When I attend a meeting that includes an organization’s plans for future outreach, inevitably representatives will mention attracting or inspiring our youth. I’m not surprised. Everyone seems to be wondering, “how do we reach our young people?” I will sit in Confession and listen to the comments of parents and grandparents who worry about their children or grandchildren and the practice of the faith. Even years ago, as a help-out priest, I would walk into the church for Saturday or Sunday Mass and view with admiration the gray-haired elderly who were there manifesting their faithfulness, but I wondered, “Will the next generation take their place with the same zeal?”
Our young people are faced with many distractions. The voice of faith is sometimes drowned out by those who claim instant gratification, false progressivism and the characterization that religion is antiquated and has nothing to say to the modern world. They are bombarded in schools, on the internet and by peers to challenge and sometimes reject the example and teachings of their parents in the ways of faith. What is often remarkable to me is that the more our young possess in terms of material benefits, the greater the rejection of the need for the spiritual and the traditions that brought them to this point. For many, concepts like sin, grace, judgement, salvation, revelation, heaven and hell have little or no meaning.
This is where we see the strength and importance of Catholic schools as we celebrate National Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 29-Feb. 4. During the formation of a Catholic community at times in the past, schools were often established before a parish or a diocese. What was recognized was the need for young Catholics’ minds to understand their faith and share that faith with their community.
As you grow older, you need to articulate what you believe, and there is no better way to grow up to be able to do that than to attend a Catholic school.
I encourage all of our Catholics, and especially parents, to visit their Catholic schools and view first-hand the great work being accomplished for the Catholic faith.
During this Catholic Schools Week, we must also understand that we are at a critical point for the future of Catholic schools in the United States. We have long enjoyed the benefits of Catholic education, but it’s now essential that we continue to do all that we can to keep Catholic education available and affordable.
The contribution of Catholic education pays dividends for the future of a worshipping Catholic community and the success of parish life.
The investment that parents and the Catholic community make in supporting Catholic education will produce future citizens who will have a greater tendency to practice their faith, be more concerned with social issues and will accept roles of civic responsibility more than their secular counterparts will.
The Church has had a number of champions who worked with the youth during difficult times. On Jan. 31, we celebrate the feast of St. John Bosco (1815-88). As a priest, he could not ignore the homeless boys whom he found on the streets. They needed work and a home. He developed a special ministry to the young that created work for them and established a place for them to live. These young men carried the sick to hospitals and the dead to mortuaries during the height of the cholera epidemic. These young people became examples to the rest of the community, and John Bosco encouraged them to trust in God. He formed the Salesian Order, and being that he was a boyhood hero of mine, I examined the Salesian Order when considering my vocation to the priesthood. He increased the devotion to the Sacred Heart with its emphasis on God’s love for us, and when canonized, he was given the title “Father and Teacher of Youth.”
One can never discount that our witness to the Love of God in our lives will challenge our young, especially when they are looking for meaning.
God will work through us as we support Catholic schools with prayers and donations. In that way, we will change lives like St. John Bosco did, and we will go forward always as we trust in God.