|Office of Educational Services
Melkite Eparchy of Newton
1710 Surf Avenue – Belmar , NJ 07719
Voice 732-556-6917- Cell 201-417-3804
email – firstname.lastname@example.org
CATECHESIS FOR YOUTH: LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
What is our Catechetical mission for our youth in light of current trends in American society and the way they relate to our ancient past and tradition? Today, our world is radically different from that which shaped our mentality, our thought-forms, indeed our whole life as Melkites. Our world is deeply marked by a spiritual crisis brought on by secularism; an approach to life that eliminates God and His plan for humanity from anything we think or do and basically dispenses with God and the Church completely. Society’s ways all too frequently have more of an impact on the lives of our youth than does the church.
Moreover, we are confronted with the pervasive influence of the technology culture and its impact on relationships. In subtle ways the internet shapes our consciousness, our commitments, and even our faith. It tends to isolate our youth from relationships, creating a neo-individualism engendered by reliance on technology and limits human relationships that are necessary for the development of the nobler aspects of human life: Christian growth, maturity and love.
The ultimate meaning of this crisis is that the world in which the Church lives today, is not a “neutral” one, but a world trying to reduce her to values, philosophies of life and world-views profoundly different from, her vision, and experience of God, man and life.
What is worrisome is our seeming inability to face up to the crisis and to seek ways of dealing with it. This inability has had a serious effect on the faith commitment of our youth who are hearing distortion, when they need catechetical direction and guidance. As a result many of our young people have no sense of real commitment to their churches and their tradition and are walking away.
The message of the Gospel may be timeless, but those under our care and guidance are very much products of a particular place and time. What are our kids becoming: God-Like or technocrats?
It behooves us therefore, to make our first catechetical priority youth and to implement programs that best serve their needs in secular American society. Without the participation of the young, we can be assured that all our work is in vain and that our communities will disappear. In our future vision of catechesis we must keep pace with what is happening in American society and culture. This means that we are called to provide the scaffolding necessary to counteract society’s influence and secular ideologies.
We have to go back to our sources. For the Patristic Fathers Christianity was above all an experience, or more precisely, the Church is an experience. Our catechetical focus in the future must include a paradigm shift from book learning to experiential learning.
This calls for the use of modern and exciting expressions that reveal the truths of our faith in a manner that corresponds to contemporary life and young people’s search for purpose and meaning. It calls for catechesis that relates the vision of the Fathers of the church to the real, concrete life, shaped and conditioned as it is now, by a totally different vision. We must seek to resolve the conflict we run into between the dogma we find in books and the practices we learn from the scientifically proven wisdom of the world.
We have a whole vision of man, world, nature, matter, entirely different from the one which shapes our secular world. It is a dynamic vision of never ending growth for all eternity. Most theologians before Vatican II, in teaching about the essence of eternal happiness in heaven, described it in static terms of “seeing God’s essence in the beatific vision.” Such immobility was deemed the ultimate of God’s perfection. Meanwhile our modern world explodes into fresh and exciting richness that for them to consider assent to the truth in any static and immobile terms has very little meaning today.
Our hope is that God has given us a vocation in this life to teach. He has also given us a magnificent tradition directly from the hands of the apostles and while ancient, it is compellingly contemporary by the power of the Holy Spirit to spawn an ever-newness to all things in the church.
Faithfulness to our tradition means, not only acceptance of formulae or customs from past generations, but rather – the ever new, personal and direct experience of the Holy Spirit in the present here and now. All the formulas about religious life will not change lives, only the experience of God. Not only must we appreciate the treasure we have, but we must accept this treasure as a way of life and believe that this is an opportunity to grow and become new men and women for all eternity and to live in the dignity of God and not in the misery of men.
We have to help our youth experience the Divine Liturgy and discover the hidden meanings behind the signs and symbols. They should experience the Church as a Theophany, the eternal breaking into time, and unfolding of the divine life through the deifying transformation of humanity in worship. In the mystery of the Church we are dealing with life being transformed..
We are a risen people, a people empowered by the Holy Spirit, a victorious people, and we celebrate the Resurrection at every Divine Liturgy. We celebrate victory over death and we are not defeated in life.
A Christian Spiritual Makeover?
Our youth must experience who they are before God. Our human vocation is theosis deification – divinization. As St. Basil the Great says the human being is a creature that is called to become God.
We are God’s “living icons”. Each of us is a created expression of God’s infinite and uncreated “self expression”. This means it is impossible to understand ourselves apart from God. Cut off from God we are no longer authentically human – we are sub-human. If we lose our sense of the divine we lose equally our sense of the human.
What may be needed to change the mindset is an extreme Christian spiritual makeover! Our faith is not only a set of beliefs; it is also a set of tools which have the power to transform. They must live the reality of the “image” of God within them making it possible for them to grow and discover the mystery of who they are. They must realize the dynamic potential within them waiting to be activated through a relationship with God in prayer. To function strictly on a human physical level without using their divine potential is functioning with half their God given potential and for all practical purposes, they can never succeed without God. They have to discover that they have a call higher than their own self esteem!
We have to guide our youth to the reality that religion is relevant for living a fuller life, an abundant life, a joyful life, not something they tuck away like an insurance policy to guarantee them heaven when they die. We should hope to involve our students in prayerful consideration of the interrelationships of traditional teachings so that these truths may become living realities affecting daily living. We have to invite them to go beyond the catechism of mere concepts to the insights of the Eastern Fathers that will elicit a “real” and not a “notional” assent to the truths about life and death.
We have a whole vision of man, world, nature, matter, entirely different from the one which shapes our secular world. It is a dynamic vision of never ending growth for all eternity. Most theologians before Vatican II, in teaching about the essence of eternal happiness in heaven, described it in static terms of “seeing God’s essence in the beatific vision.” Such immobility was deemed the ultimate of God’s perfection. Meanwhile our modern world explodes into fresh and exciting richness that for young people to consider assent to the truth in any static and immobile terms has very little meaning today.
Relationship: Interlocked and Intertwined
A contemporary philosopher argues that relationship is constitutive of personhood and that there is no true persons unless there are least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself (John McMarry 1951)
All creation is intertwined in relationship because the same uncreated energy of God infuses all creation with life that would not exist without God’s energy. We have seen that by splitting the atom that nothing is static. Everything is interrelated. We can’t live without interrelationships and so there are two reactions to this exciting exploding world – we can run away or we can enter, participate and be transformed by touching the mystery.
St. Maximus the Great Confessor centuries before Einstein discovered the theory of relativity, saw that God in His uncreated energy – the Holy Trinity burst out of that tremendous community of love to share themselves with us and to make us ‘participators of God’s very own nature’ (2Peter, Ch1,v4) This God is within us. But where are we? What do the young think about relationships?
Spirituality and relationship
Young people don’t want to just learn about relationship with God – they want to personally encounter God in relationship. Teaching them spirituality is teaching them about relationship with God. Have your students ever pondered in amazement how mortals can have a relationship with God. How did God make that possible?
It is essential to unlock the rich treasury of our Eastern Christian Spiritual heritage so needed to offset the pagan pessimism that exists in our secular society. How to pray, meditate, be silent, and listen, how to be modern ascetics, how to combat spiritual warfare, how to pray in the heart using the Jesus prayer are spiritual paths to deepen our relationship with God. That is why the Jesus Prayer is called the Prayer of the Heart.
The word heart is not an easy word to understand – the heart is deep. St Isaac the Syrian tells us that “hidden within each one of us is a secret treasure house an inner kingdom, amazing in its depth and variety a place of wonder and joy – a place of glory – and a place of meeting and encounter.” The inner kingdom is best described as the kingdom of the heart. Heart is the fundamental word in spirituality both East and West. St Isaac tells us to “enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you so you will see the things that are in heaven for there is but one single entry to both that of the keys of the kingdom is hidden within your soul.”
There is no head/heart contrast. The heart means not just the motions or feelings, the heart in the bible means the spiritual center of the total person – the place of insight – vision and wisdom. (Matt6:21 “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also”)
These spiritual experiences move us to live more purposefully and not to just exist, driven by the winds of destiny. They compel us to be faithful and dedicated to something greater than ourselves they allow us to transcend our physical limitations and as God’s icons, become co-Creators with Christ and lovers of mankind. It opens a path leading to infinite potential not only for success in this life but forever!
The heart is the place where we formulate our primary aim – our hope – the heart expresses our purpose in life and the heart is what determines our behavior and our action the heart in this way is the moral center of the person.
As we continue to grow in the process of becoming like God, we continue to discover our true selves in God. We discover our true identity in God, as we are being transformed into new men and women. We discover the key to our personhood according to the Trinitarian image is not isolated self awareness but relationship in mutual love. The Romanian theologian Fr. Dimitrios Staniloe writes “insofar as I am not love, I am unintelligible to myself”.
Beyond books to living experiences . . .
As our youth grow in their parishes, they need to be brought together where they can freely speak their faith, share their lives as Christians and hear with their “new ears” the teaching of the Spirit so that their own commitment may be deepened. Our young people want to dialogue, discuss, learn from one another and confirm their own beliefs and faith and hope in whatever the Spirit leads to restore Christian living and sensitivity for what is important in life and an awareness that they don’t relate to things only to people; and in that relationship they realize who they are and grow in psychological and Christian maturity. Faith development is a life-long journey, rather than a static point of arrival. Our young people need to be sustained along the way.
Our youth must overcome their insular attitude and develop pride in their church. They must be confident that our religious tradition is capable of enriching American life. Are we not an example of what a Christian world view and social order should consist of? Haven’t we learned something about communal life, respect for the individual, toleration, and openness in which the disheartened of the world can find some solace? When we speak of preservation of our tradition, we must avoid acting as if they were museum pieces. Our tradition is not to be isolated from mainstream religious America – but part of it.
Although our truths are ancient, they are ever modern, exciting, relational, dynamic and boundless, and offer a good defense against the spiritual crisis brought on by secular lifestyle.