Pope Benedict XVI has told the U.S. bishops that the faith formation of the next generation of American Catholics must be their highest priority – not just passing on knowledge but shaping hearts. Speaking during this year’s retreat about “The Call to Youth Apostles,” Father Jack Peterson, YA, recalled the Holy Father’s message to the bishops who visited him last year in Rome.
The text below first appeared as a Director’s Corner in the May 2012 issue of Youth Apostles’ newsletter, The Apostle.
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The bishops of the United States have been traveling to Rome for their “ad limina” visits.These visits, which take place every five years, serve a variety of purposes. The bishops make a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, express their respect for and solidarity with the Holy Father, render an accounting of the state of their diocese to the Bishop of Rome, visit with the heads of various Congregations and Dicasteries and receive counsel from the pope.
During a visit on May 5, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the faith formation of the next generation of Catholics in the United States. Pope Benedict raised the matter to the highest level of priority when he stated: “It is no exaggeration to say that providing young people with a sound education in the faith represents the most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in your country.”
I read this and understood it as a loud call to Youth Apostles to step up our game as we strive to live out our mission to “evangelize, teach, advise, challenge, console and love youth with the ultimate purpose of inspiring them to live Christ-like lives centered on prayer and the sacraments in the Catholic Church.”
Now, forming young people in the faith has always been a major priority for the Church. As the Holy Father went on to say: “The deposit of faith is a priceless treasure which each generation must pass on to the next by winning hearts to Jesus Christ and shaping minds in the knowledge, understanding and love of his Church.”
Yet, as the Chief Shepherd of the Universal Church further explained, “the essential task of authentic education at every level is not simply that of passing on knowledge, essential as this is, but also of shaping hearts. There is a constant need to balance intellectual rigor in communicating effectively, attractively and integrally, the richness of the Church’s faith with forming the young in the love of God, the praxis of Christian moral and sacramental life and, not least, the cultivation of personal and liturgical prayer.”
Youth Apostles was founded with the purpose of addressing this aspect of faith formation. We desire to shape the hearts of young people by building healthy, appropriate relationships with them, journeying with them through the turbulent years of adolescence and inviting them to come to know, love and serve Jesus Christ with all of their hearts.
It is so much easier for young people to hear and respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ when their faith is shared by adults who live it authentically, take the time to get to know them, show genuine interest in their lives and patiently encourage perseverance as they grow closer to the Lord. In this setting, young people begin to desire to pray on their own, to root their lives in the Scriptures, to study the teachings of the Church, to attend the Sacraments regularly, to live the high moral standards of the Gospels and to serve their neighbor with generosity.
How do we as Youth Apostles step up our game to better address “the most urgent internal challenge” of the American Church?
First, we need to make sure that Jesus is truly the center of our lives. We need to become men of deep faith, truly transformed by the love of Christ. We need to live Christ-like lives of profound charity, strong conviction and extraordinary patience. We need to be men who are willing to sacrifice many aspects of our own lives in order to live generously for our brothers in community, our family members and the young people whom we serve.
Next, we must be strongly committed to the great project of our relational ministry so that we can fight through the many challenges of our culture and assist God in opening the hearts of young people to the joy and strength that comes from following Christ.
This commitment demands time, energy and prayer. It requires more than just showing up for a youth group meeting and preparing a talk. It entails coming early, staying late and engaging in meaningful conversations about things that matter to young people. It includes remembering your last conversation with them and following up on it at the next meeting. It demands going to an occasional game, concert or play, or at least asking about them afterwards if you can’t.
Such genuine interest paves the way for being able to share with the students the blessing of knowing, loving and serving Jesus Christ. They are willing to listen because they know you care and you are genuine. This is often the way Jesus Himself served the people He encountered.
Please pray for us in Youth Apostles. Pray that each member of our community will renew his commitment to grow in holiness, engage in intentional, relational ministry, and open young hearts to the pearl of great price, life lived in union with Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. Pray that God sends more men to join us in our mission.
Father Jack Peterson, YA