Growing in zeal for the Lord
"For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live well-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. While we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
Fifteen years of my life were spent in forming seminarians. What continues to strike me about these men is their zeal. It is not a zeal to succeed or to make a name for oneself. Rather, it is God’s own zeal — they have a divine desire to do God’s will.
Any bishop will tell you that the most enjoyable part of our ministry is confirmation. Here in the Diocese of Lansing, this is celebrated for 8th-, 9th- or 10th-graders. The letters these confirmands send me contain information about the saint’s name they are taking, their sponsor, the retreat they went on, the Christian service projects they participated in and the catechesis they received. What is most pronounced, however, is that all these activities lead them to a real desire, a deep zeal, to be active adult members of the church. They may not know it yet, but they want to do God’s will.
Many lament today the absence of so many of our teens and young adults from our Sunday worship of God. It seems to me that what our confirmation programs are doing is an excellent way to continue to engage our youth in the life of the church.
However, and this is another point, they need witnesses. They need men and women with ardent zeal for doing God’s will in their lives. Pope Paul VI said that we will believe witnesses and we will believe teachers only if they also are witnesses. It is, after all, all about Jesus – knowing him, loving him and serving him. Certainly, our parents need to be this for their children. So, too, do our Catholic school teachers and catechists. We all need to be like those seminarians, who are zealous for God’s will.
With this kind of example and leadership, the means for engaging our youth is at hand. They, too, want to know Jesus and so we provide them with ever more appropriate catechesis which demonstrates how our Christian freedom is following the incredible demands of the cross. We engage them in the worship of the Father that Jesus continues in the church. They, too, want to love Jesus, and so we invite them to retreats and various spiritual exercises so they can gaze at the face of Jesus and fall in love with the one who loves them so much. They, too, would serve Jesus, and so we call them to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, serving the least of the brothers and sisters of the Lord.
Our youth and young adults are a treasure given to us by the Lord for our future witness to his presence in our midst. Certainly we want to train them to be our doctors and lawyers and mechanics and mothers and fathers. But more noble than all these is the call to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Thus Paul could write the Corinthians in holding up love above all, “Be zealous for the higher gifts”. The zeal is there in our young. Let us know how to direct it.