Growing up, I was always taught that it was important to get ‘plugged in’ at church. Such a belief has stuck with me, still today. In order to “be the Church” we are obliged to do more than just occupy a pew on Sundays. Being the Church entails an active participation in the various ministries that your community of faith has to offer. Believe me, there is always a spot for everyone. If you can sing, join the choir. If you can’t, be a lector. Stage fright? Be an usher. I could go on and on but the fact remains that whatever your unique skill set may be, the Church can use it. Even if you don’t think you have any skills the Church still needs you!
Being an active youth group kid, myself, I valued, a great deal, the difference that youth ministry could make in someone’s life. A few years ago, my wife and I began volunteering on my parish’s core team; the group of adults that helps the youth minister coordinate all the ins and outs of a youth gathering. My wife (then fiancée) and I were appointed as small group leaders for high school students that were preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I can tell you now with great certainty that working with the young Church week in and week out is by far one of the quickest routes to holiness. Sometimes the teens didn’t want to be there. Sometimes we didn’t want to be there. I think if we paused long enough to realize that our moments of discomfort would be our way of standing in the gap for these teens on their journey of faith we would have gotten over it quicker than we did.
Our experience of being involved with parish ministry has persisted to the point of having served in youth ministry for over five years now, both as a volunteer and as a paid staff member. I do not, however, feel as though our ‘aha! moment’ was entirely unique. In fact, I would have you believe that multitudes of the Catholic faithful are coming to realize that the days of just checking in on Sundays are no longer enough. The scope of parish ministry has been evolving exponentially and, in many ways, we are witnessing a revival of a Church culture that has existed in years past. Organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters, and Catholic Youth Organizations are finding new life in small groups, ACTS retreats, Life Teen ministry, and many ‘next-generation’ expressions of evangelization.
Once, my wife and I were taking engagement pictures with a great photographer friend of ours and we began talking about church. Speaking about our involvement with our parish’s youth ministry ignited a spark of excitement in our formerly-Catholic-now-Protestant photographer’s demeanor. She made the remark, “I am so glad that the Catholic Church is finally waking up!” At first, I didn’t really know how to receive her comment due to the fact that my experience with the Church was so limited at this point. The most I could muster was an awkward sounding “Yeah?!” Her comment stuck with me though and I began to notice a bit more as to where the Church has been and where it is going today.
Catholic Churches, at one point in time, were the life-blood of the community. Whether it was the men’s group, the women’s bible study, the youth sports leagues, or the senior citizen rosary groups, everyone had a place at Church where they could live their lives within the context of their Catholic faith. Unfortunately, as the culture began to shift and societal norms evolved the family began to struggle. An increasing number of broken homes began to shape the way future generations would view the importance of ‘family.’
“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” – Pope St. John Paul II
You know, St. John Paul II was one of the most insightful Popes we have had in recent history. His keen ability to, time after time, know exactly what the world needed to hear was nothing short of the Holy Spirit working through him. St. JP2 taught us not only what it meant to be human, made in God’s image, but how to love one another once again. He called for a new evangelization effort within the Church; a mission to awaken the faithful who had fallen asleep or fallen away altogether. While the work of the New Evangelization is steep and still begs for much progress to be made I think we are reaching a point, especially in Western culture, when we can say again “the Church is awake!” The future is bright for the Catholic Church, even as the future of our society may be darker than ever. The Holy Spirit is bringing about an all-out renewal of urgency within the hearts of the faithful; most likely so that the Church can continue to flourish through whatever lies ahead. Vocational calls are being heard, youth ministries are exploding in number, fathers and mothers are recommitting to being fathers and mothers again! You could say that the Church is getting ready to experience her greatest season of growth in its 2000+ year history.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:18-19