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The book Don’t Be Afraid to Say Yes to God! Pope Francis Speaks to Young People presents the pope’s messages and words to young Catholics. It includes thoughtful questions for each chapter developed by Fr. Mike Schmitz. The Word Among Us talked to Fr. Mike about his new book, Pope Francis, and how the Church (all of us) can better reach out to young people.
Fr. Mike, what do college students and young adults hope for from the Catholic Church?
There’s a big hunger for the Church to connect with their real life. I was doing a teaching series recently on material possessions called “When Enough Is Enough.” That resonated. Yesterday we were talking about the causes of anxiety and stress. When I started naming the causes of their stress, people started nodding in agreement. Then when we identified what God had to say about their anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, there was such a longing for that: wisdom for today’s world.
How can we foster the spiritual growth of young people?
The first hurdle is individualism—so prevalent in our society. For all of human history until very recently, people stayed close to their extended family or their tribe. Now if you keep living with your parents, people might call you a loser. The solution is for the older generation to accompany the younger: to be in relationships. The baby boomers rebelled against their parents, but millennials long for relationships with older adults. Don’t assume they want to be left alone!
The second hurdle is that relationships are messy. You may need to help someone in their mess, but also be open to them helping you. Consider the model of a twelve-step group. Everyone admits that they are broken. There is authenticity, honesty, and challenging each other to do better. Christians take the additional step to pattern all of this after Jesus.
Okay, say that I decide I want to accompany people, but I’m not sure who God wants me to reach out to. How do I get started?
You don’t have to look far. The person who needs accompaniment is probably living in your own house. It’s the person right in front of you, who makes you think, “They aren’t reaching out to me. They don’t want anything to do with me.” The truth is, they might be thinking the same thing about you. Pay attention to them and take an interest in them. I like to invite people to make a list of who is in their life. At each level, you can pray about whether God might be asking you to invest more or increase your contact with somebody.
Clearly, Pope Francis has great hope in young people. What themes from his talks have you highlighted in your book?
He tells young people they can overcome the paralysis of shame and discover what Jesus is calling them to do. When he speaks to young people, Pope Francis isn’t afraid to challenge them. He encourages them to dream big—to capture a bigger vision for life and then rise to it. They get the sense that he challenges them because he believes in them. He’s not settling for vanilla.
The challenge comes from a place of love and so does the encouragement. All of us who are trying to follow Jesus and help other people need to remember that. As we quote Blaise Pascal’s line “You were made for glory,” we can also point out their abilities and the goodness in them. Then, offer them a leadership opportunity! Young people long to be needed, but that might mean older people have to step back and invite them in.
Many parents are concerned about their sons and daughters who have stopped attending Mass. What can you tell them?
First of all, look at your own spiritual life. As parents, you are the prototype. As a priest, I’m the prototype. I ask myself, “If my students and your children were to live their faith in Jesus the way that I’m living it, would they be great saints, or would they be decent folks?
What parents can do is become the prototype. I start by asking myself how I can model the faith better. Am I going to Confession? Am I following the Lord? Am I serving the poor? I don’t necessarily have to lecture or preach. It’s funny when parents hear their children complaining about church as adults, but in the car after Mass, they used to complain to their children about the music. I’ve done it too, but the point is that we can always become better models.
Other practical things are to intercede for our children and young people in general. Also, there are some solid resources out there. You can send them video links or podcasts or give them a copy of Pope Francis Speaks to Young People.
Tell us about Pope Francis Speaks to Young People. Whom is it written for?
The book is meant to be accessible—for young people invested in their faith, as well as those who might be on the fringes of the Church. Of course, there needs to be a certain degree of openness and trust with someone before an encounter happens. If someone is not curious or open, the door may be shut right now. But for anyone who is open, this could be a great resource (and a lot of people are open to Pope Francis!).
Fr. Mike Schmitz, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain for the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, inspires and educates through his priesthood and media ministry. His Sunday homilies are posted as podcasts on bulldogcatholic.org, and he presents a weekly video blog oriented toward 18-29 year olds called Ascension Presents.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say Yes to God! Pope Francis Speaks to Young People is available from The Word Among Us at wau.org and amazon.com.
Fr. Mike’s Top Ten Faith Resources for Young People
Check out these websites for yourself and find a specific article, video, podcast, book, or CD that you think would be helpful to a young person in your life. Then send it digitally or by mail!