Young People and Faith – Lenten Reflection – Week 5
Once St Patrick’s Day is over, I pack my bags and head out on the road to begin Confirmation in parishes all over the Diocese. Over the past few days, as I travel around South Roscommon, the fields are dotted with new-born lambs, in among the watchful ewes. They are just one of the more obvious signs of the constant renewal that is going on in the world of nature.
In some of the parishes I have visited for Confirmation, I have found newly trained altar servers. Like the lambs, they represent the new beginnings, which have been slow in coming, after the recent pandemic, when so many things were put on hold. Children, I am absolutely convinced, were never intended to be spectators. They are so confident and so much at home in the public space. They need to be actively involved in the life of the Church, as they are in sport and music and so many other things.
The Gospels tell us about how people were bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them, but the disciples wanted to send them away. “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’.” (Mk.10). The challenge for the Church today is that the participation of children still depends on adults who will, quite literally, “bring them to Jesus”, and on other adults who will create possibilities for them to be involved. Those adults are you and me.
People of faith often worry that so few children and young adults are to be seen at Sunday Mass. I worry about it myself, because that is how my own faith was nourished as a child and as a young man. I am open to the suggestion, however, that people can only make sense of the Eucharist if they have some kind of relationship with Jesus. This is especially the case for young people today because those who do come to Mass find themselves somewhat isolated in a congregation where there are so few people of their own age. When I was a child, we didn’t only go to Mass, we were introduced to Jesus by our parents and taught to pray. Perhaps it is only when we have invited young people into a relationship with Jesus that we can expect them to appreciate the meaning of Christian community and Eucharist.
Some weeks back, we had a very interesting conversation with a mixed group of parents and young adults about how the Diocese could support young people to grow in faith and to use their many gifts in the service of God. One view that was very strongly expressed by a number of young adults was that young people themselves are best placed to encourage the engagement of other young people.
You have heard of peer-pressure in the negative sense. But what these young people were talking about was the positive influence of young people on other young people. We see this in a particular way in the extraordinary influence of many young saints of the twentieth century, who have proved inspirational to people of their own generation. One of these was Carlo Acutis, who was born in London in 1991 and who had a keen interest in sports and computers. Alongside that, he had a deep devotion to the Eucharist and was very courageous in supporting other young people who suffered because of bullying. He also showed great courage and good humour in the face of serious illness. He was declared “blessed” by Pope Francis in 2020. He is one of many young saints in the Church.
One thing is quite certain. If we create spaces in our parish communities and in our Diocese for young people to be nourished and to be involved, we will have mature adult Catholics in the future. If not, we will simply have people who, once upon a time, were Baptised, but have no real sense of what that means.
I would be delighted to sit down and spend some time with any group of young people, anywhere in our Diocese, who would like to talk about Jesus, or about their faith, or about the challenges they experience in their lives. I want to see a new Springtime in our Church. This is an open invitation.
22nd March 2023