“…Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant …” (Hebrews 12:24)In the name …
Today is Youth Sunday throughout our church denomination.We pray today for the young people of our churches and communities in all of the 124 parishes and missions of our church denomination, and after Mass in all of these various and wide-spread congregations we will accept your donations for the Youth Fund of the church.We do this because we count our young people as important, and also because we count on them.
These two sides of the same coin, counting them important and counting on them, were on display this summer as we participated in both the National Youth Convocation, which was held in New Jersey, and the Diocesan Youth Retreat, which was held just up the road in Goshen.We plan and we attend these events because we want to offer our young people something special, something memorable.I remember the first Youth Convocation I attended as a member of the clergy.It was in Rhode Island in 1984.There were some kids there who had never seen the ocean until the day we took them to NaragansetBeach.This was a first for them, and it happened at a Youth Convo.I think our kids this year will always remember dancing on the JerseyShore.We do these kinds of things because we count our youth as important.
But we also do it because we count on them.We hope to draw them closer to our church and closer to each other.The church is not Holy Name of Jesus all by itself even though this may be the only church we see on a regular basis.Our church denomination stretches from coast to coast and from Canada to Florida.The youth who go to Convos and Retreats sometimes know this better and appreciate it more than even their parents do.The Face Book pages that share photos and stories after Convos tell us that these kids see the bigger picture of church, and that they can see all of us as part of one community of faith.And because they grow into this sense of belonging, we count on them to do their part now, and especially we count on them to do their part in the future when they are the adult members, volunteers and leaders of our various parishes.
For these reasons we celebrate Youth Sunday every year on this last Sunday of August.This is why each year on Youth Sunday we distribute our School of Christian Living letter to our young families.After a long summer, we get them thinking again about their commitment to Christian education, to learning more about Christ and church, and about developing their faith.We expect our bodies and our minds to grow, but sometimes we think our souls just sit, that they stay the same, that they’re not supposed to grow too.Some comedian has joked that escalators can’t break; they just turn into metal stairs.It’s something like that with kids too.Most of the time they don’t break; sometimes they just don’t become everything they can become.Sometimes they settle; sometimes they don’t strive.Teachers have their field of play where they can try and urge their students to do better.It’s the same obviously with parents.And it’s the same with churches.Through Sunday School, serving at the altar, maybe singing in the choir, helping around the church, Retreats and Convos, the church tries to help our young people to not settle but to strive in their faith-lives.It’s like the escalator.They’re not broken if they don’t take advantage of these opportunities, but they’re not everything they can be.
And Jesus has made abundantly clear to us that we must encourage the young.In the Gospels, Jesus warns His listeners that they better not lead a child away from God, that it would be better for them if a millstone were hung around their neck and they were flung into the sea (Lk 17:2).Jesus enjoyed the presence of children, and this is why parents have the great responsibility of raising their children in a relationship with God, and this is why churches have an obligation to help her young people grow in Christ.It is also told in the Bible that as the disciples were trying to protect Jesus from the nuisance of children, that Jesus scolds the disciples instead, and tells them, “‘Let the children come to me, and do not stop them.’” (Lk. 18:16)Between the millstone story and Jesus scolding the disciples, the message comes across loud and clear that our young people in the church and the community at large have to be a priority for us because they are a priority for Jesus.
A family shared the story with Readers’ Digest of their son’s first trip to Confession.On the way to church, the nervous and frightened eight-year-old was asking questions about what he could expect when he went to the priest for Confession.The parent explained that Confession is when you tell all the bad things you’ve done to the priest.When the eight-year-old heard this he was relieved.“Good,” he said, “I haven’t done anything bad to the priest.”You know there are two different understandings of the word holy.One is separate, that which is holy is separated from the ordinary.The other is wholeness, that the holy completes the person, that we are not just physical, that we are also spiritual beings, and that the holy nurtures this unseen part of who we are and makes us whole.In today’s reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews both ideas are encountered.The author tells of the holy at Mount Sinai as separate, that the people were too terrified to approach the mountain of God.Then Hebrews goes on to speak of Jesus as “the mediator of a new covenant.”His relationship to the holy emphasizes not a fearful otherness like the boy heading to his first Confession, but instead a holy that brings us closer together with God and with each other, and thus makes us whole.
On this Youth Sunday let us offer our prayers to God for our youth because of all the temptations and distractions they must face almost every day. The future we leave to them is also far from certain so let us leave them with the certainty of God’s care.And let us do all we can for them as church because Jesus would insist on nothing less.For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)