I had the joy this weekend to join about 1,500 young people in our annual City of Saints celebration.
What a weekend! It was just days after World Youth Day concluded in Poland and it felt like we were having our own “world youth day” here the City of the Angels. So much energy and enthusiasm!
When our young people come together you can really see that Jesus Christ is alive and his Church is alive — always young, always being renewed.
Young people are the present and future of the Church. We all know that.
But we also know that passing on the faith to the next generation becomes a greater challenge as our society becomes more secularized and the once-tight networks of Catholic families, neighborhoods, parishes and schools have come apart.
Some are pessimistic about evangelizing our young people. I am not. Just the opposite! I believe young people are the way for the Church and the hope for the new evangelization of our culture.
It is true that research on young adult Catholics should give us cause for deep concern.
There is no question that their attitudes and ideals are shaped by the environment of individualism and relativism we find in our culture and schools — the general “air” that says there is no right or wrong, no true or false, just different opinions and viewpoints and that what matters most is feeling good about ourselves and getting what we want out of life.
Young people are also definitely marked by the disappointments and pains of broken families, infidelity and promises not delivered. This experience is widespread and it means many young people find it hard to trust in permanent things or makes commitments that will last for the whole of their lives.
These are the realities of our times. But they are not destiny.
I think too often researchers and reporters focus on “issues” where young people are supposed to be out-of-step with traditional Church teaching and practice — abortion, homosexuality, sexual relationships outside of marriage.
But the Catholic faith is not a set of “positions” on issues. Faith is the heart’s response to the gift and invitation of Jesus Christ.
At World Youth Day, Pope Francis said, “When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things.”
This is true and true youth ministry begins right there — in bringing people to the encounter with Jesus Christ.
To meet Jesus! To hear him calling our name! To let him touch our heart so we know his love and mercy. This is where everything starts, this is when we truly begin to live. This is the beautiful reality that we need to bring to our young people. From this reality everything else in their lives can grow.
Passing on the faith to the next generation does not mean pandering to them or apologizing or ignoring areas where they might question traditional teachings.
Passing on the faith means walking with our young people them, listening to them, serving with them and always being open to dialogue and conversation.
Young people in every generation are looking for something and someone to give their life to. This was true in the 1900s and it is true in the 2000s.
The challenges may change, but in every time and place the young heart remains open, restless, longing for love, longing for God.
Our young people know there is something missing in the vision of life that is presented to them in our society.
They know there is something more than the sounds and visions, the possessions and pleasures offered to them by a consumer-entertainment culture. They know that happiness is not found by simply choosing a lifestyle or identity from among various superficial options.
Young people have questions that “Siri” can never answer — Why is there evil and innocent suffering? Where do I come from, why am I here? How can I find love, how do I know my life matters?
Jesus Christ is that answer — yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Our task is to inspire young people — to seek Jesus and to find him; to take him as their friend and to follow him, love him and stay with him on the journey of their lives.
And all of us in the Church — families, pastors, parishes, schools — we need to be right there on that journey with our young people. We need to be leading by example, taking Jesus as the way for our lives and the model for how we should live.
Pray for me this week and I will be praying for you.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us to share the joy of faith with our young people, so that they can know that everything is possible when we let Jesus into our lives.