DIRECTOR, YOUTH/YOUNG ADULT MINISTRY
Dear parishioners of Saint Anne,
When Father Bernie hired me in 2012, he set a simple, but important priority for me-get our Confirmation program back on its feet. In 2012, Saint Anne was transitioning out of the former umbrella program, Generations of Faith, that had covered the full gamut of youth, young adult and adult religious education. He felt that the time was ripe to recreate a new approach to the third and final sacrament of initiation, Confirmation. Over the years, within Catholic sacramental theology, the sacrament has struggled to find its place in the developmental life of the Catholic. I was confirmed as a 6th grader, others as 7th or 8th graders, and still others in high school. Father Bernie was fully convinced that high school was the ideal time to receive this sacrament. Why? It is primarily because a person at the age of 16 is better equipped intellectually, psychologically and spiritually to understand and eventually assent to being fully Catholic in a sacramental way.
Branding, as many of us in this consumer culture know, is important in selling an idea or a product. Psalm 118 (119) has a beautiful line that always captured my attention, “The Lord is a light to my path.” Jesus called himself “the way,” and his early followers’ movement was called “the Way” before they became known as “Christians” in Antioch. Thus, I chose the acronym, Paths-PeopleAftertheHolySpirit. This is to be understood in two ways. We are, as Christians, to have “the mind of Christ” (Philippians 2:4), literally, to be recreated “after” his likeness of spirit. Secondly, we are to follow “after” the Holy Spirit, to be guided by the Holy Spirit, to be led by the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The details and curriculum for this entire 2 year program can be found on our website. Paths pivots on 5 concepts of Catholic teaching: Conversion, Community, Compassion, Catechesis and Christ-Consciousness. The core of the program is Catechesis, which presents the foundations of Church teaching, doctrine and creed. A confirmed Catholic needs to know the intellectual content of one’s faith. For this reflection, I will focus upon the intersection of Community andChrist- Consciousness. More specifically, the Paths program takes an element of our Creed we weekly attest to at Mass, “the community of saints,” as an avenue to discover what it takes to be a follower of Jesus, as seen in the “heroes” of our faith-the saints.
The canonized saint is simply a person that the Church believes has made the mark, achieved the purpose of life, “to be with God forever” (St. Ignatius). As stated in chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church lumen gentium, “… all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.” This is a universal call to holiness, i.e. the perfection of love (charity). This is not, as was understood in centuries past, a call solely for those who take religious vows as priests or nuns. The document goes on to say, ʺ… The saints expressed, in various ways, the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One. They let Jesus so totally overwhelm their life that they could say with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Following their example, seeking their intercession, entering into communion with them, “brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom, as from their fountain and head issue every grace and the life of the People of God itself.”
Within the Paths curriculum, we invite the students into a meditation on the saints in the form of an essay they write as well as reading their stories. They can read the lives of 16 “saints, prophets and witnesses” from a book written by Robert Ellsberg (on our website as well). All of them are not formally canonized by the Church. Some are actually not Catholic or even Christian. But Christians are not the only ones called to be holy-this is a universal call for ALL people of the world-for as St. John states in his first epistle, “God is love and those who live in love live in God and God in them.” Jesus is very clear about who enters and who doesn’t enter, “Not all those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom but only those who do the Will of the Father.” The will of the Father? “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself”. I have no doubt in my mind that Mahatma Gandhi, though a Hindu, is with God eternally in Heaven. This thinking on my part was considered heretical by one of my evangelical friends in college. But thankfully, as a Catholic, I have the full support of the Church in such thinking as detailed in the document of Vatican II Nostra Aetate (worth a read as well).
Our faith is, at its core, about “falling in love” and not solely the memorization of facts about it. Falling in love comes first in the writings of the saints, supporting it doctrinally, second. Too many have the doctrinal facts down but they seem to miss the “love” ingredient- experts on the law, as Jesus noted in the people of his day, but “dead men’s bones inside.” Teens pick up on that and are turned off by such hypocrisy. They want to meet real people who know that their own feet are clay and can tell their story of conversion. That is why they like speakers such as Jeanne Bishop who can forgive the person who murdered her pregnant sister and brother-in -law or Jacques Rivera who was falsely accused and spent 25 years in prison. When released through the efforts of the Innocence Project of Northwestern University, he returned home and forgave the person who falsely accused him.
To follow Christ’s path of love, we need unbelievable courage and strength. We call that grace. All of us, but especially teens, need to be inspired and see examples of courageous love if they are to fully embrace the call to holiness through Confirmation. We will soon have another modern martyr canonized who lived such a heroic life, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Pope Francis will canonize him on Sunday, October 14th. He was shot in the heart while saying Mass on March 24, 1980. Romero was hated by the ruling and wealthy class of El Salvador for his work to elevate the dignity of the poor who lived in hovels and worked for pennies a day picking coffee beans. My hope as the Director of the program is to put forward people worthy of emulation, to help teens recognize the nobility and difficulty of being a follower of Christ. As Romero’s impending canonization shows, our saints are not only to be found centuries ago but today, amongst us. Most importantly, we are all called to be saints. A British Catholic writer of the last century concluded his book with these words, “There is only one unhappiness, and that is to not be one of the saints.” My prayer for our candidates is that they discover that true happiness in their lives, sooner rather than later.