During the month of August, the Polish National Catholic Church shows a special attention to the youth of the Church in the celebration of Youth Sunday on the last Sunday of the month, this year, August 25. While this Sunday gives us an opportunity to pray for and with the youth of the Church, especially as the summer is coming to an end and many of them once again return to school, we really must challenge ourselves to not only concern ourselves with the youth on this one special day and no more.
Saint Paul speaks to a young man, named Timothy, who he had placed in charge of a congregation. He tells him, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:12-16)
While these words were written to a young man in the ministry of an infant church, they certainly do have much for us to consider when we work with the youth of our Holy Church, and in fact when we work with any others within our Christian Catholic community.
We notice that the expectations of Saint Paul for Timothy are really quite high. He tells him to set an example in speech and in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. As difficult and challenging as these might be, especially within our present culture, these are certainly the expectations that we should have for the youth of our Church today. But this immediately begs the question, how can they set an example, if they have none to follow in us. It is never enough for us to stand back and point our fingers to tell the youth, or anyone for that matter, what they are to do or how they are to act. First and foremost we must model that Christian behavior within our own lives as well. Saint Paul reminded us all in the letter to the Philippians, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9) But in order for this to ring true and not be hypocritical, then we must actually be living this sort of Christian Catholic life and faith. So we see that high expectations for others, be they youth or not, places high expectations upon ourselves as well.
The saying from Timothy ends with the words, “Continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” In this we see that the journey of the Christian is not meant to be one of solo practice. We are to join together to live the Christian life. It is in this that we “save ourselves and others” as Saint Paul says.
We must remind ourselves this as we approach our Christian discipline and life, it is for this reason that our Polish National Catholic Church describes certain portions of our discipline as obligations. They are obligations, not so much for our own religious life, but rather because they are important for others around us as well.
It is in this that we must put our family religious life in practice, not only immediate family but our parish family as well. Attendance at Holy Mass, the common worship of our parish together is an important part of our example and common life, but it is really just the first part. When we receive Holy Communion, the Body of Christ, at Mass it should remind us that we need to be the Body of Christ, at every moment. The extension of this worship should be private prayer and a life of prayer and Christian service as well. If we expect our children and youth to acquire a discipline of prayer, then we too must be people who pray. If we want them to be unafraid to pray in any and every situation then we must be people who turn to God at any and every moment with prayer. If we want them to act in a Christian manner and with Christian love in all situations, then we must do so as well.
If you desire that our children and our youth play a part within your parish and our Church, then we must take them and encourage them to be an active part of all the things our parishes do: worship, fundraisers, service projects, meetings, everything. I have heard from very many youth just how boring parish meetings are and having sat through very many of them, in some ways I must agree. Maybe these meetings would be more engaging for all if they would be focused on the work of our parishes and we asked to hear the vision of all, including our youth.
I had the great opportunity this summer to spend some wonderful time with some of the youth of our Holy Church. I attended the Western Diocesan Youth Gathering at Pine Trails Camp in Saugatuck, Michigan and the annual Kurs Encampment at the Bishop Hodur Retreat and Recreation Center at Spójnia Farm in Waymart, PA. During these days I spent time in the celebration of Holy Mass, in prayer, in service and in joyful Christian life together with adults and youth of the P.N.C.C. These days were truly joyful as I was spiritually uplifted by the youth of the P.N.C.C. I encourage any and all Polish National Catholics to experience these events if you ever have the opportunity. You will be uplifted and encouraged in your own spiritual life, through the enthusiasm and faith of the young members of the Polish National Catholic Church.
And our course we know that there are many other opportunities for these experiences that we can have. There are many youth events held throughout our Holy Church, and each one is joyous. But along with these larger events, there is also the opportunity to work together with the youth of the Church on the local level, through involvement in the prayer life and liturgical life of the Church, through parish service projects, as suggested by the Future Direction Subcommittee, or through events to spiritually uplift and encourage us. And if you say to me that my parish only has a few youth so what can we do, the answer is that a few youth and a few adults can accomplish great things throughout your parish and community if only you take the initiative. In fact we must remind ourselves that Jesus did not demand large groups. He told us, “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) If we desire to grow in our Christian faith and service, even two or three gathered together, praying or working, will have the blessing of Jesus upon it.
So my brothers and sisters, during this month of August pray strongly for the youth of our Holy Church. But don’t let it be prayer only. Although the summer is almost over, there is still time to gather with the youth of the Church, to pray, to work, to serve Jesus in His Church and in the community. And don’t let it end with the summer either. Let all God’s people be a vital part of His Holy Church. Be an example to the youth and if you truly look to them, they will be an example to you as well.