It never ceases to amaze me how much we have to learn from the young people we are supposed to teach. Their moments of awe become our moments of “wow”! Their hurts tug at our hearts. When we walk along side them, and allow them to make an experience their own, we have the honor of seeing things through their young, passionate eyes. This is God working where and how He really needs to.
As a Youth Minister, I’ve learned and seen what Christ meant when He said, “become like little children”. He wants us to see God through innocent, hope-filled, awestruck eyes. He wants us to receive the gifts and graces of God with empty, unburdened arms. How can we fully receive all that God has to offer us if our arms are full? How can we be the arms of Christ holding those we minister to if we are carrying unnecessary burdens? When we hand these burdens and worries to the Lord to carry, it allows all of us who do not have arms the size of God’s, to hug in a Divine way!
I love the story of Jesus walking on water. I am not very moved or surprised that God himself could do something like make the water smooth and so that He could walk on top of it. I would expect that kind of awe inspiring thing from Christ. I am surprised, though, that Peter did. Peter has enough trust in Christ to say, “if it’s really you, order me to come out on the water to you.” If it is you, order me to do something unreal, amazing, impossible. Order me.
Next, Peter does something else that teaches us how to honor God. He realizes he’s in over his head, beyond his human ability. He asks for Christ’s help, “save me, Lord”. He doesn’t give up because he fails. He isn’t so embarrassed that he sinks under the water in shame. He honors who Christ is by reaching his hand out and allowing Him to save. He trusts. He allows Christ to be Christ. He accepts his own humanity which allows him to honor Christ’s divinity.
When we reach out to the young people we are trusted to walk with in this same way, we help them to see that it honors God when we take a step out in His presence and when necessary, allow Him to pick us up out of the water. So often, young people feel that the Church is full of perfect people- people who cruise easily along the surface of a smooth lake. They don’t see people soaked from failure.
The reality is the church is full of people treading water trying to keep their heads above the surface. It is full of people afraid to step out of the boat because they are unsure. It is full of people that have not only sunk under the water, but seem to be staying there. At a time in life where they are figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world, it is essential that they know they are worthy of God’s saving hands.
We are told so often that we are not deserving of God’s love. We hear that we are not worthy. It’s an okay message when it’s explained that we can’t earn God’s love. When the message of unworthiness is received by people who are hurt or stumbling through life they hear the message of worthlessness. One of the best examples of this balance between being unworthy and worthlessness is said at every celebration of the Mass. Together, as a community of people who need God to save us when we sink, we say “Lord, I am not worthy…but only say the Word and I shall be healed.” Lord, I’m not worthy, but because of Christ I am healed. We don’t say that we are unworthy, we say that we are worthy because of Christ. …Through Christ’s sacrifice, we are made worthy!
In the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we are made aware of our worthiness to receive God. However, when we work with young people, how aware are we of Christ’s presence in them? Think for a moment about the process of the transformation happening during the consecration. As the transformation process continues, we present them in a formal way to the celebrant. At this time, maybe we’ve moved them to a crystal container or a gold bowl.
The next step in the transformation has been designated as the “source and summit” of our faith. The summit being the highest place and the source describes the beginning of any process or structure. All other things are somewhere between the two. With the words of consecration, the actions of the priest celebrant and with Christ’s own promise, a plain, unremarkable circle of bread becomes the essence of our faith. At that moment Christ is truly present among us. We bring out our finest vessels, our body language changes and we cleanse our souls and open our hearts. In this moment of recognizing Christ in our midst, we are awed. In the same regard for Christ’s presence, do we respond as an adult community to that very real presence of Christ in our young people?
In life and in the context of the Church, we learn that the true importance of a sacramental is not what it is, but what it means. This is true of both the actions and the material items in our every day life. These young people understood true sacrifice, true sacraments.
Young people are not only worthy or needing of our greatest gifts, they themselves are precious. They are vessels of gold. They are living tabernacles. They are places where we store our traditions and our history. They hold Christ close to themselves, while at the same time they are waiting with anticipation to open up and share Him. Do we give them our first gifts, our best or do we offer to them what is left over?