As a youth minister for almost a decade I am often asked, “What do you do to get the kids to come?” My response is, “Teach them to love the sacraments and all that our Catholic faith has to offer and they will come.”
The world will offer young people many false realities; however, the Catholic Church, being almost counter cultural with its teachings, offers them something so much more that is the truth. I have seen the benefits in teaching young people about these truths and what lies in the heart of it are the sacraments and prayers of the Catholic Church. These treasures within our faith offer us Catholics not only a way to practice our faith but also a way to gain the graces necessary to continue to live out our faith.
I am never shy to speak about the sacraments and Catholic prayers to a teenager or young adult and to offer them opportunities to pray and receive them. I try to give them a variety of prayer experiences within our ministries to expose them to the many different ways to pray and help them feel comfortable with these practices so they begin to develop their own personal prayer life. Praying in a group setting is a great way to begin to expose youth and young adults to these prayers.
The rosary is one of my favorite ways to pray although to me, it can seem intimidating to pray on your own. When in a group setting, it seems easier to pray. I have exposed many of our young people to the rosary in our various youth groups. There’s a running joke in our ministry that “if you’re driving with Kari to an event and the car ride is more than 20 minutes, we will be praying the rosary.”
Presently, the devotion to the rosary has been spreading. Often youth members will leave our meetings and stop in our chapel as a small group to pray the rosary together. In addition, each of our young adult group meetings, as well as our CORE Team leadership meetings, begin with reciting the rosary. During the Year of Mercy, we made a second lap around our beads and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet as well. We enjoyed praying for souls on the Chaplet so much that we continued to pray it even after the Year of Mercy ended.
For some of our other youth meetings we begin and end with a spontaneous prayer from the heart. During this time I give each member in the group an opportunity to pray out loud for their intentions.
Teaching the youth a love for the Eucharist and Mass is so important as well. Most teenagers would probably say, “Mass is boring,” but if you can show them how rich in graces the Mass is, not only by your example but also by your invitation, they begin to see it through a different lens. I started to invite my youth to attend daily Mass with me once a week.
What began as a challenge to an eighth grade class is now a regular Wednesday event. Every Wednesday during the school year, I invite the eighth graders who attend Saint Mary School to join me at 6:45 a.m. daily Mass, followed by doughnuts in our youth office until they go into school. We average around 30 kids per week during the year. I also invite all of our youth groups during the summer to attend 8 a.m. Mass on Wednesday mornings, followed by breakfast. We average around 30-40 youth and their families each week. What is it that draws them back? I believe that it is Jesus! There is power and grace in the Eucharist.
During these Mass experiences, I teach the youth how they can offer their Communion intention to pray for someone who is sick or a friend in need. I teach them how Jesus is truly present and how reverence is important. I remind them to keep their cell phones away and to focus on the miracle that is happening before them. I also encourage them to visit the Adoration Chapel in our church and also in Saint Mary School. I explain how stopping in for a few minutes of peace and disconnecting from their phone and the outside world can do so much good for their soul. Several times a year we also host “Holy Hours for Youth,” which include praise and worship during Eucharistic Adoration in our church.
Another great way to foster love of their Catholic faith is teaching them to love and respect the sacrament of confession. The first movement for a teen toward being comfortable with going to confession is to get them over common misconceptions, which include being afraid to tell the priest their sins out of fear of being judged or looked at differently after the sacrament. You have to break down those walls and point them to the loving, merciful arms of Christ within the sacrament. Then, you have to encourage the sacrament to be made on a regular basis. To do this, I try to make it available for our youth and young adults whenever possible.
Thankfully the priests in our parish are always open to do so for our young church. Very often our priests will be present during our regular sixth-eighth grade and high school Spiritual Guidance groups to hear confessions during our pizza time after the guidance part meets. Having that frequent and regular availability makes it more comfortable for them. Once something becomes regular, they can begin to see God working within their lives, especially in avoiding the occasion of sin.
Our Catholic faith is so rich. There is no need to water it down for our young people who are seeking the truth. It is exactly what they need. If we present it to them in the right way, they accept it and take it on as their own and spread it to others. We can think about the words of the youthful saint, Saint Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”
Kari Janisse has been the coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown since 2009. She leads programs for youth starting in 3rd grade through young adults up to 28 years old. She also leads programs outside of the parish called, “+he ROCK,” which are Catholic Clubs at local high schools.