Teenage parishioners are most known for their car washes, fundraising efforts, setting up and breaking-down events or their works of service within parish life. This, however, is not the only thing they are equipped to do. A staggering reality hits a parish when parishioners notice the immense decline of teenage involvement after they have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is safe to assume that two-thirds of the recently confirmed will not come back the week following Confirmation, and one-third will find a reason to stay until a some other purpose presents itself as it does in jobs, college applications and sports. Unfortunately, those three will consume most of their senior year and overwhelm their lives. Teenagers are looking for a greater role within parish life but do not know how to articulate that need and are often worried about presenting something to a parish council. Their greatest role in parish life, however, is evangelizing their peers in school, work, and close friendships. They can bring the un-churched into the church by being a witness of hope, like it says in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” They do this via their actions and in the manner they live their lives. St. Paul’s words to Timothy, “Let no one have contempt for your youth but set an example for those who believe in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity,” but hearing this from a 43-year-old is different from hearing it from someone living this call in her school with her peers.
This year 41 post-Confirmation teenagers received the Pope Saint Pius X award. One recipient, Inez Medeiros from St. Michael Catholic Church, in Fall River had this powerful message to her peers:
“Before going up to receive the holy chrism at Confirmation, I remember so vividly what I said to Our Lord: ‘Lord, there is no longer a doubt in my mind that I belong to You. My purpose in my life is to serve You and I will never let anything get in the way of that. You have all of me, do with me as you will.’
“After that moment, a lot of things changed in my life. High school became in person again and I quickly learned that I wasn’t in Catholic school anymore! There were no more religion classes or posters on the wall reminding me to pray every day. As I was eating my lunch, there were people to my right messing with tarot cards, and to my left, others were talking about lust and greed. And in the middle of all of this was I absolutely embarrassed to bless my food in front of them, as if making the sign of the cross was going to set the school ablaze!
“From that moment on, I had to learn that when God’s motivation wasn’t around me, discipline was essential. I had to relearn how to not be ashamed of the Gospel of being a child of God, and how to free up my busy schedule in order to make time for my faith. I had to realize that, yes, making the sign of the cross would set the school ablaze, in the sense that the spectators’ hearts and souls would be set on fire by the Holy Spirit.
“You see, being a teenager, or even an adult, in the faith has its difficult moments no matter how religious you are. Every day we are tempted by worldly desires and most times we fail at resisting them. Think about the times when God felt distant from you. Take a moment and think of all those times when faith felt out of reach. Whatever you may have in your mind right now, God took that mistake and made it a blessing. God saw your flaws and still allowed you to receive this award because He calls all of you by name, not by your sin … I have spent much time feeling like I wasn’t worthy enough to come to church, like I wasn’t worthy enough to stand in front of people and read the Bible because of the sins that I have committed. The sad part of this feeling is that it’s true, I do not deserve to stand here today. God, however, does not care about my sin. You don’t have to hide from Him. He is waiting for you to pick up your cross and come back home. Do not let this award be a one and done deal. Realize that we have the ability to bring people to eternal life in a world that has so much potential to be more.
“So, I ask you all today to put on the armor of God, pick up your cross, and come back home. Continue following the Gospel, continue praying, and most importantly, be true to who you are no matter how badly life treats you. We need more changes in society like you.
“As my coach would say, ‘be great’ and as my father would say, ‘be a child of God, woman/man of faith, and a warrior of Christ.’ Never feel unworthy to wear that armor because we are the ones with the power to protect God’s truth.”
Inez put into action the Holy Spirit she received during her Confirmation. Her wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord were not from her but used by her in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, to indeed set ablaze all who heard her speak. Many may be tempted to say, “But our teens participate in things,” and indeed they do, however, as the Springtide Institute of Research stated in their recent study: “Participating is not the same as belonging. Young people get a sense of belonging not from simply participating in activities or events.” A sense of belonging comes from a trusting relationship, one that no longer sees them as little children, but adolescents with purpose. Throughout the drama of salvation history, adolescents have been seen by God and called to accomplish great feats, and they accomplished them, because they trusted God’s call.
Let us continue to build up the youth to trust God, and allow them to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life, to set their communities ablaze.
Anchor columnist Oscar Rivera Jr., is director of Youth Ministry in the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization. email@example.com