The LOL Generation. Life is a playground, carefree, free of authority, free of rules, free to be “me”. Don’t speak to me about what was in the past, about my parents, or even about my country.
I live in the now. In the now, I am king of my own life.
A brief glimpse into youth culture today, a culture that we all breathe and digest daily, invites us to ask ourselves: How to speak about God today? How to be authentic evangelizers in the New Evangelization?
1. It has never been and never will be easy to speak about God.
The moment that God becomes attracting in the way that the iPhone is, we are no longer talking about the God that Jesus revealed. Rather, we would probably be speaking of something closer to the Messiah desired by the ones that put Him on the Cross.
2. Awe attracts, preaching repels.
When speaking about God, no one is a master. Acting like one rubs today’s sensibility the wrong way. Instead, we must be like children, struck with awe before a mystery that has grasped our existence, something like Moses who takes off his sandals before the burning bush. Or the disciple who runs to his friend to say, “Come and see!” (John 1, 46). This awe is the heart of ardor, it is the inner fire that impulses us to set the whole world aflame.
3. Know why you are speaking.
In today’s culture, the why gets little credit. We want to know how. We want methods, efficiency, results, etc. Similar to the case of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, speaking about God doesn’t score well on modern-day report cards: What good does it do? What problem does it solve? What change does it effect? On the contrary, recognizing God’s presence often complicates things. But here, we must assume a new logic: God, like Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, doesn’t exist to serve, to be useful…rather to be served. Paradoxically, in so far as we serve, we receive. But it must go in that order. New Evangelization means that we renew the how, its true, but if we do so without renewing ourselves in the why, we will certainly fall into a sort of enthusiastic activism that sooner or later will get winded and collapse.
4. Know who you are speaking to.
There is no greater apostolic vice than speaking before listening. On the contrary, what you say should respond to what you have heard. Listen not only to the words that they speak, but also their desires, their worries, their history, their dreams. In the video of Father Barron below, he quotes Karl Barth in saying that the good homilist should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. One can’t have a good apostolate without a good grasp on the culture and the people. Today’s video is aimed at just this, examining the culture of the Y generation.
This would be a good time to ask yourself how much effort you have spent on understanding the culture today? Before a retreat or an activity, do you take time to study, to pray, to dialogue about who exactly it is that you are going to do apostolate to?
[pullquote align=”right”]The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. (GS 22)[/pullquote] Be wary, however, of depending on the worldly “experts” on youth. The video above presents an analysis, but it’s a very superficial one. The billions spent on psychological research and propagandistic methods reveal certain characteristics of man, but they can never replace the knowledge of man, which we have received through Christ. The true “expert in humanity” is the Church because she offers the message of Christ. Christ knows man’s heart; only in listening to him shall we discover how to open it.
5. Never rest from searching for creative hows.
How many late nights do Coca-Cola advertisers spend racking their brains, asking themselves how to reach their audience. Do we do the same? New media is a must. For some bizarre reason, you can say something 50 times and no one listens. Take this Dad, for example, who couldn’t get his kids to replace the toilet paper. They didn’t listen to him, so he made a video and now has 4 million views. . Keeping in mind point number 4, we cannot ignore time spent by the average person on Social Media. New Media based apostolate will never replace the face-to-face encounter, but it is an urgent must in today’s evangelization.
6. Be aware of your vocabulary.
We tend to speak as if certain terms are obvious. In today’s secularized atmosphere, we must be reverent. The word “sin” for example carries with it about 56 presuppositions that most simply no longer presuppose (creation, the fall, obedience, etc.). Still, it is a fundamental category and we must explain it; I would recommend that you start by using words and referring to realities that are more familiar, for example, suffering. Speak about the experience of injustice, of that interior voice that says, “This shouldn’t be like this.” Start with that experience and then lead them to understand what we are talking about with sin.
7. Start with questions, then answers.
While I am a big fan of Catholic Answers, sometimes I think we need to deepen in the art of giving Catholic questions. Questions allow the other to be involved, to take an active role. A question is like setting up a stage and inviting them to take their place. If the person is hesitant to speak, make it easier for them to take the stage. Apostolic movies are excellent in this sense. Watching a movie or reading a story with a message that you want to transmit offers them, in a comfortable and less direct way, a chance to question their own lives, comparing themselves with the actors involved. Afterwards, invite them to share.
Another angle to this point is the concern that we often give answers to questions that they have never seriously asked. Shouldn’t we start with the questions? Shouldn’t we teach them to ask questions? Asking authentic questions is very different from making a search on Google. Shouldn’t we teach them how to search for truth, how to enter into their own interior and truly reflect upon the mysteries of human life? The contrary may seem true, but today, the youth have formed very aggressive antibodies to succinctly formulated and simple answers when it comes to the deep questions of existence. Thus we must encourage and guide them so that they ask themselves those questions seriously and freely, then we can begin to share the fruits of our own searches.
8. Apostolate is, in large part, making manifest that which is hidden, but present.
Elevated discourses about God tend today to fall upon rocky soil; this doesn’t mean we need to lower the level, rather discover ways to transmit the riches of our faith in familiar terms. For better or for worse, people want you to talk to them– not at them– and about them. This does not mean that we sacrifice the integrality of the Gospel so as be more attractive. This does mean, however, that we are called to follow Paul’s example (Acts 14, 16-17): announce Him that is already present. Invite them to discover God from the inside, not the other way around (remember what Fr. Barron said about Beauty). Teach them to listen to the desires of their heart, their desires of love, of infinity, of mystery, of truth, of beauty. Ask them where these come from and where they point to. Ask them if they believe these can ever be fulfilled by what the world offers. Ask them where, or to whom, these desires ultimately point to. Help them to discover that the Faith responds to each one of those desires; only Christ responds fully to their existence.
9. Marvel at the presence of God in the person who you are doing apostolate to.
Too often, we allow ourselves to be guided by first impressions and our own view of things. An overly negative or pessimistic vision of today’s generation and culture–although there are certainly many challenges– should never stop us from looking at the other person, discovering there the active and loving presence of God.
10. Our greatest ally, even amongst our “adversaries”, is the human heart.
Our apostolate is always an act of cooperation. God started the person’s path towards Him at the moment of his creation. The depths of reality, of the reality of the human person, were made by and for God. Thus the authentically human elements are on our side, for all that is authentically human has been assumed and reconciled through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The moment that we judge the other as an adversary more than an apostolate, more than a brother or sister that I am trying to bring closer to Christ, we are lost. Even those who explicitly oppose Christ’s Church must be treated as prodigal brothers, never as hostile strangers–no matter how much their acts may seem to convey such.
This does not mean that we abandon the culture battle, nor cease to defend against those who introduce ruptures into society. On the contrary, motivated by love for our brothers and sister, we must be tireless in our efforts of evangelization. The “fight” and the culture war as Christians, is all too real– a look at the persecution of Christians today should dispel any doubt–, that said, we must fight with the same love of Christ crucified, looking for conversion more than “victory” according to the world’s standards.
11. First encounter, then change (metanoia).
Speak first with your acts of charity, with your friendly consideration. Lead the apostolate to an encounter with love, then allow that love to give fruits of moral conversion. In the world of ideals, we must be firm in Catholic Ethical and Social teaching; when bringing others to understand these truths we must follow the example of Christ and Zacchaeus (Lk 19, 1-10):
Zacchaeus was a grave and public sinner, not only greedy but a semi-traitor, a collaborator in the “status quo” of Rome. What does Jesus do? Shout out, “You are a fraud, a cheat, a thief!”? Nope. He invites him to have a meal, sign of gratuitous communion with God and forgiveness. What did they speak about? Who knows, but one can suppose that Christ made it clear that he understood Zacchaeus, knew his difficulties and his sins, but nonetheless loved him. In encountering that love, Zacchaeus transforms. In encountering love, Zacchaeus discovers a reason why and the strength to change.
Another way of understanding this point would be to follow the path: Beauty, Goodness and Truth. Father Barron explains here:
12. Encounter means contact.
Christ’s apostolic technique was his incarnation. He didn’t speak from above. He didn’t email his commandments or publish a manual on Christian living. He came. He allowed himself to be seen, to be heard, and to be touched (1 Jn 1:1). One of Christianity’s greatest paradoxes is that the messenger is more important than the message; or, if you prefer, the Message is the Messenger.
The best way to speak of God, to do apostolate, is entering into contact with the people. Incarnate yourself in their lives, spend time with them, walk with them in their daily lives. Don’t just refer them to a website or to a book, let them hear the faith from your lips, see it in your actions, and touch it in your love for them. In evangelization, faces are more important than ideas.
Ultimately, this contactual encounter takes place in prayer. Ironically, in many senses, the best way to speak about God is to lead people to him and be quiet. Granted, today prayer doesn’t come easy for many, especially the youth– although this is not always the case and thankfully there are many exceptions. That said, if the entirety of our efforts are not aimed at bringing the other towards the direct encounter with Him through prayer and the sacraments, we are way off the mark.
13. No one gives what he does not have.
This point should perhaps be number one on the list. As Father Barron says, Evangelization is much more than sharing ideas, rather it is sharing a relationship, offering people a friendship with Christ. If we aren’t passionately in love with Christ, if we have not truly allowed ourselves to be grasped by His mystery and His reconciliation, what is it that we are offering? What are we talking about? Who are we talking about if we never really met Him? This means that the first act of apostolate is always your own proper conversion.
Here is a great video by Father Barron on the 7 characteristics of a New Evangelist:
Here is another video that could help to study and dialogue about the current cultural trends amongst the “millennials”:
I would like to mention that for some of these reflections, above all for numbers 1, 3, 4, 8, and 10, I drew from Fabrice Hadjadj. Find his book, “How to Speak about God today” in Italian here.