What will it take to keep young people in the church?

The photos covered my Facebook newsfeed: pictures of teenagers donning bright red robes, smiles upon their faces, foreheads shiny with the fresh chrism.

The captions for the photos were all similar: “Confirmed in Christ!” or “He did it! A full-grown Catholic, choosing his own faith.”

It was nice to see photos of happy families celebrating a sacrament.

Far better than any of the political posturing that usually occupies Facebook.

But as I went to bed that night, continuing to scroll mindlessly through social media, a thought kept running around my mind: “I hope all those teens stay Catholic.”

Perhaps because of my profession as a Catholic speaker and writer and practitioner of ministry or because I taught many of those young people just a few years before or because I am a mom or even just because I am a faithful Catholic, in the midst of being so happy that so many in my diocese were newly confirmed, I had a feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach that many, if not most, of those young people will disaffiliate from the faith and walk away from the church in the next few years.

The reasons for their disaffiliation will be varied.

Some will leave because they will not find a good faith community when they go to college.

Others will walk away because their parents are not there to encourage faith in their lives.

Some will get hung up on intellectual challenges, unable to reconcile reason with faith.

Still others will leave because they never truly believed in the first place, having no real relationship with Christ or love of the Eucharist.

How do we keep them, or anyone really, Catholic? To keep them, we have to stop asking that question in the first place.

I could not fall asleep that night as I kept thinking, “I hope they stay,” because I was bothered by my fundamentally flawed question.

I should not start with the question, “What will make young people stay Catholic?”

I should first be asking, “How can I engender a love of Jesus within their hearts?” Because it is that love of Jesus that will make them stay—it is what keeps any of us here.

Confused and scared, two believers once wandered on the road to Emmaus, away from Jerusalem and away from what they did not understand, perhaps seeking solace in a place less chaotic and noisy and scary than where they were coming from.

On that road they meet Jesus, who listens to them, teaches them, shares a meal with them and inspires them to rush off to tell others of their encounter with him.

They cannot help but proclaim the Gospel with their very lives.

When a young person is introduced to Jesus by someone who knows him themselves, they come to realize that Jesus is someone who loves them, longs for them and is close to them, and they become captivated by him.

Their hearts will and do begin to burn. Disciples grow; they are not born. Continue reading

  • Image: Journey Online
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