The National Catholic Youth Organization Federation (predecessor of the NFCYM) published the results of a symposium held in 1980 that was entitled Hope for the Decade: A Look at the Issues Facing Catholic Youth Ministry. As this was the year that I entered parish youth ministry and I have now recently returned to the same AND I found an old copy as I took full ownership over my new office and cleaned the bookshelves… I thought we might engage in a webposium series of articles looking at the issues then (with a pull-quote from the book) as well as now. Please add your own perspective on what we are facing in the present and future and how much or little we have actually grown as a field.
FAITH AND JUSTICE: Personal, Communal, Global
THEN: Of all the components of youth ministry, justice and service may be the most weakly addressed in the North American Church. This is unfortunate. The Gospel message we share with youth in evangelization and catechesis is hollow when it lacks Jesus’ firm stance in favor of the suffering and powerless.
NOW: Wow, we are sooooo much better at this than back in the day… and yet…
I do not remember offering much service opportunity while I was in ministry, which is ironic as I helped to initiate a Catholic Worker house, just never engaged the young people in that work, however. Since that time, there has been an exponential explosion in workcamps, immersion experiences, utilization of service hours for both school graduation as well as confirmation sacramental preparation.
And, we have a Holy Father compelling us to reach to the fringes…. In Evangelii Gaudium, he wrote that “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.” Any trip that helps us redefine our neighbor a anyone anywhere else than our corner of the world is a very good start. And you can do your own evaluation… honestly, how well do we match up the light of the Gospel and that whole “Jesus’ firm stance in favor of the suffering and powerless” thingee into the whole experience?
I have heard it suggested that we should be reframing mission trips into mercy trips. Consider this. The trip suddenly gets recontextualized as not about our mission of outreach to the fringes and our experience but it becomes an effort shared into communicating God’s presence, God’s love, God’s care (which we can certainly shorthand into God’s mercy) into a community. Mercy trips should assist young people in recognizing the necessity of John 3:30 in that for the Lord to increase, we must decrease.
And that should be the essence of all our service efforts in addressing Faith and Justice. Too often, we have made a burdensome hurdle out of service expectations for Catholic Schooling graduation and/or the Sacrament of Confirmation (and isn’t that an unfortunate juxtaposition?) Do we properly de-brief the service hours experience in light of mercy? Or do we just count service hours rather than make service hours count?
Finally, do we make it all comfortable for young people or do we help them through their own discomforts about what is right and fair in this world, what is matching the vision set within the Reign of God and where we might be falling shot? Pope Francis encouraged the WYD young people in Brazil to make some noise, to make a mess. Have we helped this generation to take up a mantle of leadership to do such? Are young people passive recipients of our programming or are we empowering ecclesial and cultural activists?
We are soooo much better in these areas and yet, the reign of God awaits us on the horizons (peripheries) or our experiences.