To pick up where we left off a few issues ago - and using what we've learned along the way - we'll continue to explore the basics of evangelizing youth. We've established this much: as simple as it may seem, in order to really evangelize (some call it discipleship, some call it outreach, some call it counselling, etc.) we need to talk to a person. It sounds simple, but the reality is that it's not always. Other than the fact that we can get nervous, feel awkward, or think we'll say dumb things, much of the time we don't really have an opportunity to talk to youth. If we do, it's likely about "business": making sure they turned in their permission form, asking out of the blue if they would like to attend a youth event, chastising them for misbehaving in a certain situation, etc.
Unfortunately, in the course of a day, the majority of modern youth's time is spent listening to other people's message for them (teachers, music, TV, etc.); a message that is not likely the message of Jesus Christ. If we consider that in a given week (and assuming at least a good number of Catholic youth don't go to Mass on Sunday), Wednesday is THE ONLY time they hear anything from the Church! We all know this, but let's really stop and consider it for a moment: we get one chance per week to evangelize youth, to really show them that the Church cares about them and that God loves them, and it is only for about an hour and a half. And what do we do with that time? We'll leave that up to every soul who reads this (probably about five) to answer.
We cannot underestimate the power of a simple conversation with one youth. While they (really, all of us) are inundated with people who really just want something from them, a conversation that doesn't seek to serve any purpose other than to know the other person can have a tremendous effect on one's life. How often do we hear of fallen-away Catholics who join evangelical Protestant churches because they felt welcomed there, literally because someone talked to them? I don't know what happened to Catholics (although I have plenty of theories on the matter); we used to be the best at evangelizing. "We need to be more like the Protestants!" some would say. I disagree, we just need to be Catholic, and part of being Catholic is being good humans, and part of being good humans is talking to people. Very few leave the Church because of doctrine, but many leave because of neglect.
So, in the case of youth, Wednesday night is more than just catechesis (which, of course, is essential to the Christian life): it is the probably the single greatest influence on their experience of the Church. While we need to teach Catholic youth how to live for the Lord, we also need to pay attention to them in a real way and in a different way than the rest of the world. Really - and Jesus shows us this model - they need to see a friend in every Catholic they know. This can be difficult in the present model; I can't tell you how many nights I walked away from teaching Religious Education class thinking I did more damage than good because I spent the majority of the class (necessarily) scolding them. The reality is that it is very difficult to find "space" to have meaningful conversations with youth; we have to be intentional about creating those spaces.
Wednesday night is a great place to start: how do we structure our short time with youth every week to ensure that they have a positive experience of the Church? We are trying to teach complex doctrine to people who don't even know if they believe in God! Modern man, by and large, listens with his heart, not his head. Even those "evangelical atheists" who hide behind their lofty, false philosophy are more often than not choosing atheism for non-intellectual reasons. I digress.
Where else can we make a space for conversation? Obviously, youth groups are a good way to make this happen. It can be as simple as getting together once a week and reading the Sunday's Gospel and discussing it. Even just getting together for the sake of fellowship is a place to start. This maybe seems too simple, but it is helpful to provide something that fits into the framework of a youth's life: they hang out and talk with their friends, why not hang out and talk with good, Catholic role models? If we're afraid that "deep" conversations won't happen and cut to the heart of youth and inspire conversion within weeks, we need to remember that these things take time...and that's okay! Fr. Joseph Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt movement, discussed at length this idea of an "organic" spiritual growth in youth. Basically, if we start to push them too hard, we can actually end up with a "seed in rocky soil" situation. It takes a good balance of water, sunlight, and fertile soil to make a seed grow well and into a mature plant, and for every plant that process takes more or less time. So it is with youth (or any other group we evangelize, for that matter).
Lastly, I would like to address a trap that we can sometimes fall into in the field of youth ministry: becoming too event-focused. While there is certainly a place for events in the grand scheme of youth ministry, it has to come after a relationship is built with a person. Smaller events (shameless plug: Cor Jesu) are easy to invite youth to as a small step past just the relationship-building stage, because there is minimal commitment and cost. Jumping right to larger events is a little more difficult and possibly not as effective (keep in mind this is a blanket statement has obviously has exceptions): what context do youth have in their lives for these experiences if no one has really walked with them and shown them the Christian life at all? What happens is that we become door-to-door salesmen, constantly peddling products that don't fit into someone's current lifestyle.
To conclude, the first step in analyzing how we're evangelizing youth is to ask: what are the spaces I currently have where youth can have conversations with a caring Catholic and how can I create more opportunities for that to happen? Again, this may seem too simple; we desire them to grasp the tenets of the Faith in one sitting, or have a tear-laden conversion before the Blessed Sacrament in one moment, but Jesus shows us that it takes time to foster real relationships. Remember that he did not simply walk into the Apostles' lives and say "Follow me" out of the blue. When he approached Simon Peter and Andrew, or the sons of Zebedee, he had already been traveling around Galilee, teaching and talking to those who would listen. It was only then, after presumably a number of encounters and conversations with these men, that he approached them and said "Follow me." And because they had come to know him through these previous interactions, it was the logical next step in their life to follow him, not a sudden moment that somehow convicted them to completely dedicate their lives to a cause they knew almost nothing about. Here's something crazy to reflect on: imagine the moment Jesus first approached Simon Peter, or Andrew, or any of the others. What did that look like? Did he look into their eyes and convict their wills to submit to his authority? Possibly; he is God...but they have free will. Did he immediately start expounding on the Torah and how he is the fulfillment of it? He did do that, so it is possible. I guess we don't know, because it's not recorded, but one thing we can be fairly certain of is that that first encounter probably looked pretty simple. Jesus probably did something we've all done, too: he started a conversation. We don't need to know what it was about. It could have been about how the fishing was that day, or about the recent happenings around Galilee, or maybe he went right into matters of faith and morals. We don't know, but it started somehow, and that's the key.
We're not Jesus, but we are Christian, and if we are to be like our Master, then we need to imitate his ways. Starting a conversation for the sake of (perhaps eventually) spreading the Gospel would be a great place to start. But first, we need to make a space where this can happen. Both in our lives by making sure that we are not afraid to approach youth, and in our parish structure by making sure that there are opportunities that lend themselves well to conversation-starting - not necessarily conversion-starting - moments.
Okay, good Catholic, now go talk to people!
Totus Tuus - Summer 2017 dates
Six parishes/AFCs have been invited to pilot our very first summer of Totus Tuus, a summer catechetical program for youth. The dates and locations are as follows:
June 4-9 - St. Mary, Sleepy Eye (Divine Mercy AFC) June 11-16 - St. Edward, Minneota (Good Teacher AFC) June 18-23 - St. Andrew, Granite Falls (Holy Family AFC) June 25-30 - St. Francis, Benson (St. Isidore the Farmer AFC) July 9-14 - St. Anne, Wabasso (Light of the World AFC) July 16-21 - St. Mary/Cathedral, New Ulm (Holy Cross AFC)
If you would like to check the program out, feel free to stop by any of these locations over the summer. Also, feel free to contact these parishes if you have youth who would be interested in attending Totus Tuus, but are not a part of one of these AFCs.
NET - 2017 dates now available!
The NET Team will be available for nine retreat days between the dates of October 20-31. If you are interested in hosting a NET retreat in the Fall of 2017,click the blue button below to download the attached request form and send it to Cindy Blickem by June 14. Date requests are granted on a first come, first- served basis.
Our increasingly popular summer camps are on the horizon! They have a fresh new look, but are the same great camps. We also added a middle school boys' camp! Registration opens March 20th. Click the pictures for more information.
Schoenstatt, Sleepy Eye
Schoenstatt, Sleepy Eye
July 31-August 4
Schoenstatt, Sleepy Eye
Catholics at the Capitol
Bishop LeVoir is encouraging all Catholics in the Diocese of New Ulm to make a trip to the capitol on March 9 in order to make our voice heard in the public square. Youth are especially invited to attend! Click the image above for more information.
Local event: Marshall "Super Sunday"
In the "Upcoming events" bar, click the link to see details for Holy Redeemer's upcoming youth event. If you have any events you'd like others to know about, let me know and I can publish it on the diocesan website and in this newsletter!