Saturday, September 3, 2016

Shocked by the Americans

During the events of World Youth Day and the Diocesan Days leading up to World Youth Day I had a few experiences that served to open my eyes to glaring weaknesses common to my fellow Americans. And here, I'm not speaking of my fellow 30-day pilgrims, because we had occasion to mingle with a variety of other American groups.

Let me preface this by saying that one of the most valuable components of our group's preparation was the ICE training on how to prepare a testimony. I have given my testimony, especially of my conversion to Catholicism, many, many times informally, and in writing several times as well. But this training was still valuable to me in making me really grapple with the power of a testimony, with Biblical examples of testimony, and practical aspects like ideal length and the most efficient focus to keep it focused on Christ as the Savior that you are inviting people to meet. Clearly, I love to tell stories, but I needed the reminder that a testimony needs to point to Jesus present in my life to change my life, and then I need to extend the invitation to a seeker to take a step closer.

I was rather shocked by hearing several Americans present testimonies in one particular setting. I am not saying that I might not have done exactly what they did at some other time in my life. But it was eye-opening to me. The stories revolved around powerful emotional experiences. These were connected with nature, with other people, with achievements, with risks they took. They shared their experience, then sort of leapt to an ending of "and it was all because of God. I hope it happens to you. Thank you."

I didn't hear one of these "testimonies" make a connection with Christ and the gospel.

I'm sure it was there, somehow, for the person presenting. But they never dug deep enough to share it with us. There was no clear articulation of what truths they met, what choices they had to make, what difference turning to Jesus Christ made for them. The upshot was always something like "Wow! It was so cool!" And I think that was supposed to mean that it impacted them spiritually, but I left unconvinced that even they knew how that had happened.

I'm happy to say that when it was turn for our group to share, Iwona preached a great evangelistic message, and our pilgrims gave effective testimonies. It made me happy, but also grumpy that Encounter. as a community had already met its demise even as I was seeing what actually needs to happen among us.

A second moment among an even broader group made me scratch my head again.

Quite a large group of us went to one location, a ministry run by a religious order, to  help the Sisters clean up their property after a storm had left branches scattered everywhere. There were also a few larger logs that needed to be moved to a brush pile. The work was announced, and people set to it. I noticed many of the Americans cheering each other, shouting, and taking selfies as they worked. And then, after about 15 minutes, they stopped. For the next who knows how long, a large crowd of them stood off to the side and talked.

The rest of us, including the kids from my group, worked diligently. At one point, I overheard two Europeans saying to each other in English, "Hmm. It seems the Americans don't want to work!" It was probably a solid hour later that the rest of us declared our work completed enough to show great improvement. But it made me consider that just as soon as the "Wow! This is so cool!" wore off for the Americans, so did their interest. Are there connections we can draw about how young adults leave the Church?

I had the feeling that the American youth ministers spent a lot of energy constantly trying to fish for the kids to like them. It almost gave me the impression they had to make up for a very boring and dull God who was not enough to captivate teens.

Now, I may have thought similarly about other groups if I had visited and/or been able to understand the nuances of everything that was being said. But, I heard and saw what I heard and saw. And it leaves me with great concern for the state of youth ministry among American Catholics.

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