When asked to write this piece, I struggled to settle on the subject matter, so asked God for guidance. Out of the blue I received a text from someone I didn’t know who asked for my opinion on three questions, suddenly I had the inspiration!
Is the church relevant to young people today?
Absolutely the church is relevant to young people today, probably more today than in any other time in our history. In Ireland we went through a period where being part of the church was compulsory and there was no real choice in the matter. Even though this produced many faithful Catholics there were many who resented the faith, and often the methods of teaching the faith went against the very spirit of the Christian message.
This period was followed by revolt by many against the church because of the failures of many within the church who deviated from church teachings. We are still dealing with the backlash from the media and many of the general public because of mistakes in the past. Young people are very much influenced by the example of others especially the popular trends in many of the social media platforms today. And unfortunately there are a lot of the negative trends against the church because of mistakes in the past.
The problem we have now is much of the criticism was very valid but it distorts the true message of the church, mercy and love, which was true in the past, present and in the future.
So where do we go from here? Looking at it from a positive perspective, this can be seen as an opportunity the strip the whole thing back and start again. Motivate young and old to search for and see the real message of the church. Pope Francis has actioned a Synodal process to put this into place, every parish worldwide is being asked to reach out to their people and seek their opinion on how we become a truly missionary and welcoming church.
So now we have context, lets get back to the question, is the church relevant to young people today? Where does a young persons character grow, where are habits formed, where do they find guidance, who do they turn to in difficult times to find comfort or who do they trust?
In the ideal world loving parents, loving spouse or loyal friend sadly in a lot of cases this is not possible, this is what the church should be and can be, a loving parent, a loving spouse or a loyal friend who first and foremost loves the person warts and all, whose main purpose in life is to want the very best for their child or partner, wanting them to be the best that they can be to have real meaning in their lives, not to give into their superficial needs but to guide them on true path of contentment & fulfilment.
Jesus created the church through Peter, “you are my rock and upon you I will build my church”, the church should be an immoveable rock in any storm, always there no matter what. God had a very detailed plan for his church, All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, I am with you always, to the close of the age. From the very beginning Jesus showed us the pathway, sacred scripture(Bible), apostolic tradition manifested in the living teaching authority of the Catholic Church. There is a reason for the sacraments, commandments and the beatitudes. They are not rules to beat us with but guidelines to show us the way to true happiness. God wants his family to work in communion with one another, not to operate as a group of individuals.
Every young person needs a rock in their life, someone who wants the very best for them and has the roadmap for them to follow.
How can we make it more relevant?
This question should really be how can we make people understand how relevant the church is. The church has the message of an eternal life of happiness but is struggling to get people to listen. Its like doing the biggest exam of your life, where an A star would change your life forever, someone is offering you the answers before the exam but for some reason a lot of people are not listening or don’t trust the provider. What is the answer, go back to the teachers and the parents and examine the guidance and teaching methods. The same is true for the church, lets examine our example and teaching methods. Are we actively giving good example? Are we working together as parents, teachers and clergy to deliver a clear joined up message. People worry about the decline in clergy but in my opinion one of the greatest problems we have is the decline in the number of people who can defend the faith, we need to invest in educated defenders of the faith, who can peel back all the misconceptions of our faith. People who can stand up and confidently and proudly motivate people to look again at the faith of our fathers. Successful political parties will allocate huge resources in educating their top debaters to compete with the best out there, we need to do the same, it works! The church cannot stop here, we then have to use all relevant mediums, Instagram, Tik Tok, advertising, YouTube etc to create the greatest influencers the world has seen.
How can we unite the church – what brings us together?
I would advise anyone to read Pope Francis document “The Joy Of the Gospel” this is the message to unite, who wants to reject JOY.
He asks us to share the Gospel with enthusiasm and vitality, he makes a heartfelt appeal to have a renewed encounter with Jesus and allow the encounter to liberate them and impel them towards sharing the joy they have found. Nobody is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.
“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realise of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”
“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too.”
Joy brings us together, I rest my case…
Noel O’Sullivan is a Community Development Officer & Pastoral Worker in Bellaghy. www.opendoorcomplex.co.uk