What is our goal in Youth Ministry? I think so often we aim way too low. So often we’re satisfied with kids in seats. Or maybe a little a better we seek to teach them basic catechism.
Frank Mercadante argues that we need to teach head, heart, and hands. We often get their hands moving in service projects or apostolates. I’ve seen this often done very well – certain youth ministries rightly focus on this. But what about their heart? We teach them how to pray Stations of the Cross, the Rosary or how to read the Scriptures, and consider this task done.
I argue that this is not enough. I think we need to lead them towards contemplation. To do this, I will explain contemplation, then prove are called to it.
Contemplation is where God gives us prayer and union with him. It is beyond definition. I will try to explain it through a few descriptions. It is loving God beyond words or emotions. It is gently waiting on the Lord. It is delighting in the Lord. It is the most intimate sharing with the one who loves us most. It is where we discover the one thing necessary. It is where we become prayer and don’t just pray (as the biography of St Elizabeth of the Trinity describes her life). It is heaven while we are still on earth. It is unintelligible peace in a new way of loving God.
To show teens are called to contemplation, I will argue from Authority and then explain their reasons. Four of the greatest spiritual authors of the 20th century – Adolphe Tanquerrey, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Thomas Dubay SM, and Thomas H. Green SJ – along with several doctors of the Church – St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross for sure – all agree that every person is called to contemplation. (If you have never read any of these you are missing out; I highly recommend Thomas H. Green’s Opening to God as a start.) They don’t say only adults. As well, they all say that contemplation is the goal of all we do on earth.
Why do all these authors argue that everyone is called to contemplation? Here’s 3 main arguments. (1) Our final goal in life is happiness found in God. Contemplation is where we live that out in this world. (2) Jesus promises it at the last supper: “I shall come to you… I am in the Father and you in me and I in you.” (John 14:18 & 20) This doesn’t just refer to his objective substantial presence in the Eucharist but also to his personal felt presence in each of us (AKA: contemplation). (3) It is the goal of prayer and it would seem odd if Jesus asked us to do something but made it impossible to reach its goal for some. That would go against divine justice.
Now here’s the tough part: we can’t teach contemplation. However, we can teach deeper and deeper prayer and usually once a certain depth is reached, God grants contemplation. Specific prayers are needed but they are not the goal: the goal of all prayer is union with God. True, we don’t always reach it. A Hockey team will only score on 5-10% of their shots, does that mean the other 90% aren’t attempts to score? Obviously not.
I know this will mess with pastoral programs. I also know it is difficult if the leaders themselves have never experienced God this way – maybe your first goal is to deepen your own prayer life. Often, this goal will need to be brought up one-on-one with teens or in small groups: it could scare newbies. And one usually needs to be a veteran at discursive prayer before Jesus grants contemplation. We need to be trained to form teens spiritually one-on-one.
I’ve seen teens reach contemplation but I admit it’s rare. One teen reaching it will transform your youth ministry, if you can get 3 to 5 to reach it, you’ll see a radical transformation. Despite the challenges, this is worth it!
Let us not lower the bar for teens but instead challenge them to the height of Christian sanctity. Remember contemplation when you set your goals.