Tag Archives: youth

Why We Care About Marriage (Part 1)

12 Aug

bride-and-groom-768594_640June 28, 2003, was one of the most joyful and significant days of my life as it was the day I married my wife, Libby.

We were planning to work full-time together as youth ministers in the same large, suburban parish in the Twin Cities, and this was part of the excitement as we headed toward our wedding day. Our mindset was, “Not only will we be missionaries for Christ bringing the good news of His love to teens, but we will be doing it together as married missionaries!  What could be better?!”

During our engagement, like many couples marrying in the Church, we met several times with our pastor. I don’t remember everything he told us, but the one thing I do remember is his telling us that our most important ministry to the youth and other parishioners we were preparing to serve was the ministry of our marriage. We really didn’t have any idea what he meant at the time, even though we took him seriously.  We thought we would run some good programs for teens that would awaken them to their relationship with Christ. But as the first few years of our marriage and youth ministry unfolded, it became clear what our priest was trying to teach us.

Don’t get me wrong, we were qualified and competent youth ministers, but the greatest thing we ever did for our parish community was the witness of our married love for one another in the midst of great suffering. Libby and I faced the great trial of having two of our infant children pass away from a rare genetic disease. Both our son Peter and our daughter Gianna died when they were about three months old, about 18 months apart.  Our sacrament gave us access to limitless grace, and since grace is God’s life within us, it sustained us through that difficult time, giving us the strength to witness to God’s love in the midst of tremendous suffering.  We could not have imagined when we said, “I do,” nor would we have chosen, that our suffering would be the primary witness that Libby and I would proclaim, but yet it was the opportunity we had. Trial can often be the occasion for a wedge to form between couples, but our faith turned us to one another and to the Church in a deeper way than we imagined. Our suffering brought us closer together, and that closeness was a sign to all in the parish of our trust in God and one another.

Let me give a few examples.  Continue reading

A Message to College Students

21 Jan

March for LifeYou are survivors. Millions–and I mean millions–of your peers have been legally slaughtered, the victims of the deadly culture war in which we find ourselves.

At the time of Moses and Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and at the time of Jesus and the Holy Innocents, evil forces resorted to the killing of the young in a futile attempt to thwart God’s saving plan for all of humanity.

But that was then and this is now. This is our time. Even more, it is your time. Our God must have big plans for you. Modern-day popes have described these plans as entailing a “new springtime of faith,” the fruit of a massive “new evangelization” aimed at bringing all men and women to Jesus Christ. This effort, already taking shape throughout the world, has raised Satan’s ire to such a degree that he’s resorting to the same tactics he used in Egypt and in Bethlehem, and once again, they’re not going to work. God’s saving plan will not be frustrated, though it will be opposed, and there will likely be casualties.

I wish that your generation could sit back and comfortably live the good life in Tolkien’s Shire. But I have news for you. We’re at war. Your freedom–not simply political and material but even more your religious and spiritual freedom–is something you’re going to have to claim and fight for, or you may as well start waving your white flag. Don’t let the fact that you can’t see the Enemy fool you. Don’t let the fact that many of your friends are oblivious to this epic conflict discourage you. You have some idea as to what we’re up against. Take up the weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and gird yourself for battle.

To my way of thinking, Satan is attacking your generation largely through his propagation of a secular worldview. What is this worldview saying to you?

Well, the world is telling you that you are disposable. Face it, you’re junk. Aside from your potential classmates and leaders who were legally killed in the womb, the rest of you are valued only for what you do or contribute, and not for who you are. We want only the “perfect kids” who look like Barbie dolls or who have LeBron James’ muscles or Albert Einstein’s intelligence. You’re animals who can’t be expected to exercise self-control, so we cross our fingers and hope you’re “safe.” You’re machines with interchangeable parts that you can cut off, mutilate, adorn, or surgically alter at your whim. When you’re an old dog or your machine-like body gives out, don’t expect us to give you anything but a lethal injection.

I could go on, but the point is that our society doesn’t think much of you. Whether you know it or not, you’re under siege.

But there’s another worldview. It’s the perennial Christian worldview, but it has been articulated with particular poignancy and urgency by the Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

The Church’s message is that you’re masterpieces. You have the spark of the divine in you. You have God-given dignity, which entails both rights and responsibilities. You have been entrusted with dominion over our world. You have been called to a sublime vocation in Christ as God’s own children by adoption. Making the Lord’s words his own, the Pope calls you to cast out into the deep, to step out bravely in faith. He exhorts you not to be afraid. He beckons you to befriend the poor and the marginalized. He tells you that giving your life to Christ is not only radical, but eminently practical if you want life in abundance.

This courageous message of hope, echoed by the last three popes, explains the Church’s appeal to today’s youth, as evidenced by the massive turn out each year at the March for Life in Washington and local events throughout the country. If you subscribe to the world’s view, you are headed toward ruin. But it is not too late for you. Turn back to the Lord now, with all your heart!

And if you already accept the pope’s worldview, that’s great, but not enough. Now is not the time for armchair Christians. Live your Christian convictions with integrity and zeal, knowing that the Lord calls all of us to lead lives worthy of our calling. Life is not only worth living, but it’s worth living well. May God bless you and strengthen for the great work He sets before you!

I originally published this article ten years ago. Three of my daughters–who were 11, 9, and 6 when I wrote the article–are in Washington right now for the March for Life. Please remember them and all our young pilgrims from across the country in your prayers!

Evangelical Discernment, part 2

6 Dec

Pope Francis 3In the second half of chapter two of Evangelii Gaudium (EG 76-109), Pope Francis discusses the challenges to evangelization faced by “pastoral workers”—everyone from bishops to those who perform the humblest and most hidden services in the Church. He begins by acknowledging our shame at the sins of members of the Church yet also affirming the many Christians who have given their lives in service of the Gospel (EG 76).

He then notes that all of us are in some way affected by our culture, and that we are all in need of ongoing support and renewal (EG 77). The Pope calls for a renewed enthusiasm for evangelization, which necessarily involves giving of ourselves to others (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:8). In that regard, he says that a major problem today is an inordinate concern for personal freedom and relaxation (EG 78). Often this entails a spiritual life that is limited to certain religious practices without engaging others and the world. We’re too often focused on ourselves.

Obviously such an approach is self-centered and lacking in fervor. In fact, the Holy Father says that sometimes we go about our business “as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist” (EG 80). Many otherwise well-formed Catholics too often become attached to their own pursuits other than bringing Christ to others.

He says that our Church culture can become obsessed with “free time” (EG 81). He pointedly says that our seeming “unbearable fatigue” is not caused by an excess of activity, but “activity undertaken badly” (EG 82). By this he’s referring to “pastoral acedia,” a form of the deadly sin of sloth, which drains our energy. He warns us not to allow the joy of evangelization to be undermined by the “gray pragmatism” of the daily grind of life in the Church, which results in what he calls a “tomb psychology” that destroys our zeal (EG 83).

Related to this is the Pope’s urgent call not to succumb to the evils around us and grow disillusioned. “Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds” (EG 84). He decries a defeatist attitude that creates disillusioned “sourpusses” (EG 85).  One especially calls to mind the situation in Europe (and here, if we’re not vigilant) where a “desertification” has come about through the attempts in some places to destroy the Christian roots of the people (EG 86). The Pope calls forth people of faith to keep hope alive in today’s spiritual deserts.

Pope Francis is big on the communitarian dimension of our faith. He therefore calls us to overcome suspicion and fear and run the risk of face-to-face encounters with others, unfiltered by the many forms of social media (EG 88). He says today’s lack of interpersonal connection creates a false autonomy that leaves no place for God. He says the challenge today is not so much atheism as it is responding adequately to people’s thirst for God (EG 89).

We do not preach a Gospel of well-being or prosperity that demands nothing of us with regard to others (EG 89-90). We need to create “deep and stable bonds” with others (EG 91) and thereby create what he calls a “mystical fraternity” that enables us to see “the sacred grandeur of our neighbor” (EG 92).

Particularly compelling is the Pope’s discussion of “spiritual worldliness,” in which one hides behind the appearance of piety while really seeking out one’s own glory or well-being (93). This worldliness has two basic forms. One is a purely subjective faith that leads one to become imprisoned in his or her own thoughts (EG 94). The other form entails putting one’s trust in one’s own powers or religious observance, which can easily become elitist.

In all forms of spiritual worldliness, we end up serving ourselves or the Church as institution, without regard for the multitudes who are still thirsting for Christ (EG 95). One who falls into worldliness “would rather be the general of a defeated army than a mere private in a unit which continues to fight” (EG 96). But it’s not all about us. We must strive to have expansive hearts, recognizing that stifling self-centeredness must give way to the “pure air of the Holy Spirit” (EG 97).

Pope Francis reminds us of the need for fraternal communion with one another. When tempted by jealousy, we must keep in mind that we are all in the same boat and headed to the same port (EG 99). It may be difficult for some to accept our invitation to forgiveness, but such reconciliation becomes more attractive when accompanied by the powerful witness of Christian love (EG 100). Rather than be overcome by evil, we should “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21; EG 101).

The Pope concludes this chapter with an array of other challenges facing the Church. He affirms “lay ministry,” but cautions that it must be ordered to a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political, and economic sectors (EG 102). In other words, we need to go out of ourselves, beyond the walls of our parish church.

He affirms the indispensable contribution of women in society and in the Church (EG 103). He reminds us that the ordination of women “is not a question open to discussion” (EG 104), but stresses that sacramental or “hierarchical” power in the Church should be understood in terms of service, not domination. He stresses that our great dignity is rooted in our Baptism, which is accessible to all (EG 104).

He touches upon the need to evangelize and educate young people (perhaps today we too often assume the former and focus exclusively on the latter), and then empower them to exercise greater leadership roles (EG 106). The Holy Father attributes the vocation crisis in many places to a “lack of contagious apostolic fervor” (EG 107). Where communities rediscover their missionary joy and enthusiasm, vocations will come.

The Pope concludes his reflections in this chapter by saying that it’s important to listen to both the elderly and the young (EG 108). The elderly contribute the wisdom of “memory” (tradition) and experience, while the youth contribute a renewed, expansive hope that opens us to the future, offering new directions lest we cling to structures and customs that are no longer life-giving in today’s world.

Commitment Matters

18 Jun

Young men playing gamesI’m very concerned about the direction of many teenage boys today. They seem to lack motivation, focus, and religious sensibility, as they idly pass their time on their iPhones and X-Boxes.

Granted, this is to some extent a perennial issue. Many young men (like me!), after sowing some wild oats, eventually make the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood and accept the responsibilities that come with it.

The present generation of teens has it a little tougher in some ways. Too many are raised without a strong sense of faith and family. They seem to have no mooring, no anchor to draw them back from the pagan society that has enveloped them.

And they have never learned about commitment. Instead, they have been brainwashed by the “anti-commitment” ideology of the culture of death and the entertainment industry.

I have much more than a passing or speculative interest in all this. I am the father of three daughters who are still single. I presume that not all of them will be called to the religious or single life, so I wonder about the “pool” of young men that will be on the scene as I wake up to find that my little girls have one-by-one become young women. After all, this is largely a post-divorce culture. While divorce is the tragic consequence of a commitment gone awry, many young people today (perhaps children of divorce themselves) don’t understand the point of commitment in the first place.

And then there are my young sons, and I wonder how they will navigate through this cultural morass and become men of honor and commitment.

As I completed law school I had a “re-conversion” to the Catholic faith, and I became very serious not only about the practice of the faith, but also about my attempt to live a God-centered, purpose-driven life. Yet even then I occasionally experienced the erratic tendencies of my adolescence. This was especially the case in my vocational discernment as I pursued, in quick succession, a legal career, religious life, and secular priesthood as a seminarian.

But then God put into my heart a love for the woman who would become my wife. Now, over 22 years later, despite my own limitations and sins, He has continued to give me the grace to love and serve Him through my faithful, self-giving love for Maureen.

All vocations in Christ are responses to God’s invitation to enter into an intimate, personal relationship with Him. This is nothing other than an invitation to love. How do we love Christ? How do we authentically love anybody? By giving completely of ourselves: by committing ourselves to the other.

The vocation to love God plays itself out differently in every person. For most of us, it will lead to another invitation—to enter into a marital relationship that reflects the union of Christ with His Church (see Ephesians 5:31-32). For others, it may lead to an invitation to the consecrated life or to the priesthood.

But the point is, love without commitment entails using God and others, not giving of ourselves to them. Without a sense of commitment, we are a culture, as C.S. Lewis would say, of “men without chests.” Without a sense of commitment, all vocations—including the primordial vocation to Christian holiness—fall by the wayside.

The current vocations landscape—and here I refer to the relative dearth of committed Catholic marriages as well as to the shortage of priests and religious—indeed poses serious pastoral challenges to the Church. Yet I think a concerted effort to restore a sense of commitment to today’s youth will go a long way with God’s grace toward fostering a new springtime of vocations in the Church.

One good place to start is by exhorting and equipping parents, teachers, and mentors to devote themselves to the youth, after the pattern of St. Paul: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). When we authentically share the Gospel with the next generation, we are also sharing ourselves, becoming a gift to them.

This of course entails a challenge to the “older generation” to live what we teach. Young people don’t have any use for teachers unless they are first and foremost witnesses. Our own Christian commitment must be continually renewed through the Eucharist and manifested in virtuous lives of service to others.

These brief reflections on Christian commitment also have an obvious application to the goal of Catholic formation. So often the concern is about numbers (how many baptisms, RCIA candidates, seminarians, etc.) or about what catechism series is used or having the most up-to-date catechetical methods and technology aids.

While all those things are important, the goal of all Catholic formation, especially when it comes to youth, must be a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Any so-called “vocation crisis” goes hand-in-hand with a “commitment crisis.” The perennial response of the Church to this challenge, amplified in recent years by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is to introduce young people to the captivating person and life-giving teachings of Christ and let him or her fall in love.

Pope’s Intentions for August

31 Jul

Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of August, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:

  • Prisoners.  That prisoners may be treated with justice and respect for their human dignity.
  • Youth Witness to Christ. That young people, called to follow Christ, may be willing to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

The month of August is also traditionally dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The heart of Mary is venerated–and not adored as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is–because it represents her burning love for Jesus, her virtue, and her deep interior life (cf. Lk. 2:19, 51). Through our devotion to the Immaculate Heart, we pray that we may likewise grow in love and virtue.

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart has received a new impetus over the past century because of the visions given to Lucy Dos Santos, oldest of the visionaries of Fatima, in her convent in Tuy, in Spain, in 1925-26. In the visions, Our Lady asked for the practice of the Five First Saturdays to help make amends for the offenses committed against her heart by the blasphemies and ingratitude of humanity.The practice parallels the devotion of the Nine First Fridays in honor of the Sacred Heart.

On March 25, 1984, in an act that was universal, solemn, public, and collegial, Pope John Paul II consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Living (Room) Stations of the Cross

29 Feb

Many of us may be familiar with “living” Stations of the Cross, in which actors (often high school students or members of the youth group) dramatically reenact Our Lord’s Passion. This can be a very powerful experience for all involved. I also recall the Passion Plays performed by Doug Barry with RADIX, which has come to so parishes around the country.

In addition, during Lent we are accustomed to the Stations of the Cross devotions that typically take place on Friday evenings in our parishes. These celebrations take place all over the world, culminating in the Holy Father’s celebration of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

I’d like to suggest another manner of celebrating the Stations of the Cross, which we do as a family in our own home, or “domestic Church.”

During Lent, we strategically place pictures that depict the 14 Stations of the Cross around our house. Over time and with practice we have figured out the best places to put them. On Fridays during Lent, often with another family joining us, we will have our meatless soup and bread dinner followed by the Stations of the Cross in our home, during which all of us process from one station to the next.

We have collected different Stations of the Cross prayerbooks over the years and have settled on the ones that seem to work best for us and allow for the active engagement of our children. (Click here for more resources on praying the Stations of the Cross with children.)

I’m all for larger celebrations of the Stations of the Cross, but after a busy week of work and school it’s nice to be able to stay home and pray the Stations in a more intimate setting. Plus, it is one further, tangible way to teach our kids that the Christian life isn’t just about what goes on over at the church building. Rather, our own “way of the Cross” is lived each day in the world–and in our homes.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

 

Getting Real About Role Models

7 Feb

Recently I met with a group of other moms, the topic of Tebow Mania came up.  A few of the moms had teenaged sons and they expressed how pleased they were that there was at least one NFL player that they felt their kids could look up to.  Almost in the same breath however was the fear that like so many other figures who seemed promising, Tim would also disappoint.  One mom noted a magazine cover broadcasting Tebow’s new girlfriend, as if the editors were salivating over the next issue when they could either report a nasty breakup or an unplanned pregnancy.

The conversation then turned to all the role models who crashed and burned in the last few years.  Too many sports, entertainment and political figures have hit the papers with a sexual indiscretion, a nasty divorce or a brush with the law.  It is common enough that it has become the bread and butter of certain types of magazines.  It’s no wonder that the moms I was meeting with were a little hesitant to let their sons dive into Tebow Mania!

What is worse is when the fall is one who was supposed to be leading others to God.  How many church communities have lost their faith because a pastor has been caught doing something bad? We Catholics, whose dirty laundry seems magnetically attracted to headlines, are by no means alone in these rare but hurtful instances, but we can feel it more intensely than others.

So, famous people and even our local leaders can seem just poised and ready to disappoint us.  What do we do? Well, I suppose we could choose to live in fear of the next headline, but what kind of life would that be? The fact of the matter is that due to a pesky thing called human freedom, we are all capable of terrible things.  This is what I choose to think of when I these stories break.  It is important that we not get too comfortable in our own piety that we begin to believe that those people over there are big sinners, but I (with all my rosaries and daily Masses and devotionals) am immune.  This is a dangerous frame of mind that I think we can all fall into from time to time.  The fall of others should lead us not to judge a person’s intentions or character (obviously, we can judge the actions as wrong) but to reflect on what we are doing to keep ourselves far away from a similar slippery slope.

I think this is a good lesson for our kids, too.  Continue reading