Often young people think they have no role in the church.
They lack confidence and vigor. They think they have nothing to add to the conversation.
Often when training young people to give retreats to other young people I run up against the refusal of many young people particpating as team leaders because they think they are simply not good enough.
This past week, I was speaking to the recently ordained priests of the Diocese of Boise. They were all for the most part--young men...mostly in their 30s and 40s--which is young these days for a priest. And more importantly, they were for me signs of young leadership in the church. But even they, at times, lacked the confidence that they felt they should have.
This seems to be an age-old phenomenon as Paul writes to Timothy in the first reading today...”Let no one have contempt for your youth.”
The big mistake that many older people make about younger people--in a spiritual sense--is that while it may be true that younger people are less experienced, perhaps less catechized in the faith and maybe even less likely to attend mass even...we then assume that it means that they have NO spiritual experience.
Let me tell you about just two young people who have inspired me...during my time here at BustedHalo....
Lisa was sexually abused on a date as a young woman. Deep down she knew and wanted to believe that God indeed did not abandon her but had a hard time finding God at work in her life. After much prayer and some spiritual direction, Lisa was able to realize that while what happened to her was horrible and it should never happen to anyone, God was there helping her get past the horror of that moment, living with her in her pain and sorrow and bringing her into healing--through friends, through parents, through doctors and counselors.
This “spiritual” experience if you will...led Lisa to counsel other rape victims. Led her to share her story on our retreats as one of the most powerful examples of someone who worked very hard to find God’s presence in her life and who now brings that healing presence to the lives of others.
Our second story comes from someone much younger...a four year old child named Elvira in an orphanage in Nicaragua. Elvira can’t talk, can’t use her arms or legs much and has the prettiest smile you’d ever hope to see. On my most recent visit to Nicaragua, I sat in the chapel with her and realized that I really had nothing to give to this child. I couldn’t cure her, I couldn’t communicate to her, I could only love her. The same was true for Elvira...she had nothing that we normally would say was valuable that she could give to me. She couldn’t even play or tell me a joke as many children that I normally encounter do often with me.
But there in the slums of Nicaragua was lying the answer to the great spiritual questions of the day--What do we all really need? And the truth is that all Elvira wanted was love and all she could give back to me was the same. She loved to be held and snuggled and picked up high in the air. She loved to just sit and rock and maybe listen to a song or two. And the time I spent with Elvira, knowing that God was more than enough for both of us...sitting in the God’s presence and feeling so connected to something beyond words, beyond even consciousness was the most profound moment of my own spiritual life.
And it was taught to me by a 4 year old.
So to the young priests of Idaho and the young amongst us listening on podcast --you have much to offer, much spiritual experience to share. Go now and reflect on where God is really working in your lives...and share that experience with others.
And remember the words of Paul.... Let no one have contempt for your youth.
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.