Archbishop Michael Sheehan
I. A conversion story mine!
Thank you, and welcome. I want to begin with a little story about
a couple from Chicago . Several years ago, during a terrible winter
in Chicago , this couple felt sick and tired of the cold weather,
the wind and the snow and ice. They decided to take a few days off
and go down to Key West , Florida to enjoy a few days in the sun
and to warm up. He would go down one day and his wife, because of
her job, would join him a day later. When he arrived in Key West
he decided to send an e-mail to his wife to let her know that he
had arrived safely. But the e-mail went to the wrong address, to
a lady who had just lost her husband a few days before. So he sent
the e-mail and by mistake this lady received it whose husband had
died. She opened up the e-mail and read it, and she screamed and
fainted. Her grown daughter came running in from the other room
to see what had happened. This is the e-mail her mother had read:
“My darling wife, I have just arrived, checked in, and unpacked
my bags. Everything is ready for your arrival tomorrow afternoon.
It will be wonderful to be back together again. Signed, your loving
husband. P.S. It sure is hot down here.”
We all know that our Lord in his goodness and love for us wants
us all to have as much happiness in life as we can, and eternal
happiness in the life to come, not to go to a place of unhappiness.
And so our loving Father gave us Jesus our Savior, and Jesus gave
us our church that we love and serve, the church that gathers us
together this week here on this beautiful campus at Notre Dame.I
am overjoyed to be with you and to encourage you as campus ministers
and ministers of young adult Catholics, and to speak about evangelization
and young adults. These are two issues dear to my heart: evangelization
and young adult ministry.
But I have a confession to make, so turn off your tape recorders,
please. It is this: I am a recent convert to young adult ministry.
As a Bishop for 20 years now, I have been involved in many aspects
of Church life, and have felt committed to ministry for teenagers
since my newly ordained days in the Dallas diocese assigned to Tyler
, Texas in 1965. I taught high school religion and worked with teenagers,
evangelized inactive Catholics and the un-churched. And I have been
involved in apologetics programs for a long time, as I believe many
Catholics are uninformed about the basic issues and questions having
to do with the Catholic faith. I also served as chairman of the
Evangelization committee of the USCCB a few years. I am strongly
committed to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious
life; I was a major seminary rector in Dallas for six years, and
I have confirmed thousands and thousands of teenagers during these
20 years as Bishop in Lubbock , Texas , and now in the Archdiocese
of Santa Fe and for a while over in Phoenix. The nuts and bolts
of the administrative side of the church have taken up a large amount
of time, which it always does for a Bishop. Hispanic ministry has
been very important to me for a long time and I went to all the
Encuentros Hispanos de Pastororal that were held years
ago coordinated by Paul Sidillo.Hispanic ministry has been one of
great importance to me throughout my priesthood and my Episcopal
ministry. But continuing my confession, I knew very little about
young adult ministry, nor did I have a great interest in pursuing
that aspect of church life. After high school or college a Catholic
was supposed to slip right into regular parish life. They should
get a job, and most likely get married and start a family. And then
they should come to Mass every Sunday, just like their parents did,
and sit halfway back in the church and hope that the little ones
don't make too much noise while the priest gives the homily. Then
those young people should grow older and wiser and live happily
Thankfully, I became converted from that inappropriate attitude.
It began in Santa Fe after the Bishops' conference debated, approved
and issued “Sons and Daughters of the Light,” the document issued
in November of 1996. I know this is probably a well-kept secret,
but we often issue a document and put it up on the shelf someplace,
and then it doesn't get implemented like it should.
Our youth minister in Santa Fe , Bernadette Jaramillo, began to
ask me what we would do for young adult ministry in the Archdiocese
of Santa Fe. And I said, “Well, Bernadette, we certainly should
be working with teenagers. How are the plans coming for our annual
youth convention for high school kids?” She replied, “Archbishop,
you and your fellow bishops just issued a pastoral plan for young
adults. Shouldn't we implement that document?” And I said “Yes,
Bernadette, of course, of course.” Shortly after that, our youth
office asked me to have a Mass and appreciation dinner for young
adults, separate and apart from the Mass for the youth convention
already scheduled for the teenagers. It tuned out that the mass
and appreciation dinner for youngadults became a great success.
After a modest number the first year, we have expanded and
now have standing room only crowds of several hundred young adult
ministers, recognized and thanked for their ministry in the parishes
and institutions of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. We now have a liturgy
celebrated by myself, followed by a banquet, with one of our local
television personalities serving as master of ceremonies. We recognize
young adults in their twenties and thirties involved in a variety
of ministries, and I give them a certificate of appreciation in
the ceremony following the banquet.These young adults work in a
rich variety of ministries, including liturgy in their local parishes;
music ministry; youth ministry; work with the poor at the St. Vincent
de Paul and various soup kitchens around the Archdiocese; and inoutreach
to jails and to prisons, and a host of other church activities.
The young adult ministry team of our Archdiocese actively encourages
young people to participate in young adult ministry groups such
as “Theology on Tap,” which I'm sure many of you here promote in
your dioceses back home. A number of parishes now have strong young
adult groups going with a creative series of activities for young
adults. As a somewhat recent convert to the cause I have come to
believe in the importance of the ministry of the church to young
adulthood and beyond.
My concern for young adults is based on my conviction about the
urgency of evangelization in the church. Pope Paul VI in his great
document on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, calls
us to evangelize, or to bring the truth of Jesus Christ to others.
In a special way I see evangelization as reaching out to inactive
Catholics to get them involved in their faith, as well as reaching
out to those who have no faith.
Several years ago the American bishops followed up on the desire
of John Paul II to emphasize evangelization in a different way.
So we wrote a powerful document called, “Go and Make Disciples.”
It gave three basic goals for evangelization. First, it calls upon
us to build enthusiasm for the church. Second, it asks us to invite
people to the church. Third, it calls us to be examples of Catholic
faith to others.
It seems to me that we really need to first build enthusiasm
among our own Catholic people, among ourselves, because
if we don't feel excited and involved then certainly we won't be
fired up to share our faith with other people. Practicing Catholics
need to feel that enthusiasm for being Catholic.
A few years ago, Albuquerque New Mexico , where I live, received
its first Krispy Kreme donut shop. I did not know the reputation
of Krispy Kreme donuts, but others in the city did. Newspaper articles
and television covered the Krispy Kreme donut shop opening. The
day before the opening people lined up to be the first ones to get
these tantalizing, delicious calorie-laden little products. When
the place opened all these people were there, with television coverage
and the news media; even local police helicopters were landing to
be among those to enjoy Krispy Kremes.
I thought to myself as I observed this remarkable sociological
event, “If we could be half as enthusiastic about our Catholic faith,
we would have people lined up when the church opened for the first
Mass on Sunday morning. We need to build enthusiasm for our faith.
Without that enthusiasm we can't evangelize anybody – young adults,
old adults or anybody else.
Second, “Go and Make Disciples” tells us to invite people
around us to the fullness of the Catholic faith. Finally
it challenges us to evangelize by the example we give. Pope Paul
VI, in Evangelii Nuntiandi in 1975, speaks of the importance
of the evangelization of young adults and urges them to invite others
to the faith. He says, “Existing circumstances suggest that we should
devote our attention to young people. It is essential that young
people themselves should be evermore zealous in their apostolate
to their contemporaries. The church relies greatly on such help
from young people and we ourselves have repeatedly expressed our
full confidence in them.” A Papal document, the words of our Holy
Father challenging us to involve not only to be those involved in
ministry to young adults, but also to challenge young adults themselves
to be involved. We should not hesitate to share our faith with others
and to invite friends and acquaintances to Mass and to other Catholic
I'll share another example with you about a man named Jack Gist.
Some years ago in Lubbock , Jack was a college student at Texas
Tech University . He was a Baptist and had never been involved in
any way in the Catholic Church, but Catholic friends invited Jack
one Sunday, towards the end of the school year, to come to Catholic
Mass. Jack decided to go with them to St. Elizabeth's Church, which
serves the campus ministry needs of Texas Tech. He found the place
packed with a wide variety of people; not only Anglos but also Mexican-Americans
in good large numbers, as well as African-Americans and a few Asians.
There were young and old college students, professors and little
babies crying. Without air conditioning, the windows were open and
the flies buzzed around as well. Jack looked around and said to
himself, “If there is a God, he's got to be the God of everybody,
and it looks like this is the only Church where I've seen everybody
there.” Thinking of his own all white, middle- to upper-middle class
church, he found this a very different experience. He said, “This
church here intrigues me. It seems to be filled with so many people
of every different stripe, everybody very unique.” Jack decided
to talk to his friends about how he could learn more. He began to
take instruction in the Catholic Church, and he became a Catholic.
His friends encouraged him and he loved it. He decided then to go
ahead and ask to become a priest. And when I was the Bishop of Lubbock
he was one of my finest priests in the diocese of Lubbock . And
he wouldn't have even been a Catholic probably had it not been for
the fact that his Catholic friends had invited him, and made it
possible for him to experience some of the richness of the Roman
Catholic tradition. The second point is the importance of inviting
people, and the value of that for those who are invited and respond.
The third challenge of “Go and Make Disciples” is to be
examples of Catholic belief to others. We must foster Catholic
values in our society by being examples of these values. This is
the very Paulist dimension of the document, since the Paulists were
involved in helping to create it with the guidance of the Bishops.
St. Francis of Assisi used to say that we should always evangelize,
and when necessary use words. Young adults notice how we live Catholic
values more than the words we use. Our faith becomes attractive
when it is seen as bringing meaning and bringing joy to people's
lives. Our present Holy Father has been a tremendous example of
evangelization. Through the World Youth Day celebrations in different
parts of the world he has personally reached millions and millions
of young people with the joyful message of Jesus and our church
since his pontificate began.
At World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, John Paul II urged young
people to become involved in the evangelization efforts of the church.
“The church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your ideals, in
order to make the Gospel of life penetrate the fabric of society,
transforming people's hearts and the structures of society in order
to create a civilization of true justice and love.” I am sure many
of us here have participated in at least one World Youth Day celebration,
and have seen how this tired sickly old man, even in Toronto , could
generate a spark of love between the younger generation, the younger
adults and himself. They knew that this elderly man could have stayed
home but he came; he suffered and sacrificed to drag that old tired
body all the way to Toronto . Somehow his age and infirmity, rather
than a drawback, was a plus. It was an advantage that the young
people could see.
Clearly, the church must not only evangelize young adults, but
challenge young adults to involve themselves in evangelization efforts
for their peers and for others.
III. Young Adult Catechesis – A Broad Spectrum
Third, I want to speak about “the broad spectrum.” It would be
a terrible mistake to think of young adults, whether college students
or those after college, as all more or less the same. Young adult
Catholics, as we know, belong to a broad spectrum. Mary Ann Ries
wrote a most helpful article, “Refracting the Light,” which first
appeared in America magazine last September. Crossroads,
a publication of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, then
reprinted the article earlier this year with additional contributions
to the original article by Mary Matunis and Chris Potter Roblewski.
The article identifies eight groups of young adult Catholics. I
want to draw from that article to be a little more specific about
the broad spectrum. These eight different groups identified in the
article remind us that we cannot say that one size fits all when
it comes to the ministry we're discussing this week.
The authors describe the first group as the church at mission
. Young adults in this group are service oriented. They
are foot washers. They volunteer for soup kitchens but maybe aren't
there at Mass. They are involved in direct services in the name
of Jesus. Service learning opportunities are more likely to draw
them than devotional services or retreats, but we can engage them
in the dialogue about faith and our church.
The second group is the church in search .
Single or divorced people dissatisfied with the bar scene, unhappy
with superficial relationships. Think of the TV series “Friends,”
I suppose. Those in the church in search find dissatisfying the
shallow culture that these things offer. They are spiritually hungry
and they are searching for spiritual values. They gravitate to retreats
for young adults and Theology on Tap experiences because they are
searching. They want to find out more. Other church experiences
assist them in that search as well. A lot of times that group “in
search” is a great group to tap for teenage ministry and to give
them a challenge to try to help the younger generation in their
search as well.
The third group is the church youthful . They
have an infectious enthusiasm and unlimited energy. You can easily
find them at the 10 p.m. Masses on Saturday or Sunday evening, particularly
Sunday evening. They find that late time of Mass attractive because
they have energy, enthusiasm and physical stamina. These qualities
can make them very helpful in many ministries of the church. For
example, they have the unlimited energy to lead all night junior
lock-ins. They can be tapped to construct booths at the parish festivals,
and carry heavy objects in and out of churches or buildings.
Fourth, the church apologists. This group of young
adults tends to be quite orthodox, theologically conservative and
have an awe for the transcendent God as they look for the sense
of the sacred, the transcendent. They strongly react to what they
would consider loose, watered down Catholicism. They desire to evangelize
inactive Catholics or un-churched persons. They too like ministering
to teenagers, and they can indeed help teens in their journey.
Fifth, the church devotional . These young adults
would be less attuned to internal church ideologies or politics.
Their desire would be a kind of a traditional piety, a quiet liturgy,
praying the rosary alone or with others, benediction, Eucharistic
adoration and a desire to draw closer to Jesus in a personal relationship.
They would be less interested in proselytizing and convincing than
the church apologists. You can probably imagine many of your young
adults in one or another of these groups already.
Sixth, the church busy . People in this group
are young professionals with lives filled with work, social activities,
athletics and family. The church cannot interest them in long events,
retreats, or anything that might last a whole weekend. But they
do have an openness to short term projects, like an afternoon or
evening of reflection or maybe Theology on Tap, or a group studying
a particular movie or book, like Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the
Christ” or The DaVinci Code . The church busy also needs
babysitting on site for those who have little ones.
Seventh, the church creative . This group would
be composed of independent thinkers and creative people who treat
church boundaries with a certain fluidity. They would be happy with
the church's teaching on social justice and death penalty but would
raise questions on the church's teaching on women's ordination or
issues of sexuality. One Sunday you might find them at Mass, the
next Sunday at an interdenominational mega church or perhaps even
the Buddhist Temple . They are interested in ministry programs and
prayer seminars that are artistic and creative. They will bring
their inquiring friends with them. The church creative could easily
be encouraged to help with the creative decoration of the church
at Easter or Christmas or some other special occasion because of
their creativity and talent.
Eight, the church disconnected . These would be
inactive Catholics – mission territory –who grew up Catholic but
are now distant from the church. Games and campus events for those
in college and university might engage them, and a friendly priest
hanging out with them might do wonders in terms of enabling them
to reconnect. Peer-lead retreats and a joyful openness that creates
a natural bond with the church disconnected can be a great help.
Now I agree with this article that it would indeed be a mistake
to lump young adult Catholics together. I support a variety of approaches
in the evangelization of young adults, since I believe we must consider
the different groups to which these young Catholics belong. I am
sure that you and your ministry, in your parish in the diocese,
in the institution you serve, in your school, that you constantly
look for ways to tap those different groups with the different kinds
of spiritual nourishment that they seek.
IV. The Pastoral Plan
I want to speak to the pastoral plan for ministry with young adults.
In 1996 the US Bishops issued the document, “ Sons and Daughters
of the Light ,” the pastoral plan for ministry with young
adults. This plan as many of you know, is an ambitious effort to
evangelize young adults. Part three of the document gives four goals
for this evangelization.
First, connecting young adults with Jesus Christ. Second,
connecting them with the church. Third, connecting them with the
mission of the church and the world; and fourth, connecting them
with peer ministry. Jesus Christ, the church, the mission
of the church, and peer ministry
Around Christmas time not long ago I was in Albuquerque and I needed
to buy gifts for some of the staff. I left for my errands dressed
casually, with a baseball cap on and a pair of casual pants and
a shirt. At the Coronado mall in northeast Albuquerque I stopped
into Brookstone's, that store with all those neat grown-up toys.
I took my purchases to the cashier, and the young man looked at
me and said, “I know who you are. You're the Archbishop.” And I
said, “Well, yes.” He said, “You confirmed me three years ago in
Tejevas.” And I said, “Did it work?” He said, “I go to Mass every
Sunday.” So then we starting talking and other people heard, and
my anonymity was blown. Soon one person had a question about the
church, and another wondered about their pastor … I eventually slipped
away, and went to the Chick-Fil-A to eat. I stood in line just pulling
my little cap further down, and finally it became my turn after
waiting five, ten minutes. The lady looked at me and said, “What
would you like?” I ordered a Chick-Fil-A sandwich and a small diet
coke, and with that she got a huge grin on her face, and she picked
up a cowbell and started ringing it. I said, “What are you doing?
What are you doing? People are looking!” She said, “You are our
100th customer today. You get your lunch free!” And I'm sure someone
in that line was saying, “Damn, bishops get free things all the
time.” So things don't always work out like you plan.
Anyway, back to connecting young adults. I want to comment on those
four goals of the pastoral letter. The first goal of this ministry
must be connecting the group with Jesus Christ, Redeemer and Lord.
Young adults have a tremendous hunger for spiritual values and,
we believe, for holiness. They really hunger for holiness; simply
put, saying “Yes” to God's call to live in union with Christ. Our
Protestant brothers and sisters have very effectively invited people
to have that personal relationship with Jesus. We must also provide
opportunities for fostering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
in our young adults. This can happen through the sacraments, especially
Eucharist. How much more personal can you get than to receive Jesus
in his body and blood? We need to develop for ourselves and for
those we serve a sense that we create a really deep personal relationship
with the Lord when we receive his body and blood in the sacrament.
We can also emphasize Confirmation and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is kind of the Catholic version
of the Protestant altar call, a very important part of being a Catholic
and we mustn't forget to emphasize it. Further, we also need to
offer experiences for different forms of personal and group prayer,
different kinds of support groups to connect the young people with
Jesus Christ. Young adult groups have been very effective in nurturing
the spiritual lives and filling the hunger of young people with
In the second goal, we seek to connect them with the church. Jesus
didn't come to write a book, as we have heard often, but rather
to found a church. The teachings of the Lord are kept alive and
passed on through generations by the church that he founded. We
must give young adults the sound teaching they need to understand
the reasons for the church, because they tend to place institutional
loyalty as a low priority. Here again, apologetics is so important,
since many catechetical programs that young people experienced in
grade school and high school were simply not effective. I have great
hope for such programs as Theology on Tap and the effective catechesis
it can provide.
Many young adults say they don't feel welcome in the church amidst
activities geared for older families and married couples. We need
to involve young adults in the life and ministries of parish organizations.
If they go to a Bible study and see that the youngest person there
is 60 years old, they may never come back again. Parish young adult
groups can be most effective in connecting them with institutional
church. I think we need to do everything we can to help our parishes
respond to the needs of young adults in that regard.
Parishes can be most helpful in implementing goal three, connecting
young adults with the mission of the church in the world. College
students and young adults often respond to opportunities for immersion
experiences during academic breaks or vacations from work; for information
on social justice concerns or opportunities to work hands-on with
the poor, or to make trips to mission projects with the poor in
third world countries.
Goal four is connecting young adults with their peer group, their
own age group. They need relationships in which they have similar
values and beliefs because these relationships mature and strength
their faith. Parish and diocesan young adult groups provide single
young adults with great opportunities to meet each other and to
know they are not alone in their struggles. I am sure every campus
minister here organizes pizza parties and others meals in your place
where you're working; a very popular way to connect college students
with one another. Potlucks and other meals provide a great opportunity
for social life, and a simple meal prayer can remind everyone of
the religious values held in common. Activities such as basketball
and swimming parties and hiking outings can also attract young adults
to make them feel at home with each other within the context of
V. Hope and Challenges
The common thread woven through the eight
different groups I mentioned earlier is that each and every one
of them has a spiritual hunger. Our creator has built a natural
hunger into the human spirit. Each young adult has a hunger for
the Lord. Through evangelization, we of course seek to feed that
hunger. And that hunger provides hope for our evangelization efforts.
Sometimes our spirits can lag. I choose to be happily Catholic,
happily and uncomplicatedly Catholic. I choose not to be gloomy
or to be cynical about the problems in our world or in our church.
It's a dead-end street to be gloomy and cynical. I don't want to
have a Pollyanna-ish attitude either, but rather sober optimism.
And attitude, I think, in our ministry to young adults and life
in general, is about eighty-five percent of it all. We can choose
a positive attitude so as not to be too overwhelmed by the dark
things we sometimes deal with.
I believe we face four challenges in the task of young adult ministry.
First, we need in the church to place a higher priority
on young adult ministry and to devote the time, energy
and funding that young adult ministry deserves. We are often very
busy. We feel we don't have time or energy to give to this kind
of emerging ministry in the church. We already take care of the
people who come to parish liturgies and activities, so starting
a new ministry to young adults isn't attractive to many pastors
and parish leaders. But the church must recognize the essential
need to care for and evangelize this group. Often young adults,
especially those that may be single and lonely, need someone to
talk to. A priest, a deacon, a layperson needs to be available for
them. The wider the numbers of people with whom someone can connect
in a campus ministry program or young adult ministry program, the
better off we are for it. As a related issue, we need to market
what we have better. Non-denominational churches spend a lot of
money on marketing their product and I think they draw many Catholics
away from our faith. Some of those Catholic young adults do head
that way and it's a result of our not connecting with them. We need
to be willing to invest time and money to make young adult ministry
Secondly, I believe we need a greater zeal for the salvation
of souls . We must overcome the indifference that can invade
our lives. It might sound old-fashioned but without that zeal for
souls, for evangelization, our efforts are bound to fail. We want
to share the happiness of our faith with young adults and to help
them live faith-filled lives that will lead them to eternal salvation
hereafter. The Feast of the Ascension that we just celebrated reminds
us of the importance of following the Lord to the happiness of heaven.
I mean not in any way to neglect the reality of salvation here and
now. But to remember that zeal for souls and their salvation is
really a very important part of the Catholic tradition and teaching.
Third, we must be very careful not to water down the beliefs
of our Catholic faith. I think we're experiencing a bit
of a shift within the church in our country, a greater attentiveness
to the solid Catholic tradition, a greater awareness that maybe
we watered things down here and there a few years ago. But now we
find a greater interest in sound teaching. We're not trying to just
accommodate those who feel more comfortable with teachings that
aren't authentically sound and Catholic. Our evangelization must
be faithful, not dissenting from our Catholic tradition. More and
more young people cry out for that: “Just tell us what it is and
we're going to buy it or not, but at least you need to tell us the
solid Catholic tradition. We want to know that.”
Fourth, I think we must really have love for our church
. It's the gorgeous diamond. It's not the jalopy. We must
have love for the church that we serve. And we should realize that
our beautiful Catholic church has a profound attraction in terms
of spiritual food for those who have found the secular lifestyle
unsatisfying and unfulfilling. In the late 1960's “Star Trek” had
tantalizing allusions to spirituality, references to some kind of
godhead, some sort of supreme being. More currently, the popular
TV series “Friends” has no reference to God. It shows us humanity,
perhaps, without a soul. I believe that the richness of our Catholic
heritage offers the most complete, compassionate witness of Jesus
Christ possible. Otherwise, I wouldn't be a Catholic; I wouldn't
be a priest; I wouldn't be a Bishop. Our faith not only guides and
helps us in this life; it leads us to the joy of life eternal. We
must have a love, a passion for our Catholic faith and a burning
desire to share it with other people.
Finally, we must remember that Jesus promised to be with
his church forever . Human beings may fail us but the Lord
never will. We have experienced terrible scandals; we have felt
shame and embarrassment as a result of sexual misconduct and the
mishandling of it. Unfortunately, scandal has touched, and has compromised,
every single institution of American society, from corporations
to athletics to the military to politics, and of course, our church.
Sadly, it remains a part of our human condition. But we have to
remember that we can't let that hold us back from proclaiming the
gospel to young adults and to those whom we serve in the church,
from remembering that the Lord promised to be with us forever. In
our 2000-year tradition the Lord has always been there despite the
challenges we have faced. And so we rely on the grace of Jesus Christ
to help us evangelize young adults, with faith and trust in Him.