I was running a retreat at a neighboring parish this weekend. It was one of those required one day confirmation retreats that try to give a retreat experience to those last 10% of kids who haven’t done a retreat yet. Nothing wrong with these teens, we love them, and it seems like church may not be the most important thing in their life. I think you get what I am saying.
At the end of the retreat we did a reconciliation service in the beautiful side chapel of the parish. At this parish, the tabernacle was kept in this side chapel, which was great for us; we got to pray before the Blessed Sacrament while preparing or praying through our penances. About 40 minutes into our prayer time, this little old lady comes into the chapel and walks before the tabernacle. She genuflects, takes the tabernacle key from its hiding spot and begins to open the tabernacle.
Honestly, it was a bit of a shock. We had just spent all this time praying to Jesus who was stuck inside his tent, and all of a sudden, the tent flaps were opening and Jesus was coming out. A crazy thing happened next. As I went to kneel, the entire room started moving from their various positions of repose (laying, sitting, leaning), and knelt while Jesus in the Eucharist was removed and moved into the main church in preparation for Mass. It was a moment. There was a palpable change in the room. The whispering teens stopped chatting. The sleeping teens awoke. The teens reading a Bible out of boredom paid attention. Seriously, it was miracle akin to Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection.
I was moved. Here we were on this one day required Confirmation retreat and in the middle of it, when Christ became physically present, the teens responded. They knew something was different and changed their behavior. This gave me unbelievable hope for this next generation of Catholics.
This isn’t the only example I can give in support of hope. We did LockOUT for high school teens and during Mass, without adults, worship aids, or projected words, they nailed all the new translations pieces (we garbled “under my roof” a bit, but it was close). When a teen in our community had a serious hockey accident, literally thousands of teens publically proclaimed their plan to pray for him, and then they went on to pray for the teens who participated in the accident. I know saying they will pray on Facebook and actually doing it are two different things, but the fact that their initial thought was to pray was telling.
I’m not saying this generation of teens is perfect or a bunch of fully baked saints (though, I hope and pray everyday for this). I guess I am seeing hope where most people are seeing hell. What I mean is, I hear a lot of hopeless chatter about the moral, relativistic state of today’s teens. Yes today’s teens (and most adults for that matter) hold a relativistic view of the world. Instead of seeing this as an obstacle to Catholic faith practice, I think we need to be viewing this as openness to the good news about the gospel and the Truth of the Catholic faith. Whereas other generations may have had a natural proclivity to either blindly accept or blindly deny anything and everything that a Pope/Bishop/Priest said, the teens I know are open to hearing what the Church has to say AND they want to know why the church says it. They won’t buy a list of dogmas or moral guidelines just cause some one in a funny hat says so, but they are open to believing them and following them if we, their adults, make a good enough case. Isn’t this the way it should always have been? The result is that once we have made the argument and they make both little and big commitments to Christ, the Church, and the Truth, then they are in and willing to lay down in traffic for their faith. And they are willing to do this because not only do they know what they believe, but they know why.
One last thing, there is a lot more to this conversation. Certainly one could argue that the relativism of teens today makes it near impossible for them grasp the basic concepts of Christianity (absolute truth, law of non-contradiction, etc.), and frankly that reality sucks. Which is why my hope is held not in our teen’s or our abilities, but in the work of the Holy Spirit, the redemption of Christ, and the love of the Father. Kneeling before Jesus in the Eucharist, attending Mass with care, and praying for a friend are merely fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church.
Join me today in thanking God for our teens who want to know Truth and want to know why.
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. – Heb 11:1