“The Church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity
and the joy that is so characteristic of you.”
— Pope Francis, Homily, World Youth Day, July 28, 2013
Recalling these words of Pope Francis at World Youth Day seemed an appropriate way to begin an article about youth and young adults, the topic for this week’s Catholic Sun article.
Who are our youth and young adults? I know teenagers and “twenty-somethings” are often called Generation Y or the Millennial Generation, people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. But a quick search on Google provided me with more information and a number of millennial characteristics. Millennials are described as multi-taskers, connected and tech-savvy. They value collaboration and transparency. Career advancement and finding a balance between work and their personal life is important to them.
Millennials know about and depend upon social media. Whether they are walking down the street, sitting in their own home, at school or work, they are connected to others through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This is the way they reach out to others. This is how they get and share information. This has a practical application for us as we reach out to our youth and young adults with the message of Jesus. If we want youth and young people to know about their faith we need to communicate through social media. An evangelizer is one who scatters the seed of God’s word. We may not know if the seed falls on fertile or hostile ground. But the possibility exists that a word or message rooted in the Gospel will touch someone’s heart. Young people are more likely to receive the message if we use social media.
On another level, however, the millennials’ need to be connected speaks to the deeper aspirations of their hearts. Our Christian faith is about being connected with God and with others. It is the story of God stepping out of His mystery and revealing Himself to us through his Son. It is about a family of faith whose members reach out in love to one another, especially the most vulnerable. It is about developing a personal relationship with Christ, following Him and accepting His way of life. It is about finding one’s home in Christ and abiding with Him.
In our ministry with the young, we would do well to acknowledge their desire to be connected with others and to use this desire to expose them to the personal nature of our faith, rooted in Christ. This provides us with a great opportunity to talk about what being connected with another person requires in terms of personal time and sacrifice. It casts the desire to collaborate and build friendships within the Christian perspective of community. In the light of the Gospel, collaboration becomes more than teamwork and cooperation. It fosters relationships which build up community, each person using personal gifts and abilities for the sake of others.
Pope Francis has been tweeting messages of mercy, love and peace to millions of people. His messages are laden with Gospel themes, most often involving mercy and forgiveness. While the power of social media is formidable, it is only as effective as the sender. Effective evangelization calls for person-to-person contact. Pope Francis precedes and follows up his Twitter feed with poignant person-to-person encounters. He sets a good example for us.
We have a responsibility to pass on our faith to our youth and young adults. But they too have a responsibility to evangelize. When we think of youth and young adults we often consider what their future contribution to the Church and society will be and may forget that right now the Church needs them and their witness to the Gospel.
Pope Francis told the youth gathered in Brazil this past July to go make disciples, to share their experience of the faith with others. He encouraged them to bring the Gospel to the people they meet, whether they be their neighbors or complete strangers. “Being a disciple means being ready to bring the love of Jesus to others and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (The Joy of the Gospel, #127).
I offer the same challenge to our youth and young people: do not be afraid to follow Jesus and to live your faith. When you go out to proclaim the Gospel He goes with you. Let the witness of your life bring others to the Jesus. “Jesus is counting on you! The Church is counting on you. Go and make disciples” (Homily, World Youth Day, July 28, 2013).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.