In this Year of Faith, we've all been thinking about how to evangelize more effectively, and no group is more coveted in this mission than our youth. Word on Fire blog contributor Father Michael Cummins looks to Scripture for inspiration, and finds a lesson in two figures that we all would be remiss to ignore.
On January 31st, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. John Bosco – a saint who devoted his life to helping young people. This saint and his feast day have led me to reflect on my own experience of ministering to youth and young adults, especially in a time and culture that is “youth obsessed.” We can readily see how this obsession is played out in all areas of society – the entertainment and news media industry, politics, sports, education, relationships – just to name a few. Yet, my own reflection led me to wonder how might this obsession with youth bleed into and perhaps even negatively influence the Church’s ministry to youth and young adults as they seek to claim their own Christian faith and spirituality?
I will start by stating that one of the core convictions I have gained in my ministry with youth and young adults is that young people do not benefit from older people trying to act young; rather young people benefit when their elders remember their own age and are authentic to whom they, themselves, are.
To use the language of Scripture: in our culture today, our young Samuels need the guidance of older and wiser Elis. For any person involved with young people, 1 Samuel 2-3 is a must read. I have returned again and again to this Scripture passage for wisdom and I have come to believe that Eli is an often unsung hero in Scripture. I would like to use this encounter between the young Samuel and the elder Eli as a means to share some thoughts.
In the second chapter of 1 Samuel, we are told that the Lord had withdrawn his favor from the house of the priest Eli due to the corrupt actions of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Yet the young Samuel “continued to grow both in stature and favor with the Lord and with men.” (1 Samuel 2:26) In the third chapter we find the famous scene of the young Samuel hearing the voice of the Lord, mistaking it for the voice of the old priest and going each time to the sleeping Eli until finally Eli catches on to what is happening and instructs the young man in how to respond...