By Most Rev. Gerald R. Barnes
We are in the time of year marked by confirmations, graduations and summer vacations.
So it seems as appropriate a time as any to reflect on our youth and how we are called to minister to and with them.
What does the Lord Jesus tell us about the place of children and young people in God’s kingdom?
He is asked by his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
His response speaks volumes. He calls a child into their midst and says “…unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Let us ponder what this very powerful statement means. What are the qualities of a child that are so befitting of God’s kingdom, that Jesus seems to be implying that the grownups do not have?
Is it their unguarded faith and trust in those who care for them? The Lord calls us to put that kind of trust in Him. Is it a child’s sense of wonderment; that ability to live so easily in the moment and thus recognize God’s hand at work in their life? Is it their tendency to view things first through the eye of justice and charity without the filter of self-consciousness?
At the same time, the scriptures tell us that there is a role for us “grownups” in teaching and forming the young in their faith. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6).
As I have traveled throughout the Diocese these past six weeks to Confirm thousands of youth as fully initiated in our faith, it strikes me that they have done well in learning through our formal religious education programs. But our work in forming and accompanying them is far from over. What awaits them now in their parish? Who is with them as they discern a call to ministry?
Likewise with graduating students in our schools, we tend to send them off to the next level and figure that they have all they need. For them, it is time of reflection and questioning. This was so clear to me in recent months as I had the occasion of visiting with graduating seniors from our three Catholic high schools after celebrating Mass with them. They spoke of the values they had learned at their school, but they also asked me what values I thought would be most important for them to carry into the next leg of their journey.
They have learned enough and experienced enough to ask the important questions. They have something to give. Yet, they also need you and me to remain with them on their journey.
Our Universal Church will be looking at the issue of how to engage “youth” in the next Synod of Bishops. Our Diocese is participating in this first by surveying youth and those who minister with them this month and next. This is a blessed opportunity for our Church to learn more about the valuable perspective of our Catholic youth, perhaps to remember what Jesus meant when He said that we should “become like children.” It is also a chance for us to understand how we can best empower our young people as they grow into ministry roles in our communities of faith.
If you are a youth or young adult, or someone who is involved in a youth-related ministry, I urge you to participate in this survey. It can be accessed directly from our Diocesan web site. And more generally, if you are an adult I ask you;
How can your parish best support your youth?
What do you have to accompany them after they are confirmed?
How can you best model for them the Joy of the Gospel?
Share your thoughts with your families and fellow parishioners. Let us walk together with our young people to the Lord.
I offer my prayers for a summer that allows you time for rest, reflection and time with family and friends. Let us give thanks to God for this Sabbath time and for the many ways that He blesses our lives.