We continue looking at “Youth Ministry in one of the longest chapters of the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (which can be found on this link at the Vatican site).
212. As for growth, I would make one important point. In some places, it happens that young people are helped to have a powerful experience of God, an encounter with Jesus that touched their hearts. But the only follow-up to this is a series of “formation” meetings featuring talks about doctrinal and moral issues, the evils of today’s world, the Church, her social doctrine, chastity, marriage, birth control and so on. As a result, many young people get bored, they lose the fire of their encounter with Christ and the joy of following him; many give up and others become downcast or negative. Rather than being too concerned with communicating a great deal of doctrine, let us first try to awaken and consolidate the great experiences that sustain the Christian life. In the words of Romano Guardini, “when we experience a great love… everything else becomes part of it”.[Das Wesen des Christentums. Die neue Wirklichkeit des Herrn, Mainz, 7th ed., 1991, 14]
This is a helpful observation. Let’s not misinterpret that “boredom” as wholly the fault of short attention spans. What we are trying to accomplish after those powerful experiences is an effective handoff. That isn’t usually going to be an intellectual session. After a retreat or conversion experience, a person–young or old–most often needs confirmation of their experience. That more often happens in groups. Maybe with a mentor for introverts, but not always. Maybe a small group or base community for others. That is part of the genius of the Cursillo movement and its offshoots: they know how to keep the flame burning bright. They know the day after an encounter isn’t the time to recruit for religious life, the pro-life movement, some church committee, or the next Bible Study. What is needed is the confirmation of the truth of the experience.
An illustration from the Scriptures: after the disciples recognized Jesus at Emmaus, they didn’t immediately set out in the wide world. They returned to the large group in Jerusalem. There, the experience was confirmed when others recounted similar meetings with the Lord.
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