Earlier this year, during a missionary journey to Ireland, I was privileged to preach to a couple thousand Irish youth.
In these young people I saw enthusiasm and beauty, but also pain and alienation. What most astounded me was the deep reverence they had for the sacredness of the faith. I watched hundreds of youth spend their evenings praying for hours — prostrating themselves before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
I heard confessions every day at this time and was busy late into the night.
Then there were the spontaneous conversations. The deep searching questions I never asked as a youth: How do I treat my dad after he left us and is living with another woman? How do I deal with the pain of my parents’ divorce? My friend is homosexual and is hurting — what should I do? Why did my mom (or sister) have an abortion? Am I worthless if I don’t make a lot of money like my dad? How can I be chaste again? Where is the real truth and is there such a thing as an absolute truth?
After being with these youth and seeing their yearning for something deeper I’ve concluded that they don’t want a church that is like the world but a church that is very different from the world.
Look at the religious communities that are growing with new vocations. They look different from the world. They have a desire to live and pray in community. In a world that has abandoned God, the new rebels are those who love the Catholic Church, follow and obey the pope and sign vows with a holy habit.
During my trip to Ireland there was a “come and see” meeting for youth interested in learning more about the religious life. It was by far the largest of all gatherings.
You see, youth are tired of churches trying to adapt and strain to make liturgical music exciting for them. They are tired of superficial, self-affirming homilies full of snappy anecdotes. It is a great sin today that many priests give boring, irrelevant homilies that fail to inspire youth to burn with zeal for God, that do not challenge the lost to turn again to the well of salvation through Christ.
Today’s youth seek a church that truly worships God — not a small god that we can control or that bows to the whims of the present culture, but a God whose train fills the temple and whose glory is so great that, at once, he convicts of sin and affirms a deep tender love.
Today’s youth seek a God that is a fire, a storm and a father that calls to a deep intimate sacredness that touches them and calls them to be holy. They want a church that places the bar higher than the culture, not a compromising church that keeps track of what is politically correct. Youth want a church that proclaims our need for heaven and shows the way to get there. They want a church that leads them beyond the anguish, fear, worry and loneliness of this world to a world full of God’s love. They want a church that has answers to questions and offers to suffer with them, to bear their wounds. They long to be told that there is an objective reality that we can know and understand so as to order our lives and be happy.
They want to know that Jesus is real and present with us here and now, that he is truly a friend and the savior of our souls. They want to see a church which is ready to suffer for the poor, the lost, the abandoned and the broken.
They want to see that Christ and his church are real.
The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.