Word Magazine October 1982 Page 20
THE CHURCH — FUTURE OF OUR YOUTH
By Father James C. Meena
You have heard it said many times that our youth are the future of the Church. While I do not and have never disputed that statement because I’ve always agreed with it and perhaps because I was once considered to be a part of the future of the Church, I would like to turn that concept around for your consideration and to state that the Church is the future of our youth.
We have become so involved with young people that our whole culture has become youth oriented to the extent that those of us who are aging rapidly try to deny the realities of time and keep ourselves looking young. We dye our hair, go on special diets, wear special clothes, have plastic surgery, wear cosmetics, and do all sorts of things to keep ourselves looking youthful. We look with contempt upon aging because in this society, which has been so concerned with the future, the comfort, the pleasures, the education and the gratification of young people, (and with literally buying their love), we have not bothered to develop in the minds of our youth a conscientious respect for aging, a realization that one day they will no longer be young but that they will be members of the “older” generation and will need to assume the responsibilities of senior members of society.
For too long now we have so devoted ourselves to safeguarding our children from the suffering we or our parents have experienced that we have forgotten that sometimes we only learn from our own adversities and from our own experience.
We fail to let our children make their own mistakes. And worse than this we allow our children to inflict their mistakes of judgment upon us. We yield to our children. We say, “Oh, they’re good kids.” Well, they are good kids. Thank God for that! But how long will they remain “good” if they are not also granted the opportunity to learn of the fullness of their responsibilities as human beings? They learn about their responsibilities at home and they should perfect learning of them in the Church. They certainly are not learning them in school or from their peer groups. When our children say to us, “I can’t go to Church because I have too much homework,” our usual reaction is, “Poor Baby . . . go ahead and stay home and do your homework,” failing to realize that by allowing them to make this exception, we are encouraging them to believe that they can put “Things” before God, that God will accept something less than a priority position in their lives, that it’s okay to take God out of the primary place in their lives and place Him down the line someplace. If they don’t want to come to Church because they happen to have an event at school, we allow them to believe that that is more important than their coming to worship God, to take Holy Communion, to make confession and to be a part of a praying community.
The Church is the future of our children and yet we piddle that future away by compromising with it and by allowing our children to teach us how to rationalize and put that future in a place that is less important than it ought to be in their lives. We wouldn’t dream of allowing our children to deliberately play hooky from school should they falsely claim that they are not feeling well. A conscientious parent will virtually push that child out of the house and aim him toward the school room. But if that same child, on a Sunday morning or on the eve of a Feast or during the Great Fast says, “I don’t feel well, I don’t want to go to Church,” parents take him very seriously and allow that child to cop out and thereby allows him to fritter away his future.
Why do I say that the Church is the future of our youth? It is here that they learn not only about their relationship with God, but it is here, by their regular and conscientious participation in the life of the Church from the time of their childhood through their adulthood, that they learn the means of coping and dealing with the various subtleties of life by which they will be tempted. It is here that they learn how to deal with those seductive elements of life which would try to corrupt them. It is here, together with the teachings of their families, that they learn what life really is for a Godly person.
Without the spiritual upbringing of the Church and the family, that child goes into the world totally unprepared for that which the world has to offer and what is it that the world offers? It isn’t salvation. It isn’t hope. It isn’t goodness. It is the opposite of all these things that the world holds out for our young people. It is in the Godly family and in the Family of God that the children have a chance to learn how to deal with life as spiritual human beings, as complete human beings, as human beings who know how to bring to bear all the faculties which their Creator has given to them, prayer, meditation, spirituality, hope, love, understanding, ethical and moral values, all of the things that the world will not teach them. So it is that I contend that the Church is the future of our youth and it is time that we parents begin to realize that and make sure that we insure that that future is secure for our children, secure by our own examples, by the manner in which we relate to Christ and the Church.
Are you a disciplinarian? Sadly most parents are afraid to discipline their children. Rather they will try in so many ways to buy their affection, to bribe them into compliance. Several hundred years ago, Solomon wrote, “A wise son loves discipline. A mocker will not listen to reproof,” (Proverbs 13:1). Remember that proverb the next time your child says, “I don’t want to go to Church.” Now, hundreds of years later, psychologists are discovering this truth, that children need and want to be disciplined as well as to be loved by their parents, and that they must be disciplined if they are going to be whole and complete people. It is here in the Church that your children will learn, “He who despises the word will destroy himself, he who respects the Commandments will be safe,” (Proverbs 15:13).
Youth of the Church, hear the word of God. “Rejoice in your youth, you who are young; let your heart give you joy in your young days. Follow the promptings of your heart and the desires of your eyes. But this you must know: for all these things God will bring you to judgment. Cast worry from your heart; shield your flesh from pain. Yet youth, the age of dark hair, is vanity and remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before evil days come and the years approach when you say, ‘These give me no pleasure,’ before sun and light and moon and stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain,” (Ecclesiastes, 11:9-12:2).
My dear young people, what God is saying to you through the Bible is, enjoy being young while you are yet strong. Appreciate the sunshine and the beauty of life, but don’t fall into sin. God has given you strength and vigor and endurance for you to enjoy to His honor, not for you to sin. The day will come when all of us must stand before God to make an accounting to Him for what we did with our youth and with our lives.
You come from good parents, good families. Your mothers and fathers are trying to teach you the right way and you know that we of the Church are trying to teach you the way of Christ so that you might grow to be true disciples of the Lord. But remember that God wants you to bring honor to Him now, while you are young. If you learn to bring honor to God while you are young then when you get to be an “oldee,” you will still bring honor to Him because you will have made it a style of life.
If we believe that our youth are the Church’s future then we must also believe that the Church is the future of our youth.