By Fr. Jacob Greiner
For The Catholic Messenger
During the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) two weeks ago, the announcer would begin any of his announcements to high school and college-age youth gathered there in Indianapolis by addressing them as the “young church.” These two words were so profound for me because they provided an insight into how all of us who are not a part of the “young church” can help and support the future of the Catholic Church.
Those of us looking at the “young church” can become disheartened or despondent because these young people do not do things the way we do. The “young church” expresses their faith differently than we do. For example, the “young church” uses technology in aid of their faith, so various forms of media are important to them. This means the YouTube video can be more important to passing on the faith than the parish bulletin.
The “young church” also communicates with us in a way that is much different than we are accustomed to in our lives, so a Tweet is not the problem but an opportunity for evangelization. Furthermore, the “young church” understands their faith better than we give them credit for in the end, but they do not live in the Catholic culture that many of us experienced as we grew up in our communities and families. As a result of this reality, they might know parts of their Catholic Church, but they might not know about the devotions and traditional practices that many of us experienced when we were young.
One of the most profound moments for me during NCYC occurred when Lucas Oil Stadium, filled with 24,000 people, was dead silent for 20 minutes during Eucharistic adoration. I would not have believed this could be possible unless I experienced it myself. However, I was filled with so much joy and hope because the members of the “young church” are willing to live out their faith, but in a different way than my experience when I was in high school.
With all of this being said, the “young church” is truly young, so they need to be mentored. The “young church” wants the rest of the Catholic Church to walk with them in their journey — just ask your high school and college-age youths. They are hungry for the faith because they have been exposed to so much in their young lives. Are we willing to make the sacrifices necessary to mentor the “young church?”
Furthermore, are we willing to let the “young church” mentor us in how the Holy Spirit is working through them? The theme of NCYC was “Here I am, Lord,” and again, what a profound statement about the “young church.” They are in a place that is different from the place I am in. Can I move to meet them in their lives of faith so we can worship together?
As a pastor, I am not overlooking the huge challenges that the Catholic Church is facing with this age group. The “young church” is truly much smaller than it should be, given the growth of the Catholic Church here in the United States. Furthermore, there are so many distractions that the evil one is using to draw the young away from the Lord. However, as St. Paul makes very clear in his letter to the Romans, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). God loves his “young church” more than we do, so we just have to work to help them transition from being the “young church” to being the church of the future.
(Fr. Greiner is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher.)