked them profusely for what they had given me that Saturday afternoon.

They are indeed our Church of today! They are beacons of hope for our world.

(Erik Vagenius is the founder and director of the Diocese of Palm Beach’s Substance Addiction Ministry (SAM) Office. Following the Diocese of Palm Beach’s model, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis introduced SAM to archdiocesan parishes in 2006. For more information, contact Dan Sarell, director of the archdiocesan Office of Family Ministries, at 317-236-1595 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1595, or e-mail dsarell@archindy.org.)

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