MUENSTER, Sask. — Words must be met with action if the Christian community wants youth and young adults to become interested in church life, Frank Mercadante of Chicago said to 45 attending a retreat at St. Peter’s Abbey, Aug. 17 - 19, sponsored by the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Canada.
Words do not have the same meaning or value among millennials as previous generations. The millennials of today are a “show-me generation” which has been formed by the inundation of information from the media, Mercadante, youth ministry worker and spiritual author, said. They must see what we believe through our relationships to them.
A survey of 250 churches among the leading denominations in the United States asked millennials what they liked about church life. The survey involved 10,000 hours of research and 1,300 interviews. The research found that a welcoming atmosphere was valued the most. The second most popular impression was good relationships with others. Christian hospitality is very important, Mercadante said, making it imperative that parishioners step outside their familiar boundaries and become welcoming.
“Are we willing, as believers, to take on awkwardness so others don’t have to feel awkward?” he asked. “We need to give people positive experiences of Christians, and that means we need to develop a reputation for love,” he said, referring to a Gospel passage (John 13:35) that explains Christians will be known by their love. The first Christians knew the love of God and it was natural for them to understand that love of God and love of others goes together. Their attitude about the Gospel impressed many who converted to Christianity through the good example of Christians.
“I am called to love” is a mission statement for every Christian, he remarked. The greatest commandment says to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as our self (Matthew 22:34 - 40).
People were created by God in love and the first relationship always begins with God who will sustain all other relationships, Mercadante commented. He and his wife, Diane, have six children and their relationship with God has sustained their marriage of 36 years. This relationship will help build a solid foundation for those in church ministries, he remarked.
“It wasn’t until I experienced failure that I realized a lot of my identity was based on my success. That failure was my greatest success. When I was building my youth ministry I lost my first love. I wasn’t paying attention to God,” he remarked.
It is so easy to get caught up in work and lose sight of the first call to Jesus. Married couples often get so busy with activities that they forget their relationship and it becomes strained. Children are happier when their parents are in love. Children feel more secure when parents love one another.
The authentic love of God automatically flows to the spouse and children, he said. Growth in spirituality brings one to see Jesus in others. St. Augustine felt an emptiness inside that he knew could only be filled with God. He is famous for saying that his heart would always be restless until it found rest in God.
Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical, On Evangelization in the Modern World, said evangelization embraces living fully as a Christian. A Christian becomes a witness when he or she is proud to proclaim the name of Jesus and live the promises of a new life in the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. Jesus told his first followers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
The idea of evangelizing may sound awkward, even frightening. However, there are many ways to live as a Christian witness. Everyone can love in little ways. Mercadante remembers his parish priest, Father Bob, doing small acts of kindness for others that were remembered many years later.
Mercadante is the executive director of Cultivation Ministries. He is a spiritual author and has designed and written youth ministry training manuals. He spoke at St. Peter’s Abbey to a gathering of young adults attending “Unity,” sponsored by the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada and hosted by the Eparchy of Saskatoon.
Unity is held every three years for young adults, 18 - 35, from across Canada and the United States who gather to better understand, embrace and celebrate the Byzantine Catholic faith. The theme of Unity 2017 was “Into the Horizon: Focus on Faith.”