Everyone is Submissive to Something. Homily for Feast of the Holy Family

On her Facebook blog, Forming Intentional Disciples Forum, Catherine of Siena founder Sherry Weddell recently recounted the followingstatement from a professor at a US Catholic University. The professor shared how she has seen the spiritual lives of her students change over the past 10 years:

For many years I taught a course entitled ”Christian View of the Human Person.” Within the course, I get to know those students well (we have small sections).

One optional assignment I consistently offer is a chance for them to self-assess who they are in relationship to God – a kind of spiritual autobiography – using terms from the course. 95% of the students take this option. Every semester, reading these is a moving experience.

But there has been a dramatic shift in these papers in the past ten years, a shift not matched by mere demographic changes at the university. Students in this generation–according to these essays but statistically borne out as well–are more unhappy, more mentally ill, more confused, more wounded than students just a decade ago. They are also dramatically more secular, and often marked by comments like “I suppose I should have more faith in God, but… oh well.”

There is a lot going on with them. It’s a complicated time. But I’ve read over 1000+ of those essays, and increasingly–our young people are spiritually dying. And they don’teven know they are sick.

“At one point last year I just broke off reading. I put my head in my hands and prayed. Immediately, I thought of the Good Samaritan story and thought to myself… “These students are lying on the road, bleeding right through these papers and you are walking by, just like the Levite and priest did (because there is only so much you can say on a graded assignment, or in the role of an academic professor). But they are spiritually dying, vaguely aware they may need help, and apparently too wounded to walk into oresidence

ur chapel, or campus ministry, or go to confession, etc. They are starving at a table with food without realizing it or caring, There’s just this ambiguous sense of unrest.

It’s one thing when it is one person in the class. It’s another when you have 75 papers and you’ve hit paper #60, and they all look like this.”

This change is real with the oldest members of this generation – who grew up with smartphones as the center of their lives.

What can we do?

In response to the professor’s insights, Kris McGinnis Quade from Wisconsin responded:

I have been in a mothers’ prayer group for the past six years with 10 mothers who I have been friends with for 20 years, since our children were babies. We formed the group (divine inspiration) when we realized raising teens while caring for aging parents was more than we could handle alone.

hqdefaultBetween the 10 of us, we have 35 children ranging in age from 11-26.  Three of the mothers have kids on both ends of the spectrum. Those three mothers repeatedly say, “Everything has changed from when I raised my 26 year old to what I’m tackling with my 11 and 16 year old.”

When we formed our group just six years ago we couldn’t have foreseen the depth of despair our kids are going through. We often sit and wonder why. We’re the “good parents”, totally immersed in our parishes, the majority of kids in Catholic schools, two parent families, etc.

And yet, with all the support in the world, we still experience the norm the professor refers to. What do we see:

Kids are EXTREMELY LONELY. We have so often prayed for just one friend for a kid, “just one friend, Lord.” It gets worse when they go to college, even within Newman Centers, there can be inside cliques, mean kids, bullies, inappropriate behavior, all in a place that should be a safe haven.

So what can we do?

A lot of people don’t like Colossians 3:18. “I won’t be submissive to any man!” Ok, well… what are you submissive to? You’re submissive to something.  It could be work. It could be workouts (that you never miss). It could be a college schedule and curriculum as you strive to better yourself to better your life. We all place ourselves under obedience to something.


Somewhere I recently read:

Mary and Joseph were obedient to The Law. They we’re submissive to the obligations regarding their firstborn son. The reason was that The Law was not man-made. It was God-made. So the obligation, the obedience, the submission of Mary and Joseph could be called something else – it was called “consecration.” And they also “consecrated” Jesus to the Lord.

This insight into the nature of human life – that it comes from God – and hence belongs to God – is the reason behind the Christian virtue of obedience.

In politics, democracy makes sense, because all citizens are on the same level. But in our relationship with God we are not equals.

And for this reason, our relationship with him should be characterized by obedience, by letting him guide us along a path that he sees better than we do.

So Joseph was submissive and obedient because, as the poet writes, he was asked to fashion a journey, which had neither the sound, nor feel, of what he had known. So he was counting on someone bigger than him to provide the raw materials out of which the carpenter could carve out a lifestyle that seemed very strange to him. And God gave prayer, and ritual, and scripture and said “These are mine. I give them to you as tools to build you family and your love. Matthew 6:33 – “Seek first the Kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Stick to these and I’ll provide guidance and hope and peace – things you will not get from submission to your iPhone.

What can we do for the kids?

First, we need to become compellingly proficient with the language of the tools. Second, call them out! When they say “Church is boring. I don’t believe in organized religion. I’m spiritual not religious” ask them … Oh? Are you peaceful? Are you happy? Are you content? Do you like yourself? Do you like your body?  Or are you anxious, unhappy, confused, hurt, scared and wounded? Continuing down that road is not healthy. That’s mental illness. Let me show you a better way.”

Second, don’t be afraid to be submissive and teach them about submission as well. Again, use the sport analogy. they have no problem being “submissive” to a coach or a rigorous athletic training regime. Of course – they want to play on the field! Parlay this into a lesson about school, work and faith.  Tell them about what you have chosen to be submissive to . Explain the benefits to them.

Third, discuss ways in which they need us to “accompany” them – working with them to fashion a journey, which has neither the sound, nor feel, of what we have known. That takes time. That takes understanding that they will not get it right a lot of the time and that we don’t get it right a lot of the time. Which leads us to the next point…

Help them manage their expectations, especially about time! We are  dealing with a generation, whose lives, psyches,  have been imbued with instant gratification with their brains programmed with the addictive Chemical Carousel of serotonin and dopamine, almost from the onset of their existence. In the accompanying. Nevertheless they “get” instant gratification – especially when it comes to sports! they know that the athletic journey takes time, sometimes years. Explain to them that faith and religion is a long-term project, and that we will stick with them and let them throughout the journey. Let them know that God is timeless, however and, more than any other person, God is in it – with them, for their benefit, for the long haul.

The good news is that this is already happening in a big way an numerous places. for example, Villanova University’s Service and Justice Experiences providScreen Shot 2017-12-31 at 8.52.51 AMes opportunities for students, faculty, staff and alumni to serve locally, around the United States, and abroad during university breaks. At St. Monica Parish, we recently held the   3rd annual Dominic L. Coyle 3 X 3 Basketball tournament which benefits a scholarship fund atArchbishop Carroll High School. Dominic, a vibrant and healthy high school graduated passed away suddenly and unexpectedly a few years ago. Close to 100 people of all ages, genders and abilities participated in an all-day event which was organized and run by people – young and old – to shine a bright light on what was initially a dark moment in the parish.

Theses are two fine examples of how the “sons and daughters of Israel” – people who often wrestle with God – area reaching out to support other members of the Holy Family of our Heavenly Father.

Audio version of the homily is here:

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