The Tablet Blog
How should we talk to young people about their faith?Fr David O'Malley SDB
22 June 2012, 9:00
We can appear to young people as aliens from the planet Zog. We wear different clothes, listen to strange music and use language they would never think of using. This is the first lesson we need to learn as adults and potential youth ministers.
In a booklet on youthwork I have prepared for the bishops' conference, I noted that young people can have a different experience of the Church. Here are some of the words that young people do not find easy when talking about faith and church: (The thoughts of many young people on these words are echoed in the italics that follow and do not represent the writer's own views).
Salvation - from what do I need to be saved? I think I am ok.
Sin - I make mistakes but I don't believe a good God would ever write me off
Real presence - Isn't God everywhere? What is different about the bread at mass?
Infallibility - I don't believe the Pope has a hotline to heaven
Contraception - using contraceptives is morally responsible behaviour
As adults we should see ourselves as missionaries into the present culture through appreciating the lives of the young people who have to struggle with that same culture and make sense of it and become apostles to other young
people. Missionaries have always had to learn new languages and translate the Gospel into very different words in order to be faithful to the Gospel.
Perhaps Don Bosco's greatest act of faith as a Saint was to believe in the goodness of every young person. In his day young people were mistrusted and exploited. He stood out as one who defended and befriended them. Today young people are still likely to be blamed for the ills of society, assumed to be out of control, on drugs, or involved in violence and crime. In fact most young people lead good lives with a generosity and awareness that often goes unnoticed and unsung.
Young people make us think and challenge us to change. It was Don Bosco's belief that work with the young opened adults to God in a particular way; it was a vocation. Young people change your life, they throw you off-balance, they recognise your faults and they tell you; they test your compassion and generosity; in giving you a hard time they also bring your adult faith to life.
Any church that cannot hand on its faith and values to its own younger generation has reason to be fearful. On the other hand, any church that can listen fearfully and humbly to the experience of the young can take the church from its tired and shrinking world into the wider searching culture equipped with a new translation of the good news.
Until young people can enter into a dialogue with the Church, neither the Church nor young people can be fully renewed on their faith journey.
Fr David O'Malley SDB works at a retreat centre for young people
13 July 2012 20:19 (5 of 5)
Fr David speaks of the need for a church 'with a new translation of the good news' so the faith can be handed on. I couldn't agree more. The message that comes across has to be in the context of the world in which we live today. In the mid-1990s, whilst in Taize for a few weeks one summer, I remember thinking long and hard about my life up to that point, particularly in light of the Gospel. There is plenty of time for such thought during the silence in the evening prayer there. At that time many of life's precious experiences seemed to have little in common with what I heard in the gospels and I remember being intrigued by this. I wrote down some of my thoughts which I came across a few years later. Looking back, I could see that God was never far away in anything I had done. The experiences life had thrown at me involved God, and so could never have been at odds with what was in the Gospel. Life isn't a race and our God is a patient God. He calls gently and continues to call. It is the response that is often hard. But there is no rush. Young people today need to be given the opportunity to discover their place in life for themselves. We've been given the ability to reason and weigh things up but sometimes need someone to suggest this to us. Just before my A-levels I had had a phone call from a Salesian priest who worked in my diocese. He had been given my name by a lady in my parish. He was taking a minibus to Taize with other young people, and was wondering if I might like to come along. I remember saying 'yes' on the phone - if someone had taken the trouble to invite me, and the person sounded respectable, they probably had good judgement. Earlier this month, and exactly twenty years later, the same priest paid me a surprise visit at work. He had travelled from Bolton to Stepping Hill Hospital just to say hello. It had been a hard day but I felt renewed afterwards. I think my patients were better for it too. In terms of some of the questions young people raised in the article above, on salvation, sin, contraception etc an intelligent, thought-provoking response is often needed. What is more important: Personal salvation, or saving the planet? Is this a fair question? Where does the waste of resources come into all this (eg continually leaving too much water in the kettle)? If people live their lives factoring in as much of the Gospel as they can, isn't that all that is needed? Contraception is perhaps more tricky. A lot of the forms the NHS pushes in this country (eg the long-acting reversible contraceptive devices/injections, intrauterine systems, oral contraceptives and 'emergency' contraceptives) work on a number of levels. They may prevent ovulation in many, but this is not always the case. If there is an ovulation, there may be a fertilisation, and, we believe, a new life. But if the uterine cavity is ill-prepared for implantation (by the ongoing action of the hormonal implant/injection/device/tablets) then that life will never come to fruition. To the young person that thinks contraception is morally responsibly, the question needs to be asked: At what cost? Can there be a distinction, morally, between barrier methods that prevent conception and those methods that may prevent conception, but should it occur, then prevent implantation and a successful intrauterine pregnancy? In addition to all this, there are the arguments raised in Humane Vitae about the sexual act being open to new life. But what about those people who are not married and who don't want children? There are no easy answers. Young people need listening too, they need their questions answered, and they need to be challenged. I've had a wonderful time in life so far and feel the Catholic faith has been very well passed on from those who taught me and brought me up. The thing that saddens me most is what happened last November when that new translation of the liturgy was imposed from Rome. How the church can engage the young with those texts is anyone's guess. It can't engage me and I doubt it ever will. I don't agree with the emphasis in some of the prayers and I will not say them. The beauty and simplicity of the original prayers, and those in the 1998 translation, have gone. I've tried to enter in dialogue with the church. I've written to bishops and priests and religious, before and after the translation came in, I've spoken to some of them in person, and some of my thoughts have been published online. The response from the bishops has been different to the other responses. I should conclude with Fr David's comment: 'any church that can listen fearfully and humbly to the experience of the young can take the church from its tired and shrinking world into the wider searching culture equipped with a new translation of the good news.' Listen, if you have ears!
Br. Erwin Joey E. Cabilan, SDB
12 July 2012 4:09 (4 of 5)
I commend my confrere, Fr. David O'Malley, SDB, for a very rich insight on how to communicate the Christian faith to the young people of today. Being a professional catechist and a Salesian, I also confront many challenges that call me to be creative in my ministry (Youth Ministry and Catechesis) as well as faithful to the Church, to the Christ and to the young. Our efforts must always strike the balance. We need to communicate the Language of Meaning in which the Story and the Vision Christ is being spoken with courage and compassion with a full sense of creative fidelity. I think we need to invest on people, in particular by tapping the potentials of the young, so that they will not only think of themselves as recipients of these ministries but as active participants who take part in these sacred tasks. We need to listen with them as much as we try to tell Jesus' story with and for them. But these approaches are nothing if these are not geared towards intimacy with Jesus which is the ultimate aim of our Youth and Catechetical Ministries. Thus, our tasks are always two-fold: relational and functional, communion and competence.
29 June 2012 1:37 (3 of 5)
I very strongly agree with this post by Fr David O'Malley SDB; having been a gap year youth minister at a retreat center myself, and being (hopefully still...just) a young person I agree that a lot of young people can both find the language and teachings of the church confusing. Once example I would like to give is a young person I know who openly says he is a practicing Catholic; he was on a college course with me and commented that when he had sex he did not use a condom and used the excuse that he was a Catholic to persuade the young lady he was with to let him continue without. He claimed it was against his faith. We possibly need to put emphasis on the 'lesser evil' side of things. i.e. God is probably going to prefer that if you are going to have sex before marriage, and have multiple partners, that you do use contraception/condoms as you are going to potentially do more harm than good if you do not. (This is my perception anyhow.) A lot of young people have both backgrounds and influences that directly contradict the churches teaching, and also are unfortunately more appealing. The best way to reach out to these people is not to immediately condemn them, however to find out their background and situation and work with that (a lot easier said than done.) The church has unfortunately gained a bad reputation with young people with regard to many issues, one in particular is contraception and sex before marriage. Unfortunately I believe that they are led to feel alienated from a relatively early age because they feel 'unworthy.' A more open minded and forgiving approach is the way forward for the church. I think that people are very aware nowadays that what they are doing is possibly wrong, and not quite so aware of the openness and forgiving that we as Christians have to offer.
25 June 2012 10:12 (2 of 5)
True, the challenges facing the youth are global and or universal, that is, spiritually, socially, economically and politically. In Malawi we have an old adage which goes 'ali dele mkulinga utayenda naye,' meaning to say that... you cannot claim to know a person unless you have been with him. For society or elders to address issues challenging the youth, there's need to be with the youth, involve them and walk with them in order to appreciate their perception of the society. Unless the church involves the youth, walk with the youth, and view things from the youths own perspective, she stands to lose her own flock in need of of a good Shepherd. Thank you.
aspiring lay capuchin
24 June 2012 13:21 (1 of 5)
This is an open letter to Professor Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Dear Pope Benedict XVI, Servant of the Servants of God I hope you can through the commission of liturgy issue some sort of advice or instruction through your bishops, priests and religious brothers to stop talking about the MYSTERY OF GOD. This phrase appears even in some of your books and are part of the priests seminary training. In fact for centuries when the Church cannot explain something they call it a MYSTERY. Whenever I go to a retreat of a monastic order - Jesuit, Dominican etc. I can hear this word MYSTERY OF GOD! I am often puzzled and very angry and feel like leaving the retreat centre in pure disgust... For me, Sir, God is NOT a mystery. God is real. If God is a mystery is God playing some sort of hide and seek with his followers? Why would he do that? Jesus came to this earth to make a complete revelation of himself and God the Father. What then remains to be a mystery? If God is still described as a mystery I HAVE A BIG PROBLEM, because the question then arises - WHY SHOULD I BELIEVE IN A MYSTERIOUS GOD? And at that point I approach a major CRISIS OF FAITH with that comment about the MYSTERY OF GOD. Yours in Christ +A simple born catholic
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