Reaching Out to Young People
The statistics aren’t good. Our young people are leaving the faith. In fact, recent reports say that nearly 80% of young people will leave the Church by age 23. (See Taylor Marshall’s recent post.) Those who stay interested in faith, tend to join Protestant or evangelical churches.
We know that this means we must pray fervently for fallen away Catholics. When we give this situation over to God, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will work on those souls. Some will surely return to the Church later in life.
But just because God is in charge and He can and will continue to work on the souls of all those who have been baptized, this truth does NOT mean we in the Church can abdicate all responsibility for what is happening! We need to look at the “why” and what can be done to be better at passing on the spark and fanning the flame of faith in our young people.
I look around and see that many teenagers aren’t attending Mass regularly. I hear them complain about the catechism programs that are dry and uninspired (they simply endure because they are required by their parents). I see that some of our Churches do not offer opportunities for young peoples’ hearts to be opened through service opportunities or during retreats.
In the meantime, there are Protestant churches that require kids to memorize Bible passages. They challenge young people to deep study while also providing engaging, heart-opening opportunities. By the witness, passion and love that the young people see in adults they begin to see how they too can develop a relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior. They are forming communities of young people who encourage each other. The local evangelical church here sent kids and adults on intensive mission trips over the summer. They have challenged those kids to bring the words “Jesus loves you. He cares and so do I” into the public schools.
Meanwhile, Catholics seem to have bowed to the state and so Catholic kids never mention Jesus in public. Catholic teachers at the public schools don’t mention virtue or the Jesus of history, or the need for a moment of silence to pray in whatever way the children desire. We don’t speak out on issues to give a Catholic perspective.
Catholics have relegated faith to a Sunday activity. Faith has been separated from life. And the problem is that a dry, “one hour a week” religion is not a very meaningful one.
I want to sound a wake-up call. Here are some things that need to change:
1) From what I can see, our Catholic youth haven’t been given the tools they need to defend the faith in a crazy world. That is one of the reasons they stay quiet. “Best not to rock the boat because someone might say ‘why do you believe that?’” Our catechism programs need to include lessons in “How to Defend Morals and Faith in the Modern World.” The programs need to include memorizing some Scripture. The programs need to include deep prayer and community building activities. The programs must include opportunities for meaningful service and retreats for deeper reflection.
But, you may say, we as individual parents don’t have any influence. Well, we can speak up. We can volunteer and learn about being catechists. We can write letters to area bishops.
2) As adults we must be a light for young people. They need to see commitment, service, deep prayer and ….joy! We need to become, once again, welcoming communities of love. We need to do more than attend funerals in order to show support for others. Every Sunday there should be greeters and fellowship and prayer time for special requests.
3) Our youth ministers need to understand the issues facing young people and then, recognize that our Church can offer the antidote! That’s cause for joy and celebration, isn’t it?! We have the fullness of truth!
Rather than going along with cell phone distractions, raucous music and quick shifting screen images, we have a classical repertoire to choose from. How about requiring memorizing—that will help their fragmentation and inability to focus. Let’s use classical devotions such as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with inspiring speakers before and after. Let’s use classical beauty such as sacred music and reflections on sacred art, combined with opportunities to make their own religious artwork. Let’s use classical fellowship by offering a time and place where teens can step away from all the chaos and have time for silence. These things can be offered with joy and creativity as well as with devotion.
Teenagers are filled with emotion and have trouble bringing the head and heart to work in unison. That is why they need inspirational experiences that will make them cry, as well as historical materials that will give them a solid background in why we believe as we do.
There is no excuse for continuing to neglect our young people in their special needs. The modern world is assaulting them with shameful propaganda that strips away their faith. We must offer appropriate responses.
Here’s my AD: There is an intensive “rock solid” faith study program for kids and adults is available at www.catechismclass.com. Disclaimer: I write for them so I feel passionate about it. But I also know that the materials are traditional, comprehensive and well formatted with a seven step approach that works for home study and parish study.
Other things we can do:
Pray. Give kids sacramentals to wear or carry. Be an example of courage by standing up for our faith. Study apologetics and leave materials around for kids to read. Then pray some more!
Copyright 2013 Judith Costello