Just Mass and Liturgy are not working

Recently I was having a conversation with another parent whose daughter finished school 3 years prior. She commented that during her daughters schooling religion and spirituality focused on academic and a priority on thinking. Sadly, since leaving school, her daughter has completely abandoned religion. I thought to myself, this is typical for most young people in Australia. Somewhere in the teenage years, faith, religion and spirituality do not grow up. It remains at a child like level. Where religious practise remains in a patriarchal model, where points of spiritual participation come top down. We are going to tell you what to do, what to think, how to behave, and now spend 120 minutes listening to a mass or liturgy with very little participation. This factory model of evangelisation with 1000 or 2000 young people in a school, is not working. At least, according to the McCrindle report 2017 which shows young people age 20 to 30 are the least likely to participate in religion.

The mother talked further about how religion and spirituality in school must become more experiential. Where young people need to experience God. To taste God. Not simply saying prayers in rote found in their school diary, or learning about religion in senior school, detailing the 5 principle beliefs of Christianity listed in the senior syllabus. The mum suggested “Christian meditation” as one strategy that could be employed to give students a real taste for God. Where our world and lifestyle is so busy, running from one activity to the next, sport, music, study, work, home life. Christian meditation, which calls Christians to step out of the busyness seems of great importance in our culture. I mentioned at one of my previous schools, students were taught Christian meditation by a nun and some lay people, who would come into the school each week. Students would be given a 20-to-30-minute session in Christian meditation. Sitting in a circle, whilst silently praying the word “Maranatha” or “Come Lord Jesus” prayer. I mentioned that in the Townsville Diocese in Queensland, Christian Meditation has now become part of their curriculum. That primary school kids learn to sit still for 5, 10 and 15 minutes.

It is difficult for students to have a personal encounter with God. Not going to church regularly in their families and then being brought to a church service in a school with 1000 people seems not to be working. From the student’s eyes, the church service or liturgy seems to be another functional event which they must tick a box to. How can a school capture the hearts of the students? Words like “boring”, “this is a waste of time”, “I am falling asleep” often ensue. Church and school are now competing with the realm of entertainment. Where on the weekend, young people can be entertained 24x7 with Netflix, Computer gaming and social media like TikTok. Something tells me simply making church more appealing won’t cut it.

Jesus speaks in Matthew 19:24 about “How hard it is for a rich man or woman to enter the Kingdom of God”? In other words, how hard it is for those who have so much, to let go of what they have and find something they do not have. Something that is not just material, but infinite. Some might call “God”. Schools need to start thinking outside the square of business as usual. And, move away from the factory model and start taking some risks. In Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti calls Christians to care for others as brothers and sisters. Quoting the Good Samaritan story, Pope Francis calls Christians to go to the edges to care for those in need. Like spending a day with 10 students, walking through the streets of Sydney meeting and interacting with homeless people, visiting a nursing home, going on immersion to those who are less fortunate, or even sitting in a sacred space focusing on a single prayer word like “Maranatha”. These actions seem to be calling for community in an age which prioritises individualism. These actions are not going to improve exam results. The hope clearly is that these actions will speak at a deeper level, to speak to young people’s hearts. So that by the time they leave school, and the stage of individualism in the 20s takes hold, they have built enough desire to taste God, to build an inclusive community modelled on Christs vision, so that they become the leaders for the next generation.

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16 May 2021

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