Last night I had the privilege of ministering to approximately 300 young people who gathered for mass at our parish. These young people range from ages 14 to 18. All belong to Life Teen and are actively involved in a parish in which our brothers serve.
The Solemnity of All Saints reminds us that all of us who have been redeemed by Christ are united to him and in him for all eternity. This includes youth. There are several points that I find inspiring about the youth in our parish, not just the numbers, which is incredible.
Every Thursday evening, from 7-8, our parish holds exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This practice, which was common when many of us were growing up and later fell into disuse, was reintroduced into our parish by our youth. They asked for it and committed themselves to keep it going, if the older members of the parish did not. As it turns out, every Thursday we have an hour before the Blessed Sacrament where more than 150 young people gather on their knees, in silence and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. They offer their hour of prayer for their parents and for their parish. They bring their parents. From where I sit, this is truly a miracle of the Communion of Saints. Young people are praying and evangelizing their families and fellow parishioners. They are bringing others into communion with Christ in the Eucharist and thus into communion with the Mystical Body, both physically and spiritually.
On Sunday evening the church fills to more than capacity with over 300 young people, their parents, siblings and friends. Once again, it has been the youth who have moved the adults in their families to come back to the mass, back to the Church, back to prayer and adoration, and back to the sacraments. As loud as kids can get, it is amazing how you can hear a pin drop during the consecration. It is equally amazing to hear the young people discuss the readings of the day and the homily. After mass the youth move from the Church to the parish hall for an evening of discussion and activities. Each week it’s a different activity, but always grounded in the readings of the day.
This week, the youth asked to have one of our brother priests attend a question and answer session about the priesthood and religious life. They were genuinely interested in such topics as how one hears the call to the priesthood and how the call is confirmed. They were very interested in the place of priest in the religious community. Our youth have been exposed to our brothers as brothers, because in our community no one is called Father and no one wears a distinctive garb that identifies him as a priest. Everyone is a friar and everyone wears the gray habit. Everyone is called Brother. The youth knew that we had seven brothers in the parish and that one of them celebrates mass and they never see the other brothers celebrate mass or hear confessions. The parish administrator is a brother. The superior of the house is a brother and so forth. They were very interested when our brother priest stepped forward and explained to them that he is the only priest in the house, but he is a brother who cooks, cleans floors, runs errands, prays the Liturgy of the Hours, spends time in silence, attends community meals, and spends time with his brothers in recreation.
They wanted to know what made him different from his brothers. They were very interested to hear the superior of the house, who is not a priest, explain that in St. Francis’ tradition the ordained brothers have a special place of honor, but it’s not an honor that the world understands. Our ordained brothers are loved and respected because only through them do we have any visible sign of Jesus Christ through the Eucharist, only through them can we go to Calvary every Sunday and only through them can we receive absolution for our sins. Were we to meet an angel and a brother priest, we would venerate the priest first, then the angel. Yet, at the same time, the brother priest is also a servant and the last among his brothers, as Christ was the last, the one who donned an apron and washed his brothers’ feet. The mission and call to the priesthood is not a call to a place of honor, but a call to make Christ present to his brothers in word, sacrament and daily work. You don’t get many adults asking these kinds of questions. These kids understood the relationship between priesthood, religious life and family, as evidenced by their conversation with the brothers after the activity. They wanted to know more. As they were leaving the parish hall, they were explaining to their parents what they had learned. This is the Communion of Saints in a very living way. Not only did the youth learn how the saints compliment each other in the Mystical Body, but they also discovered a new sense of urgency to explain to others, to bring others into a deeper understanding of the three expressions of Christian love and purpose: priesthood, religious life and family.
Finally, the youth know that the Brothers of Life who staff their parish have as their primary mission the Gospel of Life. We agreed to help the bishop, as St. Francis commands in our rule, provided that the administration of the parish not interfere with religious life and mission. The brothers separate themselves from the parish five times a day for the Liturgy of the Hours, twice a day for community meals and every evening for community recreation and silence. The brothers are not traditional parish administrators. The youth have raised money for the Respect Life Ministry. This is the Communion of Saints made visible.
Let us thank God for the Communion of Saints. I especially thank God, because through our youth we have seen the extension of the Communion of Saints. I can see the union between us today and the saints that came before us and those who will follow.
Br. JR, OSF