A Parent’s Perspective
Reading about the death of John Hume, Nobel Peace Prize winner and prominent Northern Irish politician, what stood out was his persistence and unshakeable commitment. Many commentators have mentioned his courage, charisma and kindness and how he spoke out for what he knew to be right. He was a firm believer in justice and truth and knew that, in the face of injustice and repression, silence just wasn’t an option. Darran Anderson, who wrote Inventory: A River, A City, A Family, wrote of the personal cost to John Hume and wondered at the resolve and stoicism it took to hold the line for 30 or 40 years. He spoke about “the weight of being right when the world seems upside down and hostility is coming from all sides”.
For Catholics in Ireland, the world may often seem upside down. Like John Hume we too have felt the pressure of vitriolic attacks or the weight of the tough task that faces us. The same sense of injustice that drove those who longed for peace in Northern Ireland should be an encouragement to us who fight tirelessly to uphold the Christian values of love, service and belief in a God who loves us. We can take courage in the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he reminded us that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. He explained how a true adult faith is “deeply rooted in friendship with Christ”. In a Catechesis on St Bernard of Clairvaux on October 22, 2009, he reiterated that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas or a moralism but “Christianity is an encounter, a love story; it is an event”.
How can we get that message across to our children and teach them to have the courage and strength not to hide that friendship with God from their friends and work colleagues? Imagine having a dear friend whose name you dare not speak? This is the situation for many young Catholics. They subscribe to the Catholic religion, attend Mass on Sunday, go to Confession and may be involved in multiple Catholic initiatives but, in certain settings, be it work, college or with certain friends or family, they feel unable or unwilling to speak of the love of God that is their whole strength and their raison d’être. We need to encourage a new spirit of fortitude and a passion for evangelisation.
In an online video Why Youth Leave the Church, Catholic commentator, Brian Holdsworth maintained that when we’re children, we’re taught a version of Christianity that’s only suitable for bedtime stories. The image of God and Jesus that is sometimes presented, he said, as “more in common with the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus than it does with the incarnation of truth, goodness and beauty”.
Many young adults were baptised into the Catholic Church and celebrated their first Holy Communion and Confirmation but often this is the end of any engagement with the faith. They’re not rejecting the truths of faith and a relationship with Jesus; they just never moved beyond a childish faith or welcomed Jesus into their lives in any concrete way.
There’s a lot of room for hope as there are so many who’ve yet to hear the message and many more who need to find out why we believe what we believe. Good catechesis is vital: you can’t develop a relationship with a God you know nothing about. During the Covid-19 lockdown and continuing to the present time, I’ve been listening with great interest to some fantastic and informative Zoom presentations organised by the UCD Newman Catholic Society in collaboration with young people from several other universities and from Ignite Ireland.
These talks were started to help students cope with the isolation of the lockdown and served a dual purpose of teaching young people about their faith and creating some sense of Christian community. This is a model that needs to be emulated as the courage to speak out without fear can only be achieved through ongoing education in the faith and encouragement and support from like-minded peers. In times of doubt and challenge, our youth need the steadying hand of good friends to help them through the inevitable storms and periods of self-doubt. The most recent talk presented by Fr Donncha Ó hAodha was an introduction to the catechism. He suggested that the section on prayer might be a good place to start as it’s through prayer and the sacraments that young people develop that friendship with Christ which Pope Benedict described as “opening wide the doors to Christ”. Pope John Paul II described Jesus as “the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle”.
A personal relationship with Jesus will inspire our young people to have the vision of those great men and women who stuck to their ideals, resolute in refusing to allow themselves to accept mediocrity. It is this sort of relationship that will embolden our youth to set the world on fire.