Pastor's Points: Youth and the Church
In mid-May, research from the Pew Foundation revealed information concerning the number of people coming and going from the Catholic Church. Pew said that for every new convert to Catholicism, six people leave the Church. It also found that without the large number of Hispanic Immigrants to our country, Catholicism in the United States would be in deep decline. This is even with the fact that 35% of Hispanic Catholics are leaving the Church for other religions. We know too that other Christian faiths are losing people as America becomes less Christian, less faith-filled.
So what are we to do with the fact that Church numbers are going down? Sherri Waddell, the author of
Forming Intentional Disciples
, wrote the following in response to the survey:
That the Church must look again, as she has in the past, not to institutions or societal favor but to the power of the Holy Spirit, the redeeming work of Christ, the truth of the apostolic faith, to the deep personal faith of her people, to the fruit of profound prayer and worship, to the intercession of the communion of saints. And to the charisms, vocations, saints, cultural creativity, and mighty deeds that arise out of such faith. The faith that gave birth to the structures and cultures of western Christianity in the first place.
The work of evangelization is never done. We as a Church always have the call before us to “put out into the deep” as the Lord commanded his apostles to do. Rather than seeing the numbers of the Pew survey as something depressing we should see it as an impetus to renew our efforts individually and collectively as a Church to make the gospel more and more relevant to our modern world, especially to young people.
In his homily at the ordination mass for 5 new priests for his diocese on May 16
, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL said this:
…we as Church have a Gospel challenge to face, meet and defeat.
We don’t teach what we believe as well as we should. We rely perhaps too heavily on old methods of communication and put too much reliance on traditional vestige, hierarchy of orders and judgment. We often hide in the clothes of the past as well as some of the ideas of the past, disregarding the fact that to today’s younger generation not only are these things devoid of meaning and anachronistic but also some can suggest tendencies that may not otherwise be present.
Dear brothers, we can basically only choose two paths to our ministry: to cling to a notion of priesthood and ministry and see our older Catholics and ourselves off to eternity, or adapt when possible and stop fighting some of these the new realities. Your generation will never be content with simply embracing a religion that they feel helped their moms and dads but has little meaning and relevance to their own lived experience. They are there, this younger generation of the baptized Catholic, ripe for the picking, when approached with a reasoned,
welcoming ministry, which includes not only we who are ordained, but people like themselves as well, the people of God.
All of us, priests, deacons, consecrated religious, lay staff members, parents, every day parishioners have the task before us to make the gospel known and heard in ways that will renew the faith of our young people and make them want to cling to Catholicism. I am very proud of our efforts at STM to help our young people live and love their faith. The Pew survey serves as a reminder for us to treasure and nurture the gift we have in the youth of our Church. I have never agreed with the saying that youth are “the Church of tomorrow.” That implies that they play no role in the Church of today. Rather, our young people are an intrinsic part of the Church here and now. We have youth who are members of our Pastoral Council. Others serve at the altar, proclaim the Word of God, distribute Holy Communion, lead retreats, share their stories and strive to pass on the faith through service, prayer and love of neighbor as witnessed through the many events sponsored like the annual mission trip with Catholic Heart Work Camp and Vacation Bible School.
While our efforts are admirable, there is still more work to do. We all have a responsibility to pray for, encourage and mentor our young people in the faith so that they see value in the Christian life and hope in times of darkness.
My hope for our efforts at Youth Ministry in this parish is that there will be a desire in our young people to continue to practice and grow in their faith when they go off to college and beyond. Hopefully our partnership with faith-filled parents, the formation we provide and the experiences of the living God in our midst will have a deep impact upon our young Catholics. I pray that we will continue to look to the Holy Spirit for the inspiration and guidance we need as all of us who form the Church of today seek to make our faith real and relevant to all who walk with us along this path of Christian discipleship.
Finally, to the youth of our parish, I share the inspirational words of Pope Francis when he spoke to the young people at World Youth Day in Rio:
Dear Young People: “The Church needs you. Your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you. Go without fear”.
You bring such great joy to our parish. Thank you for being who you are, for the witness you give and for the faith you share. The Church does need you. We need you.