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Young people’s role to deliver ‘joie de vivre’ to the Faith
Several months ago I wrote in this space about how taking my 2-year-old to Mass isn’t necessarily my favorite thing, which is odd, because Mass is one of my favorite things and so is Gemma. But not everything mixes like peanut butter and chocolate. Gemma and Mass are more like peanut butter and gum — amazing by themselves, but together, not so much.
After that column was published, Our Sunday Visitor was flooded with excellent advice and opinions from readers all over the country — some thanking my wife and me for continuing to make an effort, some who themselves attended separate Masses when their children were little, and some offering tips on how to get Gemma to behave when she starts getting squirrelly. Whatever opinion was held — that Gemma must go to Mass every week, or that giving her (and us) a break every now and then is OK — it was clear that readers are deeply invested in the future of the Church.
While I would like to say that this advice has been applied and has taken root, it was clear this weekend that there is still work to be done. As Saturday’s vigil Mass was wrapping up, she wiggled her way free and made a run for the altar down the left-side aisle before her 10-year-old brother nabbed her halfway to the ambo.
She wasn’t the only kid dashing around the parish grounds this weekend. Thankfully, the other 20 or so — not all mine, thanks be to God — waited until they were outside after Mass. This weekend kicked off a new season for our parish’s middle school youth group, and my wife and I have volunteered to help manage the chaos. (We are experts in the field.) It’s not a large group, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in energy and enthusiasm — what Pope Francis during his recent trip to Mozambique called the joie de vivre of young people.
As the pope met with youths at Maxaquene Stadium in the capital of Maputo on Sept. 5, he reminded them — as he has done several times during his pontificate — that young people are vital to the Church.
“You are important!” he said. “You need to know this. You need to believe it. You are important! Because not only are you the future of Mozambique, or of the Church and of humanity — you are their present! In everything that you are and do, you are even now contributing to this present by offering the best of yourselves today. Without your enthusiasm … your joie de vivre, what would this land be like?”
Quiet, I thought. It would be quiet. Nice and quiet and peaceful. But this was my answer as I was immersed in the screams of young teenagers and still reeling a bit from Gemma’s nonstop chatter during Mass. Deep down, I was thrilled to see so many kids choosing to participate in the life of the Church — or, for some, having their parents choose for them. But either way, they showed up to pray and play in the name of Jesus when many of their friends continue to fade away from the Church quietly.
The sad truth is that our Church — and our parish — is getting quieter by the day. A recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate revealed that among young people who have left the Faith, the average age when they made the decision to stop being Catholic was 13 years old. That’s the age, on average, of these 20 amazing young people who were running and laughing and shouting after Mass.
“Like adults, young people walk on two feet,” Pope Francis said. “But unlike adults, who keep their feet parallel, you always have one foot in front of the other, ready to set out, to take off.”
So take off, Gemma. Set out, middle-schoolers. Remind the lady giving you the side-eye at Mass that you are the present and the future of the Church. Odds are that there will be fewer at youth group next month and even fewer next year. So bring your joie de vivre and remind me and other parents why it’s so important to take you to Mass. Run and shout. Go make some noise.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.