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Posts Tagged ‘youth ministry’

A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.

****

This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?

*****

(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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For years, I have been answering the question, “Why go to Mass?” for myself and others. You probably have, too. It  tends to comes up.

I answered it for high school students. I discussed it with adults. I talked about it, wrote about it. I answered it for my own children, and I contemplate it myself.

The answers we give teens and young adults these days – and let’s focus on them –  tend to flow from a particular focus: YOU.

Go to Mass because you will get something out of it. You will be happier. More at peace. You will feel closer to God. Your week will be off to a great start! It’s awesome!

There’s nothing (not much) wrong with this. Taking for granted that the salvation of one’s soul is, indeed, about yourself, other self-centric concerns aren’t ignored even by spiritual writers from the past. Francis de Sales:

Strive then to your utmost to be present every day at this holy Celebration, in order that with the priest you may offer the Sacrifice of your Redeemer on behalf of yourself and the whole Church to God the Father. Saint Chrysostom says that the Angels crowd around it in adoration, and if we are found together with them, united in one intention, we cannot but be most favourably influenced by such society. Moreover, all the heavenly choirs of the Church triumphant, as well as those of the Church militant, are joined to our Dear Lord in this divine act, so that with Him, in Him, and by Him, they may win the favour of God the Father, and obtain His Mercy for us. How great the blessing to my soul to contribute its share towards the attainment of so gracious a gift!

Introduction to the Devout Life

From a 1958 high school textbook:

His goodness to us in instituting the Blessed Sacrament is beyond measure. He comes to the altar at the call of the priest and comes to dwell in our souls and in our bodies, transforming us, comforting us, bringing that ‘peace which the world cannot give.’

Of course this is why we go to Mass. God graciously created us for life with him, and after Baptism, this is the core of it. Everything is there in Him, and there it is we find our true selves, which means we find peace and yes, happiness.

But when it comes to encouraging young people to go to Mass and like it, by George, I tire of the appeal to the self. I tire of the appeal to the self in relation to all contemporary spirit-talk, as a matter of fact.

For in a culture dominated by economics and the market, the line between evangelism and marketing is quite thin. It is challenging for evangelizers to make their case without thinking of their listeners as consumers who must be sold on the personal benefits of their product. Impossible, apparently

But the appeal to the self and its feelings is not enough, and it’s not true to authentic Christian spirituality, which is rooted, not most of all in how our spiritual acts will make us feel, but how they reflect our duty to love God and neighbor, since that is where authentic peace is found. The spiritual masters know a lot about the mystery of emotion, most of all that emotions can reveal, but emotions can also distract and conceal. Our emotions can tug us forward and lead us to a real place with God, but just as quickly, they can mislead us into thinking God is present where He isn’t – or absent when he is quite near.

So I am afraid that if I were to ever return to the classroom, my patience with coaxing, marketing and promising good feelings as a selling point for Mass would be shot at this point.  I wouldn’t even bother. As I have gotten older, as one does, and witnessed more and more suffering in the various circles of my life, near and far, the reasons for going to Mass have flipped. The urgency I feel (ah!) about me going to Mass, about my kids and everyone I know going to Mass is not about inspiring or soothing feelings we might derive from the experience.  After the basic, no-other-reason-is-necessary – duty to give thanks to God and join in Christ’s sacrifice, I really just want to say…….

the world needs prayer. You need prayer. I need prayer. Your friends need prayer. So many sick people. Have you heard? Violence. Despair. People afraid and lost.

How about we try to stop being so lazy and self-centered  and pray for each other?

You didn’t make it to Mass this week? Forget about yourself..don’t you care about anyone else enough to get out of bed, turn the phone off, put some decent clothes on and bring all the people you say you care about into the presence of the only One who can give any of us real peace in our suffering?

We are all so scattered, we are all so busy, and even when we take the time, our spiritual and corporal works of mercy reach one person at a time, for a moment.

Our hands, no matter how expert, can heal and cure, but not for all time, and only until the next pain strikes. Our understanding words can help, our contributions can turn life around, our time can save someone’s sanity. All of this is true.

This is what we can do, what we are called to do, what we are mandated to do.

But as we know to our frustration, even this, even at the level of the saints, is only so much.

In the Mass, those walls crumble. We enter into the Presence of Infinite Love poured out on Calvary for every person in the entire world. We are right there.

Knowing the hurt, confusion and fear, knowing the physical suffering, knowing the spiritual isolation that haunts the world, how can I say no to the chance to bring this mystery of human suffering into the presence of the greater Mystery of Love?

So there you go. My new pitch to the Kids:

Try to stop being such a selfish jerk. Go to Mass and pray for your mom. She needs it.

You think it will sell at youth group?

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A few years back, I had whipped up a graphic using this, one of my favorite Benedict quotes, but I couldn’t find the one I was thinking of.  I did find this one, though, which isn’t super pretty, but seems to me especially appropriate for this, his 88th birthday.

"pope Benedict XVI"

Stay united to one another, help one another to live and to increase in faith and in Christian life to be daring witnesses of the Lord. Be united but not closed. Be humble but not fearful. Be simple but non ingenuous. Be thoughtful but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with all, but be yourselves.

-Meeting with young people in Genoa, 2008.

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