In my previous column I shared some positive and effective responses that we parents can have to teenagers who complain that they do not “feel” like going to mass.  In this column I’d like to explore how we can empower our teens to improve this situation themselves so that they can move from a “feeling-driven” to a “faith-driven” relationship with Jesus.

First we need to let our teenagers know that we care about their feelings and that we want to help them if they feel they aren’t getting anything out of mass.  We communicate our care by asking them what it is that they do want to feel during mass and then listening.

If they can be this self-reflective, it is likely that what they do want to feel is belonging.  So we take their desire to belong and explain to them that belonging is just one facet of the deepest desire of every human heart, which is to love and to be loved.  We further explain that this deepest desire is one that can only be satisfied by God, because God alone is perfect love.  The most logical response to these facts is to go where God has said he will be triply present, and that is at mass through the reading of his Holy Word, in the receiving of the Eucharist, and in the fellowship of other believers. Whether they will admit it or not, most teens are sharp enough to figure out from this string of logic that to avoid going to mass, then, just because they don’t “feel” like it, is a totally self-sabotaging move.

It will help our struggling teens believe that we understand their feelings if we can admit that, truthfully, the world offers all of us some pretty convincing counterfeit loves, and that the cost of enjoying a counterfeit love often does appear to be much less than that required to enjoy the perfect Love.  Sleeping in, for example, feels so much better, at least temporarily, than does getting up for mass.  It does nothing, however, to satiate our more enduring desire to love and be loved and to experience the feelings of belonging for which they and we all hunger.

After we have introduced the concept of God’s perfect love to our teenagers, we can begin to empower them to choose it.   We can ask, “What role do you play in feeling like you belong to a sports team, a class, or a club?”  They will know how it is everyone’s intentional participation in the group that generates feelings of emotional closeness, mutual support, and belonging, and they should be able to see how the same thing applies to their belonging at church.  If we expect to get something out of a group, we have to put something in.  They should be able to spot the faulty logic of being “helicoptered” to mass by mom and dad once a week, dropped in the pew, and instantly feeling great joy and belonging.  They know that teams, classes, and clubs don’t work that way, so would they expect God and church to work that way?  We all know that belonging resides in the hearts of those who choose to pour themselves out for the sake of the group.

Having explained that our teens’ feelings (of belonging or not) are largely up to them, we can move on to considering what actual activities there are for teens to participate in at the parish level.  No matter where we live, a few basic things will always apply; lectoring, serving, singing in the choir, and becoming an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  On top of this, teaching faith formation classes and attending nights of reflection, youth groups, camps, retreats, Eucharistic adoration, or one-time talks given by the pastor or a visiting speaker can be greatly enriching.

To truly, truly move teenagers and adults alike from a feeling-driven to a faith-driven relationship with Jesus, my personal plug would be to encourage them to have personal prayer daily, to engage in regular service to the needy with other Catholics, and to participate in a weekly Bible Study or faith-based small group.  Next time, ways for a parish to become more welcoming of teens...

Copyright 2012 Heidi Bratton