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Fifth Sunday of Lent| Calendar | Contact
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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 ever after.

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.

II Evangelization

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 events.

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 Christ.

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 the church.

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 really happen.

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.


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