I don’t want to brag, but I do have to share how great our parish is for youth. I am very close to having four teens in the house. The youngest will enter his teens within the year and the oldest will leave his teen years tomorrow (I really feel much too young to have a 20-year-old). The vibrancy of our parish youth ministry positively influences all my children and makes my job as a parent so much easier. Many parishes have enthusiastic and talented youth ministers. Our parish is no exception. What differentiates our parish youth program from that of other parishes I have seen is the involvement of our priests.
This struck me this morning. Throughout the summer, the high school youth meet for “Mass and McDonalds”. Every Wednesday a group meets for the 9:00 AM daily Mass and then walks across the street to the McDonalds for breakfast and conversation. This morning one of the parochial vicars accompanied the group. When I returned in an hour to pick up my daughter it was very satisfying to see a group of high school students engaged in lively conversation with the priest. The topics ranged from back-to-school topics and pop culture to discussions of Church history. This particular priest has a phenomenal knowledge of history. All of my children have learned more about Church history from his casual conversations than they have ever learned in a formal class.
The high school youth also meet one evening every week at the local coffee house. This is billed as a Bible study. Usually it is a review of the readings for the upcoming Sunday. Almost every week one of the parochial vicars attends this gathering to ensure that the teachings and discussion are faithful. This is not just a bunch of high school kids getting together to discuss how the readings make them feel. Please don’t think I am implying a priest must be present to interpret Scripture. However, I do think it is important to introduce the idea of real Scripture study that includes historical context and Church Tradition.
The priests also give the straight facts about Church teaching. When Jesus gave his discourse on the Eucharist (Jn 6:50-58) some of his disciples said “This is intolerable language”. However, Jesus persisted. He did not water down the Truth to make it easier to accept. Likewise, when we are ministering to our youth we need to give them the whole Truth. They sense when someone doesn’t believe they can handle the real story. They really want to hear about the Cross and the challenges of our Faith. The Glory and Resurrection make no sense without them.
These youth events are as much social as they are instructive. The atmosphere is casual. Within these relaxed setting my children meet the priests as real people. They find out that priests like music and literature and movies and food just like they do. More importantly, they have learned of their vocation histories. They see that discernment of a vocation is a gradual process, not necessarily a lightning bolt zap from above.
I know we are truly blessed to have priests so willing to interact with our youth. Perhaps their success will inspire other priests to give it a try. Don’t assume high school youth will be intimidated or turned off by the presence of a priest. Rather, they are inspired by it.