Monday, June 24, 2013

Evangelizing Parents

I love my job. I love the students I work with. I even like the parents of the students I work with. There is a big reason that I say I like them and not that I love them. The most common critique I receive from my co-workers is that I use too much "churchy" language and turn people off. It's a comment, that I really don't know how to take.

I am more available and ready to talk to teens. Sure I use a smattering of higher language to use it as a tool to have them ask questions, but parents, parents can be downright scary when it comes to using the right language. The reason I find parents more intimidating than students, I am closer to the age of their students than I am to them. I try to bridge this gap by trying to show my competence and show my intelligence. The truth is, parents have much more varied and just more life experience than I do. They know their student better than I do. how to talk to them and teach them individually.

Then I am stuck. If I can reach the student but not the parent, what use am I to those I encounter. As a Youth Minister, I am both teacher and advocate, resource and guide, but all the knowledge in the world won't help me if I don't have the experience to use it.

For example, I am already intimidated by a talk I will have this fall on the topic of homosexuality. Although I have loved ones who are same-sex attracted, I can handle talking to them individually, we can see eye to eye. It happens to be the large topic that throws me for a curve. Parents could have siblings, cousins, children who are experiencing this now and they don't know how to react. My loved ones and I have at least come to an understanding with each other.

To parents, I can state Church teachings from the Catechism, I can explain things from biology, I can state facts and my personal experiences, but if I "do not have love, I am a gong or clashing cymbal." (1Cor. 13:1) The biggest trap I fall in is that when I get nervous, I feel like I have to rely on what I've learned and simply regurgitate information. The truth is, information alone will not be enough to soften hearts. 

I have found this, parents who are willing to talk about hard topics of their faith are willing to show that they've been hurt in the past. It could have been hurt from family, friends, parishioners, clergy, staff or even myself. I can't always undo the hurt that I've caused but I can help parents come to a middle ground. Through coming to a common understanding, I can hopefully get them willing to talk about other issues that they have with the Church.

Lastly, the parents that I've worked with are all Catholics of the "lost generation." The "lost generation" often refers to Catholics who were poorly taught their faith during the 60's through the late 80's after the reforms of Vatican II were put into place. The average knowledge of Catholic adults about their faith is that of a 4th grade level. There are many people who live their faith out of a sense of family tradition rather than understanding what the church teaches. I believe Venerable Fulton Sheen said it best, "There are not 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive the Catholic Church to be."