You know those weird times when you get a brilliant idea—or at least you think it’s brilliant! You’re having a great time, enjoying yourself and then, out of the blue, BOOM, you’re struck by a deep and serious thought. This crazy phenomenon happened to me when I was playing ping pong with a friend. What hit me wasn’t the ping pong ball nor how many games I won, though I’ll take those stats any day. Rather, it was how my approach to the game impacted the way I played.
Our first game was hard-fought—well, actually no.
I got smoked. It seemed with each point I dropped, I became more tense. In my mind, I stopped playing “to win” and merely settled to play “not to lose.” During the next game, I shifted to a more positive mind-set, resulting in a decisive victory. I was in the zone and basically dominated the rest of our games. My mind-set had made all the difference and led to eventual success.
In the realm of forming young missionary disciples, our mind-set is critically important as well. The youth of our parishes are commonly termed the “future of the Church.” Yet they are much, much more. They are not merely the “future” of the Church, they are the Church “now.” Simply viewing youth ministry and work in our Catholic schools as an investment for the future can permit us to be sluggish in our pursuit of forming young disciples today. Since children and teenagers are not adults, this mind-set can also lead us to falsely think that ministry to young people is not as important, or as essential, as ministry to the adults of our parishes.
However, if we shift our mind-set, then I think youth ministry takes on a whole new dynamism. Instead of viewing the youth as the “future” of the Church, we ought to see the youth for what and who they are, the Church “now.” This is not mere semantics, but rather an infusion of energy. With such a view, youth ministry is no longer relegated to the bottom of the priority list. Youth ministry becomes the Gospel in action. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:19a) Jesus is even clearer when He commissions His Apostles in the Gospel of Mark, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15)
“Every creature” is not limited to adults, but every one of God’s children, young and old.
Called forth to the great work of forming young disciples, we pattern our ministry on Jesus, Himself. Jesus first descended from heaven to dwell among those from whom He would call His disciples and Apostles. (cf. Jn 1:15) After a night in prayer, Jesus called His disciples and then Apostles by name. (cf. Lk 6:12-16) Finally, He invited His disciples into a relationship with Himself.
Forming young disciples in our time looks no different. We must be willing to be among those we wish to form into disciples, to establish relationships with them and to walk with them as they form a relationship with Christ. This is not an easy task because it takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot of time and effort to really get to know someone. What do they like? What gets them excited about life? What is their story? Much more is required than merely teaching the Faith academically and intellectually. Relational ministry calls us out of ourselves to meet the young person where they are and walk with them to Jesus.
Thankfully, the success of this great mission of ours does not depend solely on us. Jesus is in charge. Yes, we must put in the effort and time to build relationships. However, our task in these relationships is simply to lead them to Jesus. I often remind myself that we are only the messenger. It is up to Jesus to transform their hearts. He does the heavy lifting. We are called to spread the Gospel in authentic relationships and place the youth at the foot of Jesus’s cross. Beneath the wood of the cross their relationship with Christ will blossom by His grace in their hearts.
You never know when or how God is going to speak to you. It can be during a simple game of ping pong, enjoying your favorite pastime or even at work. God is always calling us to join Him in spreading the Gospel to the Church “now,” so they can one day be His missionary disciples.
Father Aaron Becker
Associate pastor of St. Patrick Church in Onalaska
Published in the July/August 2021 Catholic Life Issue