Over and over again we read reports that each successive generation is less traditionally “churched” than the last. Gen-X’ers are spiritual but not religious. Millennials are “Nones” (i.e. no religious affiliation), and today’s teens often have no concept of the supernatural whatsoever. I don’t question the statistics, but I’d propose that there’s great and growing hope for the cause of God in young people’s lives. I’ve seen it.
Some weeks ago, I led a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain with a wonderful troop of my fellow millennials. Their faith… and their desire to grow that faith was inspiring. Last weekend I took a larger group of twenty and thirty-somethings to a retreat center for our parish’s annual young adult retreat.
Men and women from all over Capitol Hill, from a diverse spread of professional and personal backgrounds came together to pray and explore the mercy and joy God offers in Jesus Christ. One example from the retreat really stood out: evening prayer. Throughout my priesthood, I’ve led evening prayer at retreats and in other liturgical settings. No matter what, you always have to explain how the prayers are said, what role each part of the congregation plays, etc. I assumed this would be the case on the young adult retreat. Do you know, every one of the men and women in that room knew how to pray the rite?! It may not seem like much, but that consciousness… and everything that goes with it (an awareness of church tradition, Scriptural prayer, praying in a public group) represents a light year’s movement in Young Adult ministry from the time I started College (1999).
This week, I find myself chaplain to another retreat, this time with teenagers. A group of high school students from around the DC area have gotten together at Priestfield Retreat Center in West Virginia for LITE (Leaders Inspired To Evangelize): a retreat experience that teaches kids how to spread the Gospel. I’ve been astounded! By their attention, their goodwill toward each other, the instant friendships formed, their optimism, and so many other traits… these students have been vessels of Christ’s hope for me! As I write, they’re spread out around the retreat center putting together social media presentations to effectively promote the teachings of Christ on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. I’m so impressed, I’ve actually just downloaded instagram myself and will begin using it as part of my own online presence!
Both in Spain and here in West Virginia, natural beauty is an obvious and easy place to experience Christ… but as beautiful as the surroundings are, nothing in them holds a candle to the beauty of human soul fully alive… something you’ll find if you look at our young people with eyes of faith.