The summer I started to regularly attend daily Mass was the same summer I attended my first youth conference. I remember sitting at the conference, surrounded by a thousand other teens who were passionate about their faith and thinking, “I want to give glory to God like this everyday.” Encountering Jesus in the Eucharist over the course of the weekend had moved mountains in my heart and inspired me to live with a stronger devotion to my faith. This started with the resolution to go to daily Mass more often.
Nearly every day that summer, I woke up earlier than I would’ve liked and made my way to Mass. In the small, quiet chapel at my parish, I fell in love with the beauty of the liturgy. By frequently encountering Jesus in the sacraments, I continued to receive the grace that postured my heart towards the goodness of the Lord. But as I eagerly continued in my resolution, it became more and more difficult for me to ignore the fact that every time I showed up, I was easily, by far, the youngest person there.
Longing for Belonging
People would affirm me how inspiring it was to see a young person at Mass and I remember thinking “I should be proud!” Instead, each affirmation left me feeling a little more discouraged. Scripture tells us we were made for community (John 15:12-15), but as I looked around the Church I so loved, I couldn’t seem to find a place where I fit in. Instead, I stuck out in a space where my heart only desired to belong.
Maybe you’ve felt this way, too. You love the Lord, but you feel like your purpose in the Church might not exist outside your youth group or the retreat you go on every year. Maybe you feel like you’ll be able to contribute to the Church one day when you’re older, but you don’t have anything to offer right now. Maybe you foster a deep desire for authentic community, but you can’t seem to find where you fit in.
You’re not alone.
The desire for community longs for the knowledge that each of us belongs to the greater Church – at mass, in the sacraments, in parish life and ministry. Our purpose is affirmed in the heart of community: each of us is a vital member of the Body of Christ. Therefore, the presence of young people should not be considered a special treat or rare occurrence – our presence is needed and should be desired and considered normal. However, when we exist in places that feel isolated, it’s easy to question where our purpose is.
As I’ve wrestled with this pursuit over the years, I’ve come to discover a simple truth: community within the Church is more than just going to youth group but it is rarely within our comfort zone.
A Source of Hope
In the recent Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, Pope Francis writes:
“Young people are not meant to become discouraged; they are meant to dream great things, to seek vast horizons, to aim higher, to take on the world, to accept challenges and to offer the best of themselves to the building of something better. That is why I constantly encourage young people not to let themselves be robbed of hope” (15).
As young people, we are called to live in the fierce hope in the Resurrection which doesn’t allow us to sit idle or in isolation. We are called to dream big and embrace the challenges of our youth – especially those within the church – and offer the best of ourselves to a better world.
This hope, which cannot be discounted by fear or locked out by loneliness or exclusivity, liberates us from the idea that we don’t belong or we are reaching too high. It affirms our purpose by presenting the truth that the Church needs our joy, our dreams, and our hope! Pope Francis goes on to say, “Jesus is risen, and He wants to make us sharers in the new life of the resurrection. He is the true youthfulness of a universe waiting in travail to be clothed with the light and to live His life” (32).
When we look to the saints, we see this true youthfulness manifested in many of their own young lives. Their unique and powerful contributions, despite their personal struggles, have and continue to bring life to the Church, even amidst trials and dark times. At times when it seems easier to retreat, we are called to give voice to this hope by enduring in our own, unique spirit of hope.
A Source of Renewal
The contribution that each of us brings to the Church is not only unique, but vital to the Kingdom. Pope Francis later says, “Young people can offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments” (37).
I continued to go to daily mass even after the summer was over because the grace of God has and always will triumph over fear and uncertainty. If you have ever found yourself discouraged or alone as a young person in the Church, let me affirm you in this truth: you belong here. The call that the Father has written on your heart is an essential vessel to the Body of Christ and a contribution that only you can make. Your heart, as an ongoing source of youthfulness, brings renewal and reflects the light of Christ to our Church which is so often plagued in darkness. Our duty as sons and daughters of Christ allows us the privilege to bring light to darkened places, even if they seem uncomfortable.
If you’re the only young person at Mass, keep going! Better yet, invite a friend to go with you or volunteer to be a lector and participate in the Mass in a new way.
If you desire a place to discuss your faith outside of your youth group, grab a few friends (or new ones!) and start a Bible or book study. Or, just hang out at a coffee shop and talk about life! Intentional conversation is a gateway to authentic community.
Finally, if you feel alone in practicing your faith, DON’T BE AFRAID! When we cling to the joy of the resurrection, fear and doubt have no claim on our hearts.
The Church is longing for the contribution that only you can make. She needs your light and your love! Let’s build up the Kingdom of Heaven, together.