By Jeff Pajak
Catholic Communications intern
The times they are a changin’. With the speed at which our technology is evolving, people have been able to communicate in ways like never before. In the olden days, we sent telegrams to family and friends across the country by horse or boat and it would take months, perhaps longer, for a reply.
Yet despite the wonderful conveniences of modern technology, somehow it seems that other forms of communication have suffered. Parents are trying to keep up with the texting genius of their children, who have newer cell phones every year with twice the number of features and apps. With these kinds of technological divisions between generations (or between you and your own generation), it can be intimidating to any earnest Christian trying to get the Word out to today’s youth. But an old saying comes to mind: “Every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise.” Perhaps modern technology is preventing us from communicating clearly to the youth; but perhaps it can also help us connect with more of them than ever before.
However, I am also a big believer in the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” While words – whether spoken or written – have proven themselves to be quite effective when it comes to sending a message, I do recall one particular instance when it was the silent example that made a lasting impression on the youth.
I was a senior at Holyoke Catholic High School, and a member of Christian Leadership, which organized many of the religious events for the student body, such as Liturgy and class retreats. In those days (it seems so long ago!), Holyoke Catholic was in Granby and Mass for the school was held in the gymnasium. Now, as you might expect, whenever hundreds of high school students gather together in a single enclosed space – or any kind of space for that matter – there’s bound to be some tom-foolery. On these occasions, all the students knew that it was Mass they were attending; yet even so, it was an occasion to bump into friends and teammates all in the same place and at the same time. How could they not be a little rambunctious?
As the students in charge of the Liturgy, members of Christian Leadership were responsible for finding ways to make students take it more seriously. It wasn’t that they were being deliberately disrespectful. They just didn’t fully understand that the Real Presence is Real, even if presented in the school gym, and they needed to keep that in mind as soon as they entered the building.
So that is where Christian Leadership began its approach. We knew that these were good kids who would respond to holiness if they saw it similar to the way they saw it in their home parishes. We asked ourselves, “How can we make our gym Liturgies more like those held in church?” After some brainstorming, we decided to have two people hold bowls of holy water at the gymnasium entrance. This way, the students would be reminded of what they were there for.
However, what may have had a greater impact on the students was the behavior of the Christian Leadership members themselves. We realized, after some self-examination, that we had not been the best role models for the students. For at previous liturgies, while the student body had filed in to take their seats, we were often joking around with one another, laughing, or simply speaking louder than a whisper. We decided, for the next Mass, to keep as quiet and respectful as possible as the students entered the gym.
The result was awe-inspiring. The noise and revelry immediately subsided when the underclassmen came into the foyer and saw the two silent Christian Leaders with the bowls of holy water, and a beautiful service followed. Many, especially the faculty, noticed the significant difference. Afterwards, Ms. Moon, who taught Catholic Identity to the freshmen, praised Christian Leadership for the wonderful Mass. With the approval of Holyoke Catholic’s strictest religion teacher, we knew we had done well.
I’ll never forget how we were able to reach the younger students merely by adjusting our own behavior and setting a better example.
From my own limited experience, I have learned that youth are often a lot smarter than we realize. I think they recognize holiness and virtue when they see it, and though they may not fully understand it or why they are drawn to it, they know that what they see deserves their respect and even their admiration. For committed Christians, there is a way to cross the technological divide and evangelize the youth, and it starts with realizing that every aspect of our lives represents our faith. Every one of our actions has the potential to attract those searching for Christ, or turn them away. Before we try to reach the youth with words of the Gospel, we should be sure we are living examples of those words. To quote St. Francis of Assisi, “Our mission is to preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.”