Today’s world is filled with so many examples of infidelity. This is especially the case in marriage. The news outlets are constantly occupied with juicy stories of politicians, sports figures, and celebrities who are unfaithful to their vows and promises. The priesthood and the consecrated life is not faring much better. It is no wonder that many young people struggle to make life long commitments. The statistics and their real life experiences show that this is impossible or not worth it.
We are certainly in trying times, but as St Paul says, “where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Romans 5:20).” With the eyes of faith we can notice signs of the New Springtime of the Church. One of these signs is the work of Life Teen a lay missionary movement in the Church which focuses on evangelizing and strengthening the faith of today’s youth.
This summer Fr Ken and I had the opportunity to spend time at one of Life Teen’s missions, the Edge camp in Hiawassee, Georgia. This camp offers middle school students from Life Teen parishes the chance to have an experience of their faith which is steeped in the Sacraments, Scripture, and Church teaching, yet also really fun. The theme for this year’s camps was Fearless with the symbolism of climbing the mountain of faith.
What was most impressive to us as Religious friars about the Life Teen movement is the fearless commitment that its members are freely giving to be missionaries. These young adults, often in their 20’s, are offered the opportunity to become true missionaries for a few weeks, a summer, or even for several years. This commitment to living all the radicalness of a missionary is freely offered and must be freely accepted.
When reflecting on this “movement of the Spirit”, one is drawn to thank God and the missionaries for their sign of fidelity to something greater. In fact, this is what Pope Francis did July 28th in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in an encounter with the volunteers at World Youth Day (another instrument of the Holy Spirit today). Pope Francis stated that “I could not return to Rome” without having thanked all the volunteers for their “countless” acts of loving service to the pilgrims in Rio. Fr Ken and I felt a similar gratitude for the dedication and countless hours of work and prayer which we experienced in the missionaries at Camp Hiawassee. What better words than the Pope’s to express the youthful enthusiasm shown in the service of the Gospel:
“With your smiles, your acts of kindness and your willingness to serve, you’ve shown it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Their example, he said, was in the model of St. John the Baptist, who prepared the way of the Lord. “Every one of you,” he said, “was a means … to meet Jesus. And this is the most beautiful service we can give as missionary disciples, to prepare the way so that all might meet, know, and love the Lord.”
The Pope recognized in the commitments and service made at World Youth Day an opportunity to learn the virtues which promote fidelity to the higher calling of marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life. Francis challenged the volunteers to even greater generosity:
“God calls you to make definite choices … to respond to your vocation is to move towards personal fulfillment.” “God calls each of us to be holy … but he has a particular path for each of us.” Some, he said, “through family life in the sacrament of marriage.” He noted that many consider marriage “out of fashion,” and added that “in a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many (say) it is not worth making a life-long commitment, a definitive decision, forever, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
“I ask you instead to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide. Yes, I am asking you to rebel! To rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary, and ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, of true love.”
He re-iterated, “have courage to swim against the tide, to be happy.”
How ironic that we find God and personal fulfillment only when we are able to give ourselves as a sincere gift to another or to all in consecration (Gaudium et Spes, 24)? Yet this has always been the truth, but it is today a revolutionary act. We need rebels who will step out in faith and make lifelong commitments trusting God’s grace. The culture has taught us to doubt. To doubt that God is faithful once and for all time. To doubt the grace of our baptism which calls to that same fidelity in our lives. Certainly fidelity is not intended to be easy, but it is the path which the Lord gives each individual to holiness.
Groups such as Life Teen International are signs that the Holy Spirit is at work giving young adults the tools that they need to make lifetime commitments. This is a process and God’s ways are mysterious. Yet, the witness of young adults giving one or more years of their lives to live as true missionaries is a huge step in trust in God and courage. After making this step, the individual missionary is fitted with all the necessary training and support to live the commitment. They learn the essentials of the faith and the Church’s teachings on mission. The missionaries study the life teen mission statutes and make certain promises to support Catholic community living. However, the most important support that they receive is from a prayerful Catholic community. The Life Teen community prays the liturgy of the hours in common each day. They also have Eucharistic Adoration with meditation and sharing on the Scriptures.
It is easy to see how this missionary apostolic movement is truly forming its members to live their baptismal call to holiness. Those who take part in the mission, whether through summer staff or service staff or full-time missionaries, are begin prepared to be those “revolutionaries” who can be witness of fidelity to their vocations in the world. Some will become married people who will raise children for the kingdom of God. Others will be ordained priest who will stand in the place of Christ in parishes throughout the world. Still others will feel a call to the even more radical life of the evangelical counsels, becoming witnesses of the life to come.
Whatever the call, we thank God for raising up movements such as Life Teen, which are preparing the soil for the New Springtime of the Church. Teaching the youth about the God who is always faithful. Then giving them the tools to step out and make lifetime commitments. To live our call to imitate God in His faithfulness and in the process truly find ourselves through our vocation.
Fr Joseph Eddy and Fr Ken Breen,
Order of Mercy www.orderofmercy.org