Give them what they need
Why the Church already has the answers to young people’s questions
With the upcoming synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment drawing near, there has been much discussion on the Church’s relationship with the youth of the Church and the world. Particular emphasis has been placed on the need for a Church who “listens” to young people, understands what they desire, and accompanies them.
These are indeed laudable goals. The Church’s guidance of young people follows the model of Jesus Himself, who said, “Let the children come to me,” and continually engaged and healed them as a part of His ministry (Matthew 19:14). We desire a Church which listens to our struggles, seeks to understand our circumstances, and accompanies us in difficulty and suffering. The Church certainly has room for improvement in this area.
Such a desire for “accompaniment,” however, should not take place at the expense of the clarity and authenticity of the truths of our faith as handed down in Scripture and Tradition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads “God has fully revealed [his plan of loving goodness] by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit” (CCC 50). The Church must safeguard and make present those revealed truths, which are necessary for our salvation, to every generation, even when these truths seem difficult, strange, or irrelevant.
In John 6, Jesus gives us the particularly difficult teaching that we are to eat of His flesh in order to live forever. This teaching is so difficult that immediately after Jesus shares it, it is disputed, with the crowd asking, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52).
At this point, Jesus does not simplify his teaching or make it easier to digest, but replies in even greater clarity: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).
The response of the disciples is: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:61).
We hear the same objections to the teaching of the Church today. Catholic teaching on the sacraments, apostolic succession, and especially morals are often seen as “hard” and even “offensive.” But, Jesus anticipated these objections from the beginning. He asks his disciples “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:61-64).
Jesus has made his teaching clear, has addressed the fact that it is difficult, and has clarified his teaching again. Nevertheless, “After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:66).
This episode is strangely similar to our own time, with many far away from the Church because of the “difficulty” of its teachings, or a feeling that she does not understand them. The teaching of the Church is certainly difficult, but it is also true and good. The Church should always present once more the authentic message of Jesus Christ and help young people orient their lives towards this teaching and towards holiness, instead of reconsidering or watering down its doctrines in the face of changing moral viewpoints in society.
St. Peter provides us with the perfect example. After many of the disciples left, “Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).
Christ has already listened to every human heart. He has already given everyone what they need: Himself. He has given us a Church, to mediate this gift and to make Himself present through the Eucharist. He has given us a Church to safeguard his teaching on all matters, including morality, and to present this teaching in its eternal newness to all generations and changing circumstances. God has divinely revealed everything He is going to and has given Himself fully. All of the answers that the youth seek are within the Church already. We need to feed the youth with the Word and supply them with the truth so that their hunger might be satiated. Young people need Christ, and they need Him in the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).
For the Church to offer anything but this reality to young people is both a violation of the fundamental mission of the Church and a tragedy. Is this not the most perfect form of accompaniment—to feed hungry souls with Christ?
Noelle is a junior studying theology and physics. She is currently lamenting the end of summer, but also appreciating the arrival of seasonal coffee flavors at Starbucks. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.