In many Gospel passages, Jesus accorded immense regard for the youth, admonishing His disciples to let them come to Him, extolling the angels watching over them, and telling those seeking salvation to approach God like little children.
The boy Jesus Himself astounded temple worthies in Jerusalem with His religious wisdom before Mary and Joseph found Him after three days of looking.
In the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, recounted six times by all four Evangelists and read at mass yesterday, a youth brought Jesus the five loaves and two fish with which He fed the hungry multitude. Thus, our Lord did not just create a feast from thin air, but made use of a boy’s meager vittles.
There is also much that our young people can contribute to the shaping and spreading of the feast that is our Catholic faith. Thus, in responding to the Church’s call to bring the Gospel to both new believers and less devout ones, it behooves the faithful to pay attention to our children. Not just preaching to them, but more important, listening and employing the gifts of spirit God has given them.
So it was that this writer recently spent an hour or so well past midnight talking about the faith with a 20-year-old godson. One had told the Ateneo college student to raise questions and issues about religion which may be interesting or even disturbing. The youth had been somewhat less devout in recent months, skipping Sunday mass a few times and seeming distracted when he did attend.
Not by hell alone
Talking about troubling matters of faith may seem hardly an ideal way to rekindle it, but in fact, the late-night discussion proved enlightening and perhaps inspiring for both the twenty- and the fifty-something.
So what was bothering the 20-year-old about Catholicism? For starters, hell. No, he’s not scared stiff about the Inferno. Rather, he thinks people should be good not just to escape eternal damnation, but for goodness’s sake—man should believe and serve the Lord simply because it’s a good thing to do.
No arguments there from this end. And that issue raised by the Jesuit-educated youth also drives home the point that many people, especially the young, don’t like being intimidated into doing things, least of all something as personal and supposedly uplifting as faith. If it’s good for me, the reasoning goes, why do I have to be threatened with fire and brimstone?
Why indeed? Well, first of all, hell exists, and the Church must tell the faithful about it. Maybe it’s not the superheated kind depicted in religious tradition and mystical visions, but Christian belief does include eternal punishment for those who reject God’s love and mercy. Plainly, if a soul refuses oneness with the Creator, He will not force His kingdom on him or her. The creature would then be allowed to live apart from God. That’s hell.
Besides telling the faithful the truth that sin—the soul’s free decision to reject God—leads to eternal separation from Him, it is a fact that many people are just too consumed by worldly and selfish lives that they cannot be expected to see the good in knowing, loving and serving God. So hell or some other nasty consequence of godlessness may be needed to steer the soul from vice and toward virtue.
Next issue from this writer’s godson: Being good is self-serving. He observed that saints and other do-gooders, even when they make sacrifices, were following their own wish and will. Doesn’t that go against Christ’s call to deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow him? For even self-denial is, in fact, the desire and decision of the supposedly selfless person.
Again, no disagreement on sanctity and goodness being a personal choice of the saintly and the good. Where the argument may be flawed is in concluding that following one’s will goes against Christian tenets. In fact, God endowed human beings with free will, which would have to be followed for it to exist.
Nor did Jesus preach against being happy and loving oneself. Indeed, His paramount commandments of loving God with one’s whole being, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself, can only be obeyed if there is a positive regard for oneself. To love God fully demands that one has control of one’s own self and life, free to give it to the Lord. And, of course, by the second rule, if one did not love oneself, one would not love others.
Rather than making oneself miserable, Jesus taught man to be joyful. The Eight Beatitudes preached in the Sermon on the Mount listed the ways in which man could be “blessed” or happy, from being poor in spirit, pure of heart, gentle and patient, to striving for justice and peace.
The Eucharist’s the thing
Inevitably, the godfather-godson discussion had to touch on attending mass. Both agreed that many priests don’t give well-thought-out homilies. Having read writings and attended seminars on theology, this writer even finds some sermons contrary to Christian tenets.
Still, the Liturgy of the Word, which includes the readings and the homily, is not the most important core of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Rather, it is the Liturgy of the Eucharist—Offertory, Consecration, and Communion. Indeed, if a latecomer arrives before the Offertory, he is deemed to have attended mass and fulfilled his Sunday obligation.
Therefore, while all priests should heed Pope Francis’s instruction to deliver brief but well-crafted homilies which make the readings meaningful to the congregation, bad sermons are no reason to miss the immeasurable graces that flow from the Body and Blood of Christ.
What about the non-Catholic belief that the consecrated host isn’t really Christ Himself, but just a remembrance of the Last Supper and a symbol of His redeeming sacrifice? Here a bit of epistemology or the philosophy of knowledge comes in. We have different ways of knowing, from faith and custom to empirical science.
Today’s world puts far greater or even exclusive value on the latter, but that should not discount the former. Indeed, even scientists admit that not everything can be investigated by science. Such as the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If miracles can happen, so can bread and wine become His Body and Blood.
So how did our young man feel about the faith after the long talk? He is now more conscientious about mass, and keen to bring up more questions. Praise be to God.