Friday, April 22, 2016

Advice to Parents of Children Who Lost Their Faith: 3rd Sunday of Easter

 This past Wednesday I had to be in 2 different meetings at the same time. In one room there was the Pastoral Council meeting while in the other we had the the Surviving Divorce group. As I left one to attend the other I was surprised to find out that in both meetings they were talking about the same thing: A big problem which affects many families right here at St. Michael’s and the in Church universal -  How to reach young adults in the 15 to 25 year bracket, an age in which God, faith and church have very little significance in their lives.
   What intrigued me was that in both meetings you could hear the sense of betrayal in the voices of the speakers. At the Divorce Survival group it is always heartbreaking to listen to the stories about how many of their children have lost their faith and refuse to attend mass, or have gone to college only to return home claiming, now they are agnostic or atheists. As a member of the pastoral council, is very difficult not to feel bad about the fact that with all the time and talent we invest evangelizing our children there are some who, after their confirmation, never return to church again.
   Now, if you are a parent with this problem I wish I could give you a few words that will make your loved one return to the Church,  but sadly I cannot. However, what I can do is reflect on today’s Gospel for guidance. Because in it we see how Jesus dealt with those who had betrayed him. What I mean is: Judas was not the only one who betrayed Jesus, but Peter and the apostles betrayed him as well.
   The story goes like this: After the resurrection Peter and the apostles decide to go fishing. They spent the night fishing without catching anything, and just when they are tired, hungry and ready to give up,  Jesus meets them and say “Why don’t you try something different?” “Why don’t you, cast your nets but this time do it on the right of the boat?” So they do and they haul in a great catch. Peter, realizing it is Jesus, jumps into the sea and swims to see him, only to be welcomed by Jesus and a charcoal fire. And this detail is quite significant not only because this is only one of two times a charcoal fire is mentioned in the Bible but because the only other time is when Peter denied Jesus, in the courtyard of the high priest, on Good Friday.  For the rest of the apostles, I’m sure the charcoal fire, the bread and fish felt like a welcome rest. So it is easy to think that at this moment the apostles felt safe, secure and relaxed.
     Now Jesus doesn’t waste any time.  He uses this moment to address Peter’s betrayal. But he doesn’t nag, he doesn’t accuse, he doesn’t remind Peter of his failure.  He just asks Peter three times “Do you love me?”.  It is as if Jesus is saying “Peter, you know and I know that you betrayed me. Let's put all that behind us and try to remember, the reason why I called you, why  I  spent 3 years teaching you: I did this because I loved you, and I don’t want you to go back to your old life, I want you to tend my sheep and lead my Church.”
I hope you see now why  I think this reading is the key to help us deal the issue of young people abandoning the faith. In fact, I do not think it is a mere coincidence that the first words on Jesus lips in this reading is “children.”
   Reflecting on how Jesus dealt with the apostles,  I think that we can get 5 principles from this reading:
     First : Do not wait for your children to come to you, go where they are. Jesus did not wait until they were praying, he met them when they were doing what felt comfortable doing: fishing.
     Second: When you get there, do not go to judging, or accusing. Jesus became part of their world, he showed them respect, he even cooked them breakfast! We should let our young people know that we love and appreciate them where they are at the moment!
    Third: Wait until they are comfortable and relaxed to address your concerns. It is easy to accept advice when some one shows us that they love us first. Usually after a nice warm breakfast!   
    Fourth: Explain to them that you do not want them to change anything in their lives, but what you want is for them to look at their lives and ask themselves: are you better, or happier now than the way you were before when you were part of a family and community which loved you and nurtured you? If you are not happy now... Why not try something different? This is what Jesus did when he asked the apostles to cast their nets,  but this time on the right side! Keep living your life but do it the way God wants you to do it, the way you were taught  at Church.
    Finally : Be direct, but not judgemental. Tell them how they make you feel by their turning away from the faith, and let them know you and the Church are praying, waiting for them, with open arms for their return.
    Now Jesus’ method of dealing with betrayal is not based on surveys or psychological profiles, but on the Lord’s knowledge of human nature. Of course Jesus had instant results because, you know... He is God . We on the other hand are not God, we are parents and evangelists who love very much these people who have turned away from our families and communities. So do not expect an instant result. You might have to do this again and again.
    In fact, I’m not claiming that if you do these things young adults will flock back into our church, but what I’m certain of is that if you follow Jesus’ example and keep  praying for our young people, we will see miracles happen in our homes and right here in this building.
God bless you.