Youth of Today
A friend has asked that I share my views concerning the youth of today. To be honest, I don't know how valid it will be, but I will share them nevertheless. The reader may decide.
The youthful adult years of my life were spent as a teacher in high school and college. They were fulfilling years. My objective was to make the subject matter as interesting as possible. One example was the third high school English Literature class in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. We had to study one of Shakespeare's plays. They always were boring and difficult for me as a student. So, in order not to inflict the same ‘punishment’ on my class as I read the play, I changed my voice for each character, semi acting it out. The class of all boys, some 45, were so interested that when it was finished they wanted to do the same, taking different characters. (Probably, part of the reason for the interest in the beginning was my southern accent expressed in different ways.)
In Kentucky, the youth took care of seeing that my black station wagon was always polished and in excellent running condition. They did that without even being asked. Yet, it is necessary to say that I lived in fear of being pulled over by the police. I was sure that my car had stolen parts. They were not beyond stealing something that would make my car look more beautiful. As far as I know that never happened, but I could be wrong.
The young Hispanics during my years in Bolivia and in other places always amazed me. They loved to be a part of a group that talked about philosophy, politics and religion. They were very social minded, longing for justice for all. They were ready to sacrifice their life to whatever ideal that captured them.
The youth of those years were filled with desires to learn, to share, to work, to love. They never counted the cost because they were always ready to give their all. They had all the usual problems of adolescence. School, girls, boys, dates, parties, drinking, speeding in cars, parents, church, emotions, sex, etc.
It was not that they needed someone to tell them what was wrong. They already knew that. What they seemed to need was someone as an adult who understood them, who understood their problems, and was willing to help them struggle through them. Someone whom they knew was also struggling to be the best he could be as a person.
If we adults are going to be able to influence the youth, it seems to me that we have to have similar characteristics. We need to be someone who has not forgotten the struggles of our own adolescence. We need to be someone who can forgive and forget. We need to be someone who understands with a compassionate heart. We need to be someone who lives his own life with discipline, with backbone, someone who is willing to be separate from the crowd in order to follow his ideal of life. Without these gifts I do not believe that the youth will come to us, and neither will we be able to inspire them to greater things. They instinctively know whether these gifts are authentic or not.
It is like the school kids who know how far they can go with their teacher. If the teacher screams commands, they know they can go the limit. The scream says that it is the teacher's maximum. This awareness is instinctive. Discipline is not hard to have when a teacher issues commands in a low determined voice. The maximum of this teacher cannot be sensed.
The same can be said when an adult is sharing with youth. If the sharing is done with a loud voice, they instinctively know that there is not much depth to what is being shared. If it is shared with calmness, then they want to learn more, knowing that there is far more to receive from that adult. Also, such an adult will not control the conversation. Such an adult will not have difficulty listening to the youth, being quiet even when they are sharing things that are upsetting.
Youth desire to feel secure. If the youth meet someone who is quiet and radiates a depth of security within, they will seek out that person. They instinctively know that this is the person they want to know more about, that this is the one who can give them what they need most within.
Youth need heroes. They need people whom they can look up to as an ideal. They need to be inspired to seek deep fulfilling things that are difficult to obtain. That inspiration comes from those who are living such a life. They need to experience the presence of power, of happiness, of joy, of challenge, of pleasure. If these are present in the lives of their heroes, they will not worry about the pain and suffering that they must go through in order to obtain the objective. The positive side of things is always more powerful in their life than the negative, even while the negative is inflicting its pain.
Youth need to know that they are wanted, that they are loved, that they are valued as important. A hero gives them this awareness. They will have no problem with their hero having feet of clay provided that their hero is open and honest about it. To see that their hero is also struggling with love is even more inspiring to them. Again, self-discipline is necessary.
To me, the youth of today are no different than those of my younger years. There is, however, a difference in society, which has created a greater problem for them. It seems to me that they enter adolescence with less awareness and feeling of being loved, wanted and important. They were reared in too much of an atmosphere of individualism. They are separated right from birth. They are fed with a bottle instead of the breast. The are carried in baskets instead of the arms. They sleep in their own room instead with others. They have a great need to be touched. Touching gives the feeling of being loved, wanted and peace.
They never learned how to share with others. They never learned how to do without in order to obtain something better later. All was handed to them without cost. Their family existed in fact and not in feeling. They lived in the same house with their parents and siblings, but never felt it to be a home, a place of warmth, love and peace, a place they respected.
It seems to me that our youth of today are struggling first to find and fill themselves with what has not been given them during their childhood years. Their desire to feel loved and important is so deep that they follow their sexual instincts freely and with abandon, hoping that it will provide what they need. Others will seek drugs in order to obtain the same. Sex and drugs are instruments that will give that feeling momentarily. Unfortunately, it does not endure after the encounter. Neither does it bring healing to the empty spirit.
True, they also want to be independent of their adults, but they do not want to be independent of their peers. In other words, they want to be individuals, and at the same time they want to be a part of a community where love and security is felt. Both are needed.
We adults, because of our lifestyle, are offering only individualism, which is cold and lonely. Youth instinctively know that we are social beings by nature. They know that we are the happiest when we live a life of intimate sharing, a community of love.
It seems to me that what the church, family and society need to offer the youth today is a way of life that will give them a community experience of love, of being wanted, an experience of peace and ecstasy that brings with it a feeling of power within them.
Let me share with you another experience. I was appointed chaplain to a high school on returning from Bolivia. Meeting the new generation of youth after having been away for many years was a culture shock. Their indifference to everything was most disturbing to me. The students didn't care at all if I were present or absent as their chaplain. Religion classes were a bore for them, a necessary evil in order to graduate from the Catholic high school.
My approach to this indifference was to present to them a different kind of Jesus, a real Jesus, one who was living amongst them with power. Slowly, a few wanted to know more. Eventually, the moment arrived when I prayed over them and shared with them the Holy Spirit. Immediately, they began to speak in tongues, to prophecy and to be filled with a love experience like they had never had before. They were captivated by the Pentecostal experience. Pentecost Sunday had become a real personal experience rather than an historical event in the Bible. They wanted to learn more about Jesus. They wanted to experience more love. They wanted to share that with everyone. A community among them began to exist that embraced their lives at home and at school. Their home life became peaceful and happy. Their schoolwork improved.
As we moved on I taught them how to contemplate so that they would be able to move deeply into the source of love that was filling them, healing them, lifting them up. Within two months, the group grew to over 200 students. We met every Thursday in a church. They sang, prayed, and had a wonderful time together in community and in the Lord. Jesus and the Holy Spirit had become the conversation among all the students, even among those not attending. This, to me, is what our youth need today. It’s that simple. A new Pentecost.
Unfortunately, I cannot give you a follow up report. The parents and school principal became so worried over the change in the students that they complained to the Bishop and other authorities. They did not want their children to live this type of life. I was removed at the end of the school year, and no adult took up the leadership for the youth.
A Catholic high school in Cincinnati had a chaplain, Fr. Richard Rohr, who did the same thing. His group lasted a long time, and still exists in different forms of community living. They had over 1000 kids involved in those early days. The University of Steubenville Ohio, known to be a charismatic Catholic University, has been giving the same experience to their students for years.
We adults have a basis problem. We do not desire to give up our individualistic way of life, with all its riches and possessions. We do not choose family first over all else. As a result, it is reflected in our churches as well as society. Recently, President Bush announced that the United States would not sign the United Nations Global Environmental Treaty stating that he would not put in jeopardy the welfare of the American economy. That statement was the living out of our American individualism. We do not consider ourselves belonging to the family of nations. And what exists on that level is only voicing what exists on the societal, family and church level.
These problems are serious. From my experience, only the Holy Spirit can save us from them because only the Holy Spirit can change the heart. But who wants the Holy Spirit? Is the lack of desire to want to change the beginning of the unforgivable sin that Scripture speaks of?
May someone among the adults be raised up by the Holy Spirit to bring Her to our youth today. She will take care of all the rest.
April 9, 2001