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If you don’t want to know the answer ...

What happens when you ask teens to be honest

I have a couple of friends – a husband and wife – who have a very supportive, loving relationship with their two sons. It has been fun for me to watch all of them (dad, mom and the two sons) grow during the years I have known them. One rule in their home has always been, “If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question.” In other words, they always strive to be very honest with one another. This family’s mind-set is, in large part, the very reason that they are so loving and supportive of one another. They know they have the safety and support to always speak the truth to one another, even when that truth is not so easy to hear.

“If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask the question.” If we didn’t really want to know what young people are thinking about their experience of church these days, we probably shouldn’t have asked them. But I’m glad we did. The answers of many of them are truly inspiring. I wish that I had the same depth of faith and trust in God as some of the young people we profile in this annual teen edition. On the other hand, some of their answers reveal a profound challenge to those of us who have left the teen years behind. In many cases, the objections raised by some of the teens with whom we visited come down to adults, who can tend to say one thing and then do another. If there’s one thing that young people can sense all too easily, it’s when we adults are not being consistent. “Do as I say, not as I do” can only get us so far.

What message do we send young people if the hour we spend in Mass is the only hour we spend practicing the way of Christ? What’s a young person to think if they watch us inattentively going through the words and actions of the Mass – not participating in the full, active and conscious manner to which the Mass calls each of us? Should we genuinely be surprised when a young person holds us accountable when our words and actions do not correspond to one another? After all, who has the primary responsibility for forming children and young people in a life of faith?

An hour spent in the celebration of Mass, added to an hour spent in religious education, and perhaps another hour or two spent with the parish youth group, simply cannot outweigh the remaining 165 hours of opportunities to live our faith in any given week. Those few hours spent in a parish building or engaged in a parish activity can’t replace the countless hours of watching and learning in a kind of apprenticeship as trusted adults live and love their faith. At best, what we offer to our young people in our parishes is a support or an enhancement to what we hope is being lived, prayed and taught in the domestic church of the family. If the life of faith is not lived there in a way that is consistent, loving and supportive, there’s little hope that what we are able to offer on a parish level can ever replace it.

The good news is that, in many cases, families and parish communities are choosing to consistently and constantly live the message of the Gospels. In turn, this offers many young people the stable, faith-filled and supportive environment in which their young faith can grow and mature. The not-so-good news is that there is still more that we can do. Just as young people learn from those who surround them in their communities of faith, so too, can we learn from them the vital importance of living our faith to the best of our ability, and with God’s grace, each and every moment of our lives. If we didn’t want to know that, we shouldn’t have asked the question.

And so our journey in FAITH continues.