I have one teen-aged daughter who would love to be a cynic, but is wise enough to know she shouldn’t be. Occasionally though, she has to scratch that skeptic’s itch and it is usually when she comes face to face with what she describes as “Youth Director” mentality. As a child of the 70′s, who grew up with felt banners and folk masses, I understand her rejection of what seems like overly cheerleaderesque approach to the faith. Now I have pointed out that there are many good people, including those she scorns, who sincerely seek to gather teens and direct them toward Christ. I have pointed out that it is the Eucharist and the liturgy, not the trappings that matter, but I understand the distractions from it she despises.
She sees the felt and the emoting and the feeble attempts at “coolness” and it just turns her stomach. She pointed out that bad Catholic youth programming is like bad Catholic art, where what should be muscular is cardboard, where what is real is made into something saccharine. She cited a picture where Jesus is surrounded by flowers with the stone staircase behind him. “I am the Way” it says. The statement is true. The reality is true. But the painting is not true. To walk with Jesus is not a happy skip up a flower strewn staircase, it is the rough road to the cross. Instinctively, she knew the watercolor pastels would fade and fail when they came up against the real primary colors of the world. She understood that Christ is the way, and that His way (love) always demands everything. Love does not promise roses or endless sunshine, but rather permanent love that stays through all the darker, harder moments of life, past sin, past death.
It is times like this as a parent that one wants to both whoop and high five and at the same time sigh because the truth has been fully articulated. I have to consider, am I selling myself a staircase strewn with flowers as a substance-free substitute for the path to Calvary? I mention that her thoughts have forced self-examination for some area of my life that is slack, and she beams. It’s so easy to think, if we pray and go to mass rather like flossing one’s teeth and getting to bed on time, we will somehow make it to Heaven.
But I also whoop because even if I’ve suckered myself momentarily, my daughter hasn’t bought it. The reality is, we are called to embrace the whole of Christ’s ministry, the joyful, luminous, glorious and sorrowful mysteries that reveal to us how we are to love God with all our heart, and how we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have to be willing to throw our arms around the cross like a lover, and stay loving unto death. We don’t get to say “I’ve done enough” because we’ve been decent up to now or had ten kids or homeschooled or marched or served in a soup kitchen for decades. There is no bank of built up credit that can earn us Heaven. Just as we cannot cease loving our spouse or our children, so also we cannot cease loving Christ, ergo, just as we would not cease serving our spouse or trying to be a source of support and strength to our children, so also, we can never cease serving Christ. There isn’t a limit on love, ergo we must learn to love limitlessly.
Giving her a squeeze for her insight, I point out, it does mean she has to learn to love those of the “Youth Director” mentality. I laugh as this generates a sigh in her. She taught me, but it now means she hast to work harder too. Whatever we’ve done up to now, is a prelude to what we are called to do.
© Sherry Antonetti. All Rights Reserved.