Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jesus 24/7

Recently, I watched a video called the 24/7 Experience produced by the Evangelical Covenant Church. As stated on the DVD jacket, “In an episodic, reality-TV style, 24/7 brings your students on a journey to learn what it means to follow Christ in the 21st century.” In the video, a small group of teenagers makes a whirlwind tour of the United States, visiting a different city each day, learning what it means to follow Christ every day. They are introduced to people in various walks of life whose Christian faith strongly influences how they conduct themselves in their careers and charitable works.

The video was given to me by our pastor to screen for possible viewing by our CCD class made up of sixth through eighth graders. What struck me is the difference between how we Catholics view our relationship with the Lord, as compared to Evangelical Protestants. Now I have no doubt that many good Catholic teenagers are very Christ-centered and live their lives accordingly, but I sometimes get the feeling that our particular group is not really tuned in to what it means to follow Christ. That got me to thinking about how we raise our children in the Catholic faith verses the way Evangelicals are raised.

We Catholics tend to be very regimented in the way we practice our faith. The universality of the Church and the way we worship communally has resulted in the development of many standard prayers and practices in the two thousand years of our history. While our Protestant brothers and sisters may have few prayers memorized beyond the Lord’s Prayer or perhaps the sinner’s prayer, we have dozens. As good Catholics, we need to know the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. We should also know the Act of Contrition, Guardian Angel prayer, Morning Offering, Angelus, and a few others. We should also know how to pray the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Stations of the Cross. We need to understand the Mass and the Sacraments, especially the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. All of these things are very important to our Faith, but also difficult for our children to grasp in weekly sessions. With instruction time very limited, is there a point where all the sacramentals, prayer memorization, the rites, and other unique Catholic practices actually become an impediment to reaching young people?

Our Evangelical brothers and sisters do not have any of this to learn. Lacking the sacraments and formal prayer, as well as an authoritative Church to guide them, they are left to teach the Bible, subject to their own interpretation of Scripture. Their primary focus can be to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, albeit one minus the sacramental gifts He left for us. The Evangelical experience can be more social in nature, making it attractive to young people. Prayers can be spoken from the heart, requiring thought and meditation. Yes, we can do that as Catholics too, but how often do we? Is it any wonder that many non-Catholic teenagers may be more contemplative, knowledgeable, and active in their ecclesial communities?

While interacting with non-Catholic friends, young Catholics may get the feeling they know less about Jesus than their friends do. They hear stories of Protestant churches with youth ministers, rock bands and lively worship. Secular media bombards them with stories that paint the Catholic Church in a bad light. This idea that the grass is greener on the other side can carry over into adulthood. Often parents set a poor example by being lukewarm or questioning the authority of the Church. We should not be surprised that many of our young people end up leaving at some point.

I have been critical in the past of Catholics who stress the horizontal aspects of worship at the expense of the vertical. Yet I think our young people need more exposure to the social relationship, getting to know Jesus as a friend and confidant. At the same time, they need a good dose of good ol’ Catholic apologetics, understanding that Jesus loves them so much that He gave them a Church, the Catholic Church, and they are all very fortunate to be a part of it. I showed the video in class. I hope it helps them to understand the grace we as Catholics receive through the sacraments is the fuel we need to persevere in Him 24/7.