Sunday, March 13, 2011

Swimming in swift waters; take the plunge

I was watching "The Journey Home" episode for the second time with John Peterson of "Catholics Come Home". I am fascinated with his wonderful commercials and his joyfully articulated faith, which is so contagious, EWTN seems to be passing him from show to show, and he never seems to lose the glow in his eyes when he discusses his reversion to the Faith or the joy he finds in his apostolate of bringing thousands of other Catholics home. . His commercials have brought over 200,000 Catholics back to the Faith, though they are aired in only 30 dioceses! One parish priest alone had 16 confessions from fallen away Catholics in one week. Imagine if ALL the dioceses in the US had those beautiful spots! See them here. Spread them around , they are marvelous. Why did I feel so inspired to write about at midnight when were are losing an hour? Saving souls of youth, who are literally drowning in the pop culture is a cause which is never far from my heart since I am a youth minister turned teacher.
I reflected on my youth and how I was a bit adrift after my Confirmation. I was all excited, fasted, and prayed during Lent before my Confirmation, but was crushed by how no one in my family was as excited about my newfound dedication to God as I wanted them to be. I cried that next day, to my mother's mystification, because the party we had was beautiful.I had trouble telling her what it was that I was looking for, I only knew I hadn't found it.  I can still see the statue of Our Lady in the middle of our living room, surrounded with flowers both from our yard and the florist, and I laid my heartbreak at her feet. I never left the Church, but felt like now that CCD was over, and this is before any type of youth movements were born, I wondered "Where does a 13 who deeply loves God belong in our Church?".
Teens and single twenty-somethings seem to be missing in action in most parishes. There are mostly adults and children in the pews,  and in the activities, and at that vulnerable time of life, we want to have a flag to carry in the parade, a bumper sticker on our car, a button for our lapels saying,, "here I am and here's my job in the Church". There is a place, but they are not finding it. We have to help them.
We know that Our Lord never told teens they weren't welcome, in fact,  scholars say Our Lady was a young teen at the Annunciation. But its the prevailing culture which tells teens they are to be catty, vain, selfish, materialistic hedonists, whose only sacrifice is for causes like the environment. Notice how readily a teen who balks at Lenten practices will suddenly, with great conviction, declare himself a vegan. A lifelong sacrifice. We should be asking more of our teens! We as adults need to recognize that though Jesus and Mary are calling our teens to sacrificial holiness of life and outspoken defense of the Faith and its tenets, there are floodwaters of culture which seem to be washing away the grace of Baptism in their souls.
Today I took Molly my Golden Retriever to the river for our first walk in the spring. With all the pent up enthusiasm of a long cold winter spent without walks, she nearly threw herself into the rushing river, which was overflowing its banks. Wisely, for an impulsive young dog, she only dipped her nose into the water, felt the force and the freezing temperature, and backed out.
Too many of our teens have already thrown themselves into that cold, dirty, rushing water which is popular culture, and are being tossed about by the current, hitting the rocks of temptations, and life-altering choices and getting bloodied and dying spiritually. We can't merely stand at the shoreline, calling out to them, the noisy water drowns us out, we have to plunge in, adding the waters of grace to the dirty waters of popular culture in order to attract those young souls away from the dangerous current to the safety of the shore. To their role in the Body of Christ which will help use their ability to give, their talents, their enthusiasm, and their love for the building up of the Kingdom of God.

When I was 13, in the mid seventies, popular culture was certainly a muddy stream, but it was shallower.  I only waded ankle deep. I had the radio in my room, a few  records and cassettes, and one TV in the house, which my parents dominated. It was quiet enough in my home that I was able to find "A Story of A Soul" on my parents' bookshelf when I had trouble sleeping at night and find a lifeline in St Therese. I stayed up all night reading  her life story.
 The Church was finding her balance after Vatican II, and John Paul II had not yet stepped unto St Peter's balcony, but in that quiet environment, God's voice was still audible to a teen with a searching heart. Walking to daily Mass in the summer, my faith grew in the quiet of our Church, and when offered the chance to assist at CCD, sing in the choir, join in the March for Life, and serve as a sacristan at my Catholic school, I found outlets for my growing need to share my faith. I had a flag to carry. A role to play. God needed me to add my gifts to help complete what was lacking in the cross of Christ. God needed me; how honored I felt!
The teens who swim in today's overwhelming current of endless texts, tweets, Iphone movies which you can take everywhere fall victim to the prejudice of society's low expectations of them. They are "Pretty Little Liars", "Bridezillas-to-be", and have Secret Lives from their families which they would confess on Facebook but not to a priest.
We who are secure in our faith are called to jump into the swift waters of popular culture, despite the risk of bruises, knowing that our experience in the Faith can be a lifeline to teens drowning in the murky waters of sin and impurity. We need to text. Tweet, Facebook, blog, podcast, YouTube along with Lady Gaga, if only to highlight the utter depravity of her spiritual downfall from the indulged student in an exclusive Catholic high school in NYC to the self-abusing wretch she is today. We can help Our Lord's voice reach over the rushing current to them, helping them gain a foothold on the shore, and find a place in our Church.
As my 17 year old daughter Gabbi said on a pro-life TV show, "The Face of Pro-life". 'Its MY friends who will be facing the temptations of abortion, I need to tell them there is a better way'. Who can do that better than a peer? We need teens to be salt and light to other teens, to be 'signs of contradiction' like Our Lord was. But they have to hear the call and they are surrounded by the other side, tickling their ears with temptations. Our voices must reach them.
Pray, fast for them this Lent. Make sacrifices of time for them; volunteer in youth ministry, get involved in Social Media to be a light in the darkness. Fr Pavone once suggested that pro-lifers should dive into chat rooms, to evangelize. I must say jumping into that muck with the provocative phrase "I love Jesus and Mary don't you?" is not for the faint hearted, but the two people who attacked me the most for that phrase were a priest who was laicized and a post-abortive Catholic woman. I found myself talking to them instead of shouting slogans, and God willing, being a voice in the wilderness of that chatroom.

Our beloved Holy Father Benedict has begged us to get involved with social media, he has had a conference on it, and has a Facebook presence: Pope2you, he has established an office in the Vatican dedicated to it, so we must follow his lead, plunge into the swift waters armed with a strong life in grace, and see whom we can rescue.
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