Working with many young people as a priest, I began to recognize that many of them really desire community. In a very individualistic and egotistical world, many have become tired and wearied of the self-centeredness of empty promises, hurtful manipulations, and temporary pleasures. Many look for a community where they can truly open up, be loved and accepted, especially one that is willing to help them grow and mature. Even though some are not fully committed to this reality, this is what they really want from the depth of their heart. Therefore, I believe we can do much better with our young adult ministry when we recognize this foundational human desire and become the Church that is able to journey and help people grow in their faith and their identity in Christ Jesus.
I believe in order to achieve this goal, we need to be patient. Not everyone comes to us will be perfect or as we like them to be. As human beings, we often time expect that people are similar-minded or be like us when we gather together. Nevertheless, as a society, and much more as the Church, we have to recognize that we come from different backgrounds, cultures, families of origins, and walks of life. We are called together as one through the power and working of the Holy Spirit as to know of our Heavenly Father‘s love for us who gave us His own begotten Son, and the power of Christ‘s self-sacrificial love for humanity on the Cross and in the Eucharist. Sometimes we equate unity with uniformity, expecting everyone to be the same as us or with a model of the Church that we like the most. Yet, even Saint Paul talked much about discerning the unique and diverse gifts given to members of the Mystical Body of Christ because each of us is an integral part of the one Body.
We are broken people, earthen vessels, yet the Lord chose to dwell us in and we hold within ourselves the beautiful and sacred mystery of Christ‘s loving redemption and salvation for the world. We are all sinners, and none of us are perfect, therefore it is important to know that we are called to bear one another’s burdens as well learning to sanctify each other through faith, hope, and love. This is hard because this is where most of our contentions and divisions come into play. We often time let our humanity and our ego get in the way of letting God bringing into fulfillment what He has begun in each and every one. We often let our pride and our myopic vision stopping us from seeing His grander plan as well as to trust in the mysterious power of His divine providence because we think we know better than He who created the universe and formed our hearts. We often stop His divine providence because we want things our way and have control over what we like things to be. We often end up imposing our will and dictate how the Church should be instead of allowing ourselves to be instrumental, in communion with one another, and working together for the salvation of the world.
This is where discernment comes in. It is also where trust comes in, as well as patience and forgiveness. We will make mistakes, and sometimes the leadership will not get it right, but we know that if we trust and allow ourselves to be grounded in the Lord through the Sacred Scriptures and Holy Tradition, through prayers and self-abandonment, we become subordinate and instrumental to His will instead of asking Him to let our will be done. We have to recognize that we have done a much better job in creating divisions or impositions of this or that way than to seek true unity of spirits and gifts, build up the communion of the saints, and be parts of the Mystical Body of Christ.
This sense of communion is important because we are created and yearn for community. As a matter of fact, many atheists and agnostics begin to build pseudo-spiritual communities as a way to gather and be in the presence of one another. However, as Christians, we are much more than that! We are the people of faith and grounded in Christ Jesus. We come together to help each other grow and seek our true identity as sons and daughters of God, through the love experienced in the Lord, and the working of His Spirit present in us. The Church is the community of loving relationships in the reflection of the Trinitarian love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who gives to one another fullest, self-giving, and unconditional love. We are called to love because our God is love! This is the only love that will unite, change hearts, and help us be respectful of one another when we fail to imitate and reflect the true love of God in our very lives. If we lose our focus on the divine, we become a self-serving community and are prone to division, manipulation, and the imposition of (stronger) wills upon one another.
To be in community requires a certain sacrifice and willingness to let go of our own personal demands and expectations in order to be in the present and work with other people. To be in community requires collaboration and well as respectful discernment as — even at times, a sacrifice — to listen and to work with others even when we do not get what we want or what might be the most beneficial for us. It is sacrificial because it requires us to let go of our own will, ego, and pride, to accept other people and their brokenness, especially to accept imperfections and hurts in the midst of all the dealings and relationships. It takes trust in divine providence to allow God to be at work in the midst of many (creative) tensions and differences in thoughts, personalities, and ideas. It takes humility to respect and accept those who are around us, believing that God is working through them in similar ways that He is present in our own lives.
I found in my own encounters and opportunities working with young people that we have to be patient in allowing them to grow and make mistakes. Too often, there is a temptation that we want to “fix” the problems right away. We often end up imposing our will and our expectations on them now. We think that they need to see the world, look at life, and think like us. Yet, we have oftentimes ended up constricting them and not allowing them to experience and learn wisdom through the ups and downs of life. We have, too many times, forgotten that we made mistakes in the past and we had to learn from the school of life itself. It takes patience because, where we are today took a while to get to, what we believe today took many trials and hardships to be tested and tried, who we are today took a long time to develop and understood from our relationship with God and His Church. It is very easy that we want the young people — with good intentions — to be like us, yet all have to go through their own journey to discover, embrace, and appreciate their faith and what it means to believe. Each and every one of us differ in our own speed and journey of faith, yet it is important that we remember to be present and supportive of those who are still seeking, questioning, or lost for the moment.
We are called to help one another with patience and charity so that the love of God is enlivened and present in our midst. Pope Francis often uses the word “accompaniment” to express this invitation. It takes much efforts to truly help each other grow instead of the immediate expectation that one should “get it” right away. It takes maturity of faith and love for wisdom, not simply treating people like a computer or robot, or to expect and demand of them in unrealistic ways. We all need time and room to grow. Even though we have a communal vision and mission, we should also have enough willingness to meet people where they are individually, to discern and support with truth in charity to help them become what Christ calls them to be. This is both the communal and personal care of souls that we need to not lose focus in the Church, else we will just become project-based or keeping things institutionally but disconnected from one another on a very human and personal level.
Furthermore, we have to be people who put our faith into action, not just showing up to Church, attend Mass, and go home. Our young people see that and they are not impressed! When we treat our lives of faith like an obligation and an item list, they see that, and sooner or later will emulate and treat it like what they have seen. Unfortunately, we have seen the results of that privatization and disinterest in faith in our young people because they saw their elders just show up and go home, and with time, become disinterested and not impressed because they do not see the life of faith being enlivened and practiced with conviction. For too many parents, it is so easy to drop off their children at Religious Education classes and run errands. They have not taken the personal interest in becoming educators and formators of faith for their children. There are disinterest and disconnection in the life of faith so children treat faith, just like their parents, as something to do and burdensome at times. When they get nothing nourishing and connected with the life of faith, there is nothing that will keep them interested when they get older. It is, then, easier to do and achieve what they want to do instead of worrying about going to Church since there is no integration or incentive to do in life or at home.
As a parish priest, I try to invite and focus my parish’s mission based on three integral principles: faith, community, and service. These three have to go hand in hand with one another. How we live our faith has to be nourished within the community of the Church. How we care for one another and serve each other will impact our community and faith as the Mystical Body of Christ. Our community nourishes us, gives us a home, but also at the same time, should move us to the service of our greater community and by allowing our faith to be enlivened at home and in everyday life. It is important to remember that our service and our community, however, mean nothing unless it is nourished in faith, especially how we come together for the Eucharist and our prayer life. Faith, community, and service are the three legs of the stool that make us who we are at the Church, giving us life, uniting us together as brothers and sisters, and let our beliefs be put into genuine and humble service of those who are around us.
This mission and vision of who we are as the Church and community of faith take much more than showing up for Mass then go home. It requires a personal and communal commitment to recognize, just like early Christians, that what we received at Mass in worship needs to be put in service of our brothers and sisters, especially those who are are less fortunate and forgotten so that the Eucharistic gift received is enlivened. It is a great reminder that as we received the Body and Blood of Christ, we become who we have received for others.
True faith strengthens our community and sense of service. The community is founded on how we genuinely pray and worship together and by how we serve those who are around us. Our heartfelt service is strengthened and nourished by much more than sentimental or emotional feel-good’s because it is grounded in our faith in Christ Jesus and our communal identity as the Church. If we know who we are, nothing should keep us from living the life of faith in communion with one another and in the service of those around us. True faith helps us recognize that we are not just busybodies or a community of people gathering together to do something, but we are parts of the one Body. We are called to care — in genuine humility — for those who are connected to us in Christ so that no parts are left behind or forgotten nor that one or more parts get honored than others. This is who we are when we are able to live and radiate our faith in true service and as people of the Church than just showing up for Mass.
Therefore, let us try our best to be the Church that truly live and care for one another as to be the living example of faith, hope, and love for those who are seeking Christ. In the midst of many things that try to pull our young people everywhere, may we learn to be patient in faith, hopeful and trusting in His divine providence, and loving in our practice of true charity. All over the world, parts of the Church that are growing the fastest and firmly are parts that are true to her mission to evangelize, live out their faith with commitment, and serve those who are around with Christian cares. The parts of the world where the Church is dying happen to be places where people are no longer interested in the Church‘s mission to let faith be enlivened outside of Mass, appreciate their community of faith, and lack the service of others. We die as the Church when we only expect things to be handed to us without the true gift of ourselves to others. We lack the true mission and purpose of the Gospel when we only want things to motivate or inspirational without personalizing, appreciating, and embracing the call to service in faith. We can be the Church of patience, compassion, and respect, but also at the same time, of true faith, community, and service. I believe we can do it and this is what our young people are yearning for! If we can live our faith out loud and be committed to our call of discipleship, we will set the world on fire. Even though it is hard and not an easy mission, we can do it if we allow our faith, hope, and charity to be an integral part of who we are as the Church and members of His Mystical Body. This is the Church and the community of faith that many people yearn for, especially our young people, so let us try our best to live out the mission given to us so that we are proud to be disciples of Christ, brothers and sisters in our Heavenly Father, and instruments of love by the power and working of the Holy Spirit.