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home : bishop : columns

8/17/2017 8:30:00 AM
You're not too young to become a saint
‘Millennials do not just want to be told what makes them feel good. They want truth and not just as something to talk about, but to put into action.’
‘Millennials do not just want to be told what makes them feel good. They want truth and not just as something to talk about, but to put into action.’

As summer turns to fall, our hearts go out to our young people, many of whom will soon be leaving home. We hope your summer has been fun and relaxing, but also one of spiritual growth and renewal.

Whatever your experience, however, now is likely a time of soul-searching: "Where am I headed? Who is God calling me to be?"

Not everyone may be questioning their identity in this way, but as people of faith, believing each of us has a God-given mission and a divinely-inspired identity, we want to accompany you on your search as best we can.

Older generations drew their sense of who they were from whence they came. For them, family, church and school were the most natural and enduring connections, defining their sense of identity. That was usually reinforced at home.

The popularity of online genealogy research, especially among senior citizens, bears testimony to the importance placed on tracing ancestral roots. Not so much with our younger folk, who tend to follow the style of "making up your own life," forming an identity from a variety of networks.

With so many sources of information available through the mass media, work, entertainment (music is big) and social networks like Instagram and Snapchat (Facebook is more of an over-40 thing now), any sense of "church identity" does not begin to develop until later.

Yet, the seeds of sanctity are often planted young -- and, spiritually, they need to be watered.

Young people who seem a step or two ahead of peers in discovering God's love and closeness to them in their personal lives probably encountered this presence not while sitting in a church pew, but through some focused activity.

A powerful retreat, a community project, a prayer experience like Catholic Underground along with a good confession, or a pilgrimage to the National Catholic Youth Conference or World Youth Day: Happenings like these are often cited by young adults as peak, sometimes life-changing spiritual experiences.

None of us likes being prejudged or pigeonholed. Just as older Catholics do not take to being called old-fashioned, stuffy or even hypocritical if they tend at times to moralize, millennials dislike stereotypes that brand them as lazy couch potatoes who don't pray enough or who lack deep spiritual passions.

In fact, millennials want to be helpful, to be invited and included, to share their experiences and, most of all, to be engaged in whatever brings people together. They would also like more clarity and direction from those who teach and preach the faith. They do not just want to be told what makes them feel good. They want truth and not just as something to talk about, but to put into action.

Parishes that understand the passion in the hearts of young people and find ways to include them at Mass, on pastoral teams and councils, in service projects and in caring for and catechizing others are more likely to see their communities grow.

Young people know their elders lament empty pews, but faith means more to them than counting heads. They will help, and gladly, if invited -- but they also want to be listened to seriously and to engage their talents and energies.

With so many pressures to create a public persona, live out an identity, find and hold a job -- not to mention form a family one day with the right partner -- living our Catholic faith, rooted in and centered on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, can attract young seekers as powerfully it has throughout the centuries.

It will make them disciples and saints.

Speaking of identities and the "selfie" culture luring us into false and fading identities, do you remember how Pope Francis self-identified? When asked, at the start of his papacy, how he would describe who he was as Jorge Bergoglio, the man, he said the only thing he was sure of about himself is that "I am a sinner!"

That tells me Pope Francis remains young in heart and spirit. Hoping his life's mission is far from over, he knows he still needs time if he is to become the saint that he, like all of us, is called to be.

Those of us who are getting on in years, like me, should be grateful to God for having such mercy in giving us precious time to let His grace do its work!

The Church is really never "old," because God is always new and ready to take hold of our lives if we, as Mother Teresa says, "give God permission." Young folks are ready for that right now. Are we willing to channel them in the direction to become saints, accompanying them toward lives of virtue, even as we stand in need of God's generous grace and mercy ourselves?

Think of how many of our greatest saints were so young when they heard a call that changed not only their lives, but the thousands they still inspire:

•  St. Francis of Assisi was barely 20 when, almost a millennium ago, he lost his taste for a mediocre life of fortune and self-satisfaction. Doted on by his parents and known to love a good party, over a three- or four-year period of soul-searching when he questioned his life's purpose and underwent a profound conversion, he found God's call in serving the poorest of the poor, as a poor man among them.

•  St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the "Little Flower," a child of devout parents and a country girl of humble origins, is now proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. She died at the age of 24, the same age at which young Italian social activist Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati died of polio. St. Thérèse once said, "I want to spend my eternity doing good on earth." Both of these saintly young people continue doing that, as the uncorrupted state of their bodies seems to attest. Where did they get their virtues and spiritual powers, which still burn today in the passions they inspire?

•  Let's not forget our own St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a native New Yorker known as the "Lily of the Mohawks." She also died at the age of 24, having converted to the faith five years earlier. If you're looking for a model and intercessor to guide you in living a virtuous life that may be countercultural, she's your patron saint! Miracles and supernatural events continue to be attributed to her. You or someone you know may be witness to one of them!

•  Some saints died even younger. St. Maria Goretti, 11, was stabbed 14 times by a farmhand known to her family who had made advances toward her. He later repented and attended her canonization in 1950. He died peacefully, 20 years after that, as a lay brother in a monastery.

Who says that anyone is too young or old to be a saint, or that God doesn't wait for sinners? What if spreading our faith or even achieving your own salvation hangs on your accompanying a future saint in your family and your parish today?

Maybe that's your call to sanctity!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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