You have made us for Yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. -St. Augustine
In many ways, you might say I’ve lived a sheltered life: I smoked one puff, once, and realized that being asthmatic and smoking didn’t get along very well. I’ve had five alcoholic beverages in my life because I’m allergic. I’ve never done drugs. By God’s grace, my wife and I saved ourselves for marriage. And I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything. I am grateful for God’s help in all of these areas.
I’m not saying this to brag, because I’ve also had some difficulties too: I’ve experienced the breakup of a family, lived with the reality of mental illness, and suffered the pain of a difficult breakup. In the field of work to which God has called me, I see a lot of heartbreaking things – young people who’ve experienced family troubles; emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; unpleasant relationships; and for at least three individuals, I’ve been part of a support structure that has stepped in because of concerns they might harm themselves or even commit suicide.
I do what I do – working full-time in youth ministry, serving youth and young adults in my parish and schools – because I believe in what St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and so many others see when they look into a crowd of young people: hope. We see the possibility of so much potential, so much good – a generation of people who will rise up out of a culture of death that is constantly embracing lust, greed, waste, and settling for second best.
On so many occasions, I see these young people embrace a relationship with God, coming to a knowledge of the one who loves them so much He’d rather die than risk spending eternity without them – a God who is with them in joys and sorrows, in struggles and in victories. These are the youth who are battling addictions to pornography, stepping into the confessional for the first time in 10 years, and letting God’s healing hand help work through the devastation that abuse has wracked in their lives.
I’ve also seen the other side of it- far too much, recently. And boy, is it disheartening. I’ve heard of a number of my young people who’ve –in their own words- fallen so far they don’t know how to come back. Young people who are self-injuring. Young people who are smoking, drinking, and doing drugs. Young men and women who compromise their purity: looking in all the wrong places for a love that will satisfy. They have embraced the biggest lie of this culture of death (St. John Paul II labeled it so): that pleasure is the be all and end all of life. Instead of discovering the communion of love that is the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they bow down to the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. And they’ve looked to these transient things (drugs, drinking, parties, sex, pornography) – with the idea that this will satisfy them. No matter how much their parents, teachers, priests, youth ministers, or friends try to tell them of the dangers, they don’t believe us. We can bring up experts, people who’ve been there before, share well-thought out and compelling arguments or stories… but for some, it doesn’t seem to matter. I look at them and think about Jesus looking on Jerusalem before He died and weeping, because He knew that many of us wouldn’t be able to grasp the gravity of what He’d done for us. I weep with Him for my youth who drink or do drugs, who self-injure, who view pornography or compromise their purity.
But to you – and I hope someone gets you to read this – I also make a promise. I promise not to give up on you. I will love you, pray for you, challenge you to be better (you may not appreciate this from me now, but someday I hope you understand) , and share Christ with you until I can’t do it anymore. I hope someday you will come to know that you don’t need these other things and stop settling for second best. I pray that you will have hope. I pray that God will whomp you and change your heart, so you can see the world through His eyes- and make a difference in it.
To those youth who already get it – don’t give up. Even though your peers seem to be falling into darkness, you can be a light to them. God will not abandon you. I am proud of you for all you do. Every victory you win, every step forward you take encourages us not to give up on the others. Someday, you will take up this battle – maybe alongside me, maybe in another place – but I will be proud to fight for souls alongside you.
I love you all.