IT is arguable that never before in the history of this country has so Much time. attention, discussion, finance, literature and research been devoted to the needs and outlook, upbringing and care, education and leisure pursuits of teenagers.
Moreover, between the now familiar wooing of the young on the part of manufacturers and advertisers and the genuine desire of society in general to seek what is in the best interests of . people in their teens, it would seem relevant to ask what is the role of the Church.
It is enough, for instance, to ensure that in our parishes we organise activities to keep them mit of trouble or off the streets, supply them with sports equipment to use up their physical energies, and lay on a weekly disco for them?
It is sufficient even to form them into groups to utilise and divert their idealism into community care of some kind, Lo Istablish youth clubs, or introduce regular Folk Masses in an effort to encourage them to participate More in the liturgy?
Praiseworthy though all these things may he, and even necessary. the fact is that none of them or any combination of them by themselves are ever likely to satisfy fully young !apple.
A possible reason For this is that young Catholicsin the modern world, educated since Vatican H, are now accustomed to think of themselves as equally members of the People of God along with the rest of us.
Any attempt, therefore, on the part of anyone in authority, or even of a group of well meaning individuals simply to "help" young people, immediately brings forth from the articulate ones among them the reieution (If what strikes them as patronage.
Perhaps above all, what young People are seeking is authenticity, especially in the sphere of relationships.
It is well known that, during =_clolescence at least, young people experience fundamental physical, emotional and sexual growth. This is the period when they most strive against "'authority" in the home, classroom or on the shop-floor in order to achieve their own identity.
It is this stage when they also begin to recognise the distinctive features of their own . personalities. But it is relations with others which loom predominantly in their minds.
In addition, this is the time when perhaps they first appreciate or are bewildered by the fact that the different aspects in their nature (mental, physical and spiritual). are not merely related but are in some indefinable sense incapable of separation.
They discover, however. that though in a very real way there is a unity in man, its parts regularly at war with each other.
Sadly. they often find that their sexual urges fail to convey los.e. To their cost they may also come to realise that reaching the age of consent is not always the same thing as attaining maturity.
Very quickly indeed young people grasp that integration in man is difficult to achieve and sometimes involves suffering. They see many instances of people who only ever attain physical maturity and have not grown up in other ways. This can make them devastating critics.
All this may well account for the Fact that they so desperately seek and demand authenticity in and understanding of relationships. Such is the case whether it be with parents, teachers, employers or friends of the opposite sex.
It is at this point, however, that the Catholic working with young people may most effectively utilise the concept of Vatican H that, "Whoever follows after Christ, the perfect man, becomes himself more a man" (Gaudium et S'pes).
Clearly one has also to try and convey this in language relevant to their particular needs and situation. But is this different from how one behaves when attempting to share the Gospel with anyone?
Whenever. then, we ask what is the Church's role in relation particularly to teenagers, the answer has to incorporate the idea of joining with them in the pursuit of Christ.
Afterall, it is for a person in whom they can trust, confide their hopes and fears and turn to in joy and sorrow that all mankind, especially young people. are basically 'seeking. Any Christian activity with youth must therefore include, if only by inferepce, this dimension.
Isn't this the essential difference between involvement undertaken by Catholics with young people and straightforward youth work? Could the absence of a personal relationship with Christ he the reason why so many young people cease, 'practising their religion once they leave school?
' Fr David Forrester