There is nothing quite like praying Compline, or Night Prayer, in a dimly-lit seminary chapel with 120 high school youth, college interns, and adult leaders; with youth chanting the psalms, proclaiming and preaching the Word of God, leading the community in prayer; and with everyone singing with heart-felt intensity the Canticle of Simeon: “Now, O Lord, let your servant go …” The young Church is alive and well in the United States, and these young people are joyful, prayerful, loving, talented, and filled with a desire to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, nourished by Word and Sacrament for their mission in the world.
One of the great blessings of being a Vocation Director is being able to spend significant time with the youth and young adults of our Church. This summer, I have had the opportunity to participate in a significant way in three different youth programs that bring together high school youth from throughout the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and beyond. Bishop Brute Days is a week-long summer camp held at our college seminary in Indianapolis for junior high and high school boys who are open to the possibility of the priesthood. Homeland Mission Project is an Indianapolis-based week of service, prayer, and formation for high school youth from around the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. One Bread, One Cup is a summer youth liturgical leadership conference for high school youth that brings young people from all over the United States to Saint Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology for one of three week-long conferences and also for a six-week college internship program.
The young people I have encountered at these youth gatherings give me great hope for the Church and the world – not just the Church and world of tomorrow, but the Church and world of today. It’s not easy following Jesus Christ at any age – the challenges keep multiplying, it seems. But if the best witness to Christianity is faithful Christians, we don’t have to look too far. If you haven’t met many faithful young Christians, I have countless young men and women I can introduce to you. They are right among us, and they have gifts and talents that they are longing to share with the entire Church, for the benefit of building up the Body of Christ.
At the One Bread, One Cup conferences, the young people receive more than 10 hours of formation and catechesis in a particular liturgical ministry – such as Proclaiming God’s Word, Chant, Instrumental Music for Liturgy, Liturgical Art and Environment, and Prayer in the Life of the Church. They also receive large-group catechesis on Word, Sacrament and Mission. They learn how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and how to reflect theologically on their lives and experiences. And they have a lot of fun along the way, growing to know and love fellow pilgrims on the journey toward Christ. Then, after spending five days at Saint Meinrad, they are sent back to their parishes, schools, and communities to put into practice what they have learned. Given the chance, they could transform parish ministries and liturgies that are in need of a boost or enhance parish ministries and liturgies that are already thriving.
But we have to trust them. We have to empower them. And we have to be an advocate for the youth of today as the Church of today. Bishop Brute Days is not about scouting out future priests for the Church, it’s about forming young men in virtue, fraternity, and prayer to be leaders in their parishes today. Homeland Mission Project is not about developing service skills for the next generation, it’s about serving the very real needs of our local communities today. One Bread, One Cup is not about giving youth a glimpse of the liturgical ministries they will be able to do as adults, it’s about bringing young people into active participation in liturgical ministries for today’s Church. And if we allow all that to happen, I think we’ll be amazed at the strong, faith-filled Church we have – today.