Do you want some good news about young people and faith?

Whenever we hear reports from the Pew Research Center or other surveys about religious practice in America we get bad news. We’re frequently informed of the exodus of people from churches and synagogues around the country. Tons of ink will then be spilled over why people don’t come to church any more and what we need to do to bring them back. Well, I’m happy to give you some good news from St. Ann’s. We seem to be doing something right, especially for our young people. For example: we are a relatively small parish, only getting between 500 and 550 people on a weekend, yet our teen club has 20 high school students who attend meetings on a Wednesday night twice a month and are very into the faith and spiritual element of the meeting; they don’t just come to see their friends and get free pizza! Two young men who went through our teen club when they were in high school have now begun a young adult group for people in their 20s. They too are looking to create a group with a solid spirituality and Catholic identity and not merely a social club. They have had about a dozen young people showing up and have been attracting an ever-growing number. One of our men recently asked if he could begin a men’s holy hour during our monthly nocturnal adoration. He attracted 18 men for their first event and are hoping for 40 this weekend. We have 22 young people signed up for our Youth Pilgrimage to Rome this summer. I have clearly explained to them the difference between a pilgrimage and a vacation, that we will have daily Mass and prayer along with visits to the sites of Rome, and they are actually looking forward to that part of the journey and not just eating gelato! But probably the most amazing thing to note is the number of people coming to our ChristLife program. We usually try to limit the group to 70 participants because of the size of Fr. Anthony Hall, where the sessions take place. Last Thursday for their opening session, they had people lining up outside hoping to be allowed to join. The current count is 102! And of that number, the majority are younger people, many in their teens and 20s! While some are from other parishes or people with no religious affiliation looking to learn more about Jesus, the majority are our own parishioners. That means that nearly 20% of our regular Sunday parishioners are coming to ChristLife! That is truly amazing! The Spirit is on the move here in St. Ann’s, and I am very pleased to let you know that! Perhaps we can serve as a model for other parishes.

Of course, the big question to ask is, “what are we doing right?” Why are we succeeding in reaching young people? I think a big part of the answer is that we’re not dumbing down the message. If we were only offering sport programs, dances, and trips to Six Flags, we could end up saying we’re being popular and a source of entertainment for teens and young adults. But we do more than that. They come looking to be challenged by the Gospel. Jesus was not a wimp, and he never called people to follow him by giving them sweet-tasting bromides. He showed them a completely different way to view life and to value what many people reject. Naturally, to follow what Jesus says means we have to make a radical change in our outlook on life and live by a completely different set of standards. Many people are not willing to do that and leave the Church for that reason. The mistake I believe many parishes and churches have made is to avoid the challenging topics and give people soft talk, or “Catholic Lite” every Sunday. I have always used the term “marshmallow theology” to describe this approach, giving homilies that are sweet and tasty but have no nutritional value whatsoever. Everybody loves a marshmallow once in a while, but try to live on marshmallows and you soon get sick of them! So toning down the message and just doling out platitudes is not going to win many people over. Oh it will suit the people who don’t want to be challenged and want to be allowed to bask in their own delusions of how holy they are. But that will never produce disciples. Sure, I’ve had some people leave St. Ann’s and go where they get the sweet nothings they want to hear. I let them go. We need warriors for Christ, people on fire with the Holy Spirit who are willing to be bold and be Catholic and who are not afraid of the challenge of the Gospel, and there are many other people who have told me they come to St. Ann’s because they get an authentic experience of Christ. That’s what we try to do at St. Ann’s. I believe our success is faithful, prayerful worship that is worried about the quality of our prayer rather than how quickly we can get people out the door, and a weekly challenge to radical conversion in Christ, reminding people of Jesus’ tremendous love for us, that he loves us so much that he doesn’t want to leave us where we are but wants to challenge us to be the best version of ourse023lves that we can be. When we allow Christ to change us, we grow in character, in dignity, in peace, and in joy. Our lives find meaning, and we naturally see the meaning in the lives of others and desire to call them to share in the joy in Christ that we have found. I believe the young people who are active here at St. Ann’s see that. They get that in order to know Jesus they need to think and act differently. They see through the mistake of soft teachings and want to be challenged to be better people. Once they see the results that a life firmly lived following Christ makes they see how true it is. They hunger for more and want to share their faith with others so that they can share the joy they know. That’s why they’re here.

So if anyone complains to you about the lack of interest in the faithS2240027 by young people, please tell them that it is not true of all young people, and that at St. Ann’s we have many young people willing to be disciples of Christ, and if they are the future of the Church, the Church is in good hands! Tell them to challenge our young people to think like Christ and don’t patronize them by feeding them platitudes. If people complain they get nothing out of Mass or that their parish has nothing to offer them, tell them to find a parish that provides authentic worship of Christ and where they are challenged to follow the truth of Christ and to make the radical changes necessary to be disciples of Jesus. If they do that, they will find, God, they will find meaning in their lives, and they will find peace.

 

14 thoughts on “Do you want some good news about young people and faith?

  1. Tony Marscopone says:

    You’re insulting the people who’ve left St. Ann (St. Ann-in-Exile, they call themselves) and the priests where thet are now. As I said, you could have easily left out that nonsense and still have made your point. It was gratuitously nasty. For shame.

    By the way, I always defended you when you were in Mahopac and people (especially HN group) went on about you. I’d always say, “Hey, don’t call him that!” Or “How would you feel if someone said that about YOUR family” or “give him a break, he will mature with time!” So, actually I am not against you, just so, so disappointed 😔

    • Why are you so angry? The whole “St. Ann’s in Exile” group has only told me they are disgusted with me, but not one person has offered me any reason why they’re angry. Thanks for defending me while I was in Mahopac. Why are you upset with me now? Let me know. If I have done something for which I owe an apology I will offer it immediately. But if it’s simply because I tow the line on the Faith and will not soft-sell the message, I will offer no apology for that. I was ordained to preach the Gospel without watering it down. Only the truth of Christ will set us free, and I must preach it even if some people are uncomfortable with it.

    • Mary Rinaldi says:

      Gosh, I’ve heard so much about Mahopac! Those must have been some pretty rotten years for our wonderfully kind Fr. C.

      • Thanks Mary! There were a lot of wonderful people at St. John the Evangelist in Mahopac, but there were also some who were not very charitable. They presumed to know my motivations for a few things without asking me what they were and spread a lot of false stories about either my motivations or what actually happened. Thankfully, when some of them did approach me, I was able to explain what had really happened rather than what gossip claimed and we were able to create a good working relationship afterwards. There are always a few who never come to the table to talk who prefer to believe what they’ve heard rather than the truth. It was a trying time for me, but one from which I learned a lot of valuable lessons that have made me a better priest (I think!)

      • Mary Rinaldi says:

        Excuse my French, Fr. C, but that stinks!
        They didn’t know the treasure God was entrusting to them.

      • Thanks Mary! You’re very kind.

  2. Joan P Carrozza says:

    Knowing the Disciples of Christ at St. Ann’s personally, what you said Father, is absolutely true. I have never met a more devoted group of teens in my life. Kudos to all.

  3. Tony Marscopone says:

    I NEVER trust a priest who needs to put down other priests to make himself look good. For shame. 👎🏾

    • Hello Tony. Would you kindly point out where I put down other priests? Disagreeing with someone else’s approach is not putting them down. Also, using your tactic, I could say “I NEVER respect the opinion of someone who insults a priest without any merit to his insult. For shame.” But I won’t. What was Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel reading? – “be compassionate as your heavenly father is compassionate. Stop judging and you will not be judged, for the measure you use to judge with will be used to measure you.” God’s blessings upon you my friend.

      • Tony Marscopone says:

        Don’t you get pedantic with me.
        This is what is nasty and judgmental on your part (of course you already know it is!):
        “I have always used the term “marshmallow theology” to describe this approach, giving homilies that are sweet and tasty but have no nutritional value whatsoever. Everybody loves a marshmallow once in a while, but try to live on marshmallows and you soon get sick of them! So toning down the message and just doling out platitudes is not going to win many people over. Oh it will suit the people who don’t want to be challenged and want to be allowed to bask in their own delusions of how holy they are. But that will never produce disciples. Sure, I’ve had some people leave St. Ann’s and go where they get the sweet nothings they want to hear.”

        You could have just as easily left that out and still made your point perfectly fine. But no, you need to slam others to make yourself look good. I shake my head.

      • Hello Tony. Whom did I insult? Give me the name of someone I mentioned in my comment that I insulted.

        Have you read the nasty tone of your comments? I would take a moment to consider what you have to say if it were done charitably and with responsible argumentation that offered clear points of debate, but you merely fling insults. You know the old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? It’s worth taking seriously my friend.

        Gob bless you in all you do

  4. Jean Blair says:

    That’s wonderful!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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