As pastors we all know the experience of seeing families in church with teenagers who clearly don’t want to be there. It is obvious their parents have dragged them, and the teens can’t wait to go to college so they don’t have to come anymore. Sadly, research has shown that after four years of college, 85 percent of churchgoing young people will stop practicing their faith.
Furthermore, the Catholic Church and other Christian communities who celebrate confirmation know the excruciating experience of having young people come to the classes only to never be seen again after the sacrament takes place. Confirmation seems like graduation: “We’re outta here!”
In all honesty, I was very much that teenager. We went to church because our parents dragged us. There were a few kids, however, who were into their faith, but we thought they were nerds and weaklings. The cool kids cut up during our once-a-week classes and drove the poor volunteer teacher crazy. She often asked herself why she was wasting her time.
Thankfully every once in a while, we run across what I would call heroic teenagers. They come to church without their families, oftentimes to the chagrin of their parents.
I know three such teenagers. I will just call them Trace, Filer and Macy. They are examples of teenagers who were not Christians, but came to our church (usually with their friends), fell in love with the faith and asked to become a part of it.
Joining the Catholic Church is not always a quick process. We asked the teens to come to our youth group and to additional classes to prepare them to be baptized. All three of them were willing to jump through the same hoops that we make other kids jump through. The difference was that none of them had the benefit of Catholic parents making them attend and making sure they had all their paperwork finished and dropped off at the right time. In fact, some of these kids came from families that were hostile to the faith. They often had to not only defend themselves to those other kids who thought they were weird, but they also had to deal with the criticisms of their own families. They heard the typical arguments: “I don’t believe in organized religion,” or “Why can’t you just be spiritual and not religious?” They also faced the usual objections to the Catholic faith, like Mary, the Pope, priestly celibacy, confession, etc.
After coming into the church, these kids got very involved in all kinds of ministry. They not only joined the youth group, but became leaders in it. They didn’t sit at Mass, but they actively took part in it as readers, choir members and Eucharistic minsters. Keep in mind that these teenagers didn’t just sit around at home, waiting to come to church. They juggled all their school activities and select sports (that has become a religion in itself) alongside parish activities. They were involved with their school’s band, choir, FCA and theater, and I enjoyed very much going to watch their extracurricular activities.
Trace, Filer and Macy give me hope that we are doing something right. We know Christ still inspires people — often teenagers — to go against the grain and run toward him even if their families and friends don’t share their enthusiasm. Soon all three of them will graduate, and we will miss them, but they have proved to me that the church will always be here because there are young people who love the Lord and the church enough to carry her through the centuries. Many of our great saints, like Joan of Arc and St. Dominic Savio, were heroes despite their age.
But in our age Trace, Filer and Macy serve as examples of lives that are countercultural. They chose to run directly into the flow of the culture around them. In my mind, they are heroes.