A couple of weeks ago, a memorial Mass for Michael was held here in Birmingham at the Cathedral. The bishop presided and offered a very nice, even charming homily in which he first focused on the Scripture readings of the day, and then turned to Michael, whom he remembered, among other things, as one who […]
We’re back. An amazingly easy return trip because both boys slept most of the way. But there is no such thing as a free lunch, everything comes with a price and what goes around comes around – all of which means they had good naps and were not tired again until around 11pm. And even then…
Well, here’s what I said to the college students and their friends, all of whom are involved in campus ministry.
The general subject of the conference was sharing faith, and I was moved to talk about a few things, all of which came to focus on what we are sharing when we "share our faith." What is it our faith is in, actually?
For my experience, both directly, many years ago when I was where they were, and since, is that this is an age in which friendships and emotional experiences form the root of spirituality, especially in a culture in which that is the norm, anyway. I took pains (I hope) to give props to that, to affirm the goodness of that, but to challenge them to go beyond that, to look forward, to think bigger. To plant a faith in their own lives that would last beyond the easy friendships and intensity of college life to a point at which they were in a completely different situation, in a parish that isn’t centered on them and their stage in life, and in a context in which that intense, nurturing community isn’t so easy to find.
When we invite seekers or the alienated to "come and see" at our campus ministry, what completes the sentence? …our lively liturgies? …Our good music? …our really involved group of students? …our friendships?
But what are we going to say in five years, when again the seeker approaches us, knowing that we’re a person of faith, but now we’re the only person of faith our age that we know, and our parish isn’t exactly the most fascinating, happening place on earth? "Come and see…" What? Who?
It is, of course, Christ, that we share, Christ to whom we point. Part of the Catholic dance is that while the Church is the locus, is the place where Jesus is, present, not in the abstract, but in the visible thing we call Church…He’s above,beyond, and deeper than that, too. We do invite people to come and see in the Church visible..but the other part of the dance is making sure that the community, the experience of church, is not made into an idol. That when that community fails, disappoints or even disappears as we move on, our faith isn’t lost.
I also spoke, senstively, I hope, about the risk of campus ministry, like any other institution or group centered on religion, becoming a place in which only half the story is lived out. The church community, we hear, is a place where we should find support in our faith journey. But what does that mean? To figure that out, I looked a bit at the letters of Paul. Paul, writing to communities where new Christians were learning about discipleship, how to live in the world and with each other as followers of Jesus – just what they are doing in their campus ministries. What does it mean, in Paul’s letters, for Christians to support each other? It means to pray for each other, encourage each other and to materially support each other. It does not mean to affirm sinfulness.
But this is what can happen, isn’t it? We get all involved in our ministries, we feel that the place and the time are blessed by God, that the Spirit is at work, and slowly, everything we do starts to come under that umbrella of blessing..just because we’re doing it. That’s what Paul calls his new Christians on – everything from sexual immorality, to cliquishness, to holding firm to socio-economic divides, to theological error. Part of life in Christian community is support. But part of it is being willing to hold each other accountable, as another form of support. It doesn’t mean one person standing in judgment over another. It means everyone looking to Christ and living in a way that is accountable to Him.
Finally, I spoke about the risk of believing that the end and goal of ministry is to make everyone into images of ourselves. To operate under the illusion that because this is who we are, and this is the style of being Catholic that jazzes us, this is what everyone is called to. I went at it sort of indirectly, talking about high school youth groups first..what of the kids who hear about ice-breakers and games at youth group…and are immediately turned off? More fundamentally, what about the young people who come to Mass, but who aren’t "church geeks" like you and me? Who find their prime social outlet, not in the Newman Center, but in their fraternity, their dorm or with others in their major? What about those who are really focused on their professional plans? Our tendency, as the program planners, is to think that the purpose of ministry is to get everyone involved in a program. Well, it’s not. It’s to open the door so that everyone understands that this is the place where Jesus is, in the sacramental life of the Church, in prayer, in charity and a thousand other facets..and to learn, somehow, a little bit more about letting him into their lives and letting him reign in their hearts in every decision, every step. We can only do so much. We are only a few, and their are many, every one of whom are diferent. But as much as we can, we need to not confuse "sharing our faith" with "making everyone participate in this activity and LIKE IT."
Several students came up to me afterwards, saying things like, "You told the story of my life" or "This is exactly what our campus ministry is going through right now." I wasn’t sure how it would be received…but it looks like by at least a few…it was received well.