A Communion of Saints


#1

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.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


#2

Brother JR,
once upon a time when the nuns and the religious were active in school education, they had such a tremendous influence on kids (mostly good influence). Most of us still remember what we were taught by the religious, and really appreciated their way of life. I remember always thinking it must be really cooool to be a roman sister!

Its really a shame that there is no school curriculum that brings the religious in interaction with school kids.

odopa


#3

two truths at work hear which have been acknowledged and have “worked well” through much of the Church’s history, but today at least in the US is a sometimes deliberate turning away from them: it is the youth properly taught who will lead the
Church and evangelize the future. It is the clergy and religious who should be directly responsible for that education in the faith. The deliberate calculated move against Catholic education and the assaults from within the system against orthodox Catholic schools is already having far-reaching and devastating effects on the Church in the US and no doubt elsewhere. The places where the Church is thriving such as Africa have the hallmarks of good schools and good priests and religious, missionary and home-grown.

The US bishops saw this 100-150 years ago when they brought clergy and religious in to serve the immigrants and growing Catholic population and when they ordered the building and support of parochial schools. Priests, bishops, dioceses and parishes who have abandoned or turned their back on this tradition are reaping the whirlwind.

I also want to point out the different orthodox pastoral leadership can make in any program, including Life Teen. If these Brothers are doing it I know they are “doing it right.”


#4

I know that in the USA it is very true that we do not have the strong influence of men and women religious in schools as we once did. In the USA several things happened at the same time and I’m sure that they are all product of the era in which we live. Religious women, who ran most of our primary schools in the USA began to dwindle. Eventually, they had to leave schools, because they no longer had the numbers to staff them. There was also a radical attitude change by many communities of teaching sisters. In addition, our public education system got a finacial boost and it’s academic and technology curriculum and facilities surge forward and parrochial and religious schools could not compete with the services and facilities that they state provided.

Now, we’re on a downturn, which I hope does not last long. The public education system is not producing as it was. Students are not learning, but they don’t have the Catholic schools to return to. Even those Catholic schools that are academically outstanding, are not the spiritual havens that they once were. The larger number of kids who attend them are very spoiled and have a sense of entitlement.

Given the low numbers of religious, the fact that there are no many Catholic schools, especially high schools, and the large number of Catholic students in public schools, the newer religious communities such as mine have to find a new playing field where we can engage with and minister to youth. I believe that that playing field is going to be through youth ministry.

Notice that I’m saying youth ministry and not limiting it to parishes. The new religious communities are very traditional. The more traditional religious orders do not work in parishes. We live religious life, first. Parishes have proven to be a drain on religious orders of men. Many religious orders of men lost many good men to the secular demands of parish work.

As parishes grew and the laity became empowered, there has been an abuse of power on the part of may of the faithful. It’s not only the clergy who have abused power. Many parishioners no longer respect the religious life. They want their parish staff to be available 24/7 and to be many things to many people. What religious men, who want to live the religious life, are finding is that they cannot do it in parishes. Parishioners do not always tolerate well the fact that the new religious communities are very monastic, community oriented, oriented toward the poor, and that there is a growing desire on the part of religious men to return to their roots.

This one parish that we are staffing, which is a temporary arrangement, is a rare exception. The people are very happy when they come to the parish office and find that the brothers are at prayer, community recreation, community meals, doing dishes, scrubbing floors, walking the streets, out on a preaching mission or observing an hour of silence. They don’t mind being taken care of by the permanent deacons. They don’t mind doing pastoral counseling, spiritual direction or sacramental preparation with either a lay brother or a permanent deacon. But this does not go well in many places. In many places people want to find a priest on duty.

The new religious communities don’t have the large numbers of priests available for that type of ministry. Most of the new communities don’t have large numbers of priests, period. They are very traditional communities of friars or monks, where you do not ordain as many members, because it’s not a part of your charism.

Given these changes, the new playing field has to expand outside of the parish boundaries. I know that our Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in NY do more youth ministry right out of the friary, which is a “new” concept. In reality it’s an old concept that has been recovered. Our Franciscan Friars of the Eternal Word do most of their youth ministry at their friary and via the media. A community like the Missionaries of the Poor do their youth ministry on the streets. Other communities do their youth ministry in retreat houses and youth centers.

What we’re seeing is an evolution of youth ministry to different sites outside of the parish and the Catholic school. But there is a great deal of youth ministry taking place, not only in the USA, but around the world. That’s one thing that we owe to Pope John Paul II. He did inspire many religious to reach out to youth in different situations.

I don’t think that it’s ever going to go back to Catholic schools, not in the USA. It will certainly pick up in parishes, because many of the younger secular priests are very holy men and very energetic. They are interested in bringing youth to the Church. But their numbers are smaller than religious men, even though they have more priests than religious orders.

But if one wants to minister to the young, one will find a willing and eager generation of younger people who are willing to listen and available. Another major problem is their parents. Parents often place so many demands on their kids’ time. They want their kids to be involved in sports, the arts, civic groups, leagues, extra-curricular activities and other social functions. It reaches a point where the kids are busier than CEOs on Wall Street. Many kids don’t have the time or the interest for religion. That’s something that we have to target and respond to.

Fraternally,

Br. JR, OSF


closed #5

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