The Church, the Young and Mission

Why is it that in my seventies I am still playing guitar and singing at Mass, whereas young people a fifth of my age give up, throw in the towel, and retreat from the commitment? Is this a feature of teenagers down under: afraid of commitment to something that most of their peers reject? If they stop singing, will they stop coming to Mass? There is every likelihood that they will. Our Catholic faith is lived partly through our participation in rituals that keep us connected with God. 

The situation I am experiencing is not new. When he was a young teenager, Cardinal Joseph Cardijn experienced the trauma of his peers’ rejection of the Church and of him because he was being faithful to the Church. Biographers Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert described the experience in their account of Cardijn’s life and work: “He knew they had been good boys and keen pupils and see them now: rebellious, anti-clerical, morally vicious, sometimes they themselves corrupters of others. “It was like a knife in my heart,” he used to say later. Seventy years after those holidays, we can see in that experience the source of all Joseph Cardijn’s work.”

It is certainly my hope that all young people be actively involved in the Church. Cardijn’s vision of that involvement focuses on its apostolic character. In his keynote address to the World Congress for the Lay Apostolate, in Rome, 1951, he said, “Each Christian, each Catholic, by his or her Baptism, must be an apostle and a missionary – he has an apostolic and missionary vocation. Each one is called by God to Existence, to life, and to a collaboration in His creative and redemptive work. The earthly vocation is an apostolic and missionary vocation.”

Young people are called to be apostles, not in the way St Paul was called – today is the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul – but called like him to “go out to the whole world: proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:15). When young people make use of the symbols the Church has used from the first Pentecost, their relationship with God will grow and develop. They will find themselves inspired to use their gifts and talents to fulfil their part in the mission given them in Baptism. 

The change was described by Cardijn in the following way: “an incarnate apostolate, adapted to the needs and the problems of this new world.” Even though Cardijn was referring to the world in the middle of the last century, our world today could be referred to as “new,” just as the Church refers today to evangelisation as “new”. What can be done to draw young people into the life of the Church? How can others be involved in carrying out the action? 


Pat Branson

Read more 

Marguerite Fiévez and Jacques Meert with the collaboration of Roger Aubert, (Preface Dom Helder Camara) (English Translation Edward Mitchinson), Cardijn. – JCDL Library 

The world today and the apostolate of the laity – JCDL Library 



3 Replies to “The Church, the Young and Mission”

    1. A quick answer: The Mass can lose its meaning for people when they cannot relate what they are looking for to the ritual. Sometimes, the language becomes a barrier for young people. For some, the priest fails to engage them in the liturgy. Some become lost in the symbols of the world-without-god in which they live and move about And they lose sight of Jesus.

  1. Thanks, Pat. Hopefully, families and schools, where young people spend most of their time, could be an instrument to help them understand the role of the Mass in their faith.

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