Friday, December 20, 2013

Making Life Decisions: Inviting God On Your Journey

"Discernment of God's will is never a simple and easy task.  Prayer is key and vital."  These were the words of Bishop Vincent Nguyen to over 100 young adults gathered for the launch of Theology on Tap East held on Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at Jack Astor's Bar & Grill in Scarborough.
Bishop Nguyen captivated the audience with his inspiring journey of faith to discuss the theme of the evening - "Making Life Decisions: Inviting God on your Journey."  His love for the Catholic Church was first ignited by the remarkable story of his great great grandfather who was martyred at the young of age of 21.  It was this sacrificial witness that gave him the strength he needed when his mother died in a car accident; Bishop Nguyen was only 12 years old at the time and was simultaneously enduring the hardships of living in communist Vietnam.  "I am grateful for the faith I have, for my great great grandfather who sacrificed his life to hand that faith down to me," said Bishop Nguyen.  It was the faith passed down from generations that later inspired the young Vincent to escape his homeland to freely discern God's will and respond with great love to the priesthood. 

Drawing from his personal journey, Bishop Nguyen listened to the wisdom of his parish community and his superiors during his time of his discernment and motivated all young adults to do likewise.  "I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others."  Along with the guidance of others, he emphasized the value of prayer by "listening to the quiet voice of God whispering in our heart" in order to follow the call of God and share the truth with others.  "The way we live our lives will encourage others to do the same."

Larissa Zantua

In Today’s World, Why Should I Share My Faith?

On November 11, 2013, 110 young adults gathered at West 50 Pourhouse and Grille in Mississauga for the launch of “Theology on Tap West.”  The evening was hosted by the Office of Catholic Youth, Faith Connections, and young adult volunteers from parishes in the Western Region. 

In his talk, “In Today’s World, Why Should I Share My Faith?,” Bishop John A.Boissonneau posed questions centered around three themes: religious faith, contemporary culture, and evangelization.
The first question: What do I mean when I say I have faith? asks us to think about personal experiences that have moved our hearts and changed who we are in the center of our being. This revelation of God to us is living and personal and invites us to a deeper relationship where we are continuously converted to this way of life. This response to God’s initial action is an attitude of belief that God is who God says God is and will remain true and constant.

The second question: What in this world today challenges my faith? asks us to consider the things that confront us on a societal level. The pervasive attitude of “I’m spiritual but not religious” ultimately seeks some kind of connection to others outside of any religious structure. Thus atheism and secularism seems more appealing, with the help of social communication to facilitate these pseudo-relationships. Within Roman Catholicism itself, there are many who consider themselves to be alienated or distant because of their own negative experiences within the church, such as: being treated poorly, being discouraged, and being abused, leading to frustrations among Roman Catholics.

The third question: How have I encountered the Lord? asks us to reflect upon the mutual sharing of our personal experiences with others. These opportunities to open ourselves to others are ways that we can reinvigorate the Gospel message in our own time. In order to share, however, we must first have the experience where we believe that we have encountered the Living God. Only then are we able to share it, thereby becoming part of the dynamic and emerging story itself. As disciples of Jesus, we must trust in the truth of our experiences and that God will use us as modes of communication to others for the sake of sharing God’s love with them.

Bishop Boissonneau’s talk about sharing faith experiences and its challenges encourages us all to look outside of ourselves for ways that we can encounter God in the midst of our daily lives and especially in all whom we meet. Being personally attuned to the movements of God allows us to recognize with greater clarity the things in our lives that confront our changed hearts and minds and invites us to creatively respond to each other in mutual openheartedness. In this way, the sharing of our lives with each other becomes the living, breathing Gospel of Jesus Christ in our time.

Abigail L. Lofte

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Making Youth Ministry a Priority

Not too long ago a priest friend called me and informed me that our plans on the weekend had to be kiboshed because he was going to help out a youth leader with confessions and Mass for the weekend.  When he returned he informed me that there were about 30 young people there and that he heard confessions long into the night on Saturday evening, for about five hours.  On Sunday morning he said Mass for them all, and made some good connections with this youth ministry.  He was exhausted but joyous, for he was happy to lead some of these young people to an encounter with the Risen Christ, in the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

Despite this, he confided in me that he was a little upset why he was called.  The youth group at this parish had organized this retreat many weeks prior to the weekend, but they were informed by the priests that they would not be attending.  The new pastor was being installed by the bishop, and the two vicars (associate pastors) had decided that they were not going to attend the retreat either.  He did not give the reasons, but I can only assume that it was to attend the installation.  I know that things come up, that plans have to be adaptable to legitimate surprises, but realistically, there was probably a priest available at the parish to commit to the retreat. 

If we say that the youth are a priority, then our actions have to coincide with this.  My experience is that the youth just want to know that their priest is supportive and cares for them, their salvation.  We all have conflicting priorities and busy schedules, but showing up for a retreat that was scheduled weeks in advance is a good start.

by. Anonymous Parishioner

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fresh Wineskins of Youth Ministry

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, 'The old is good.'" ~ Luke 5:37-39

This passage of Scripture has often perplexed me, but it is clear that Jesus is speaking about the relationship between what is new and what has come before.  The other day I was thinking about youth ministry when this passage came up. 

To illustrate the strain of thought that entered my mind, consider the following highlighted groups of words:

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, 'The old is good.'" ~ Luke 5:37-39

Now substituting roughly using the following legend:

new wine = energetic, unformed youth
old wineskins = Christian community; Church
fresh wineskins = youth ministry
old wine = mature, formed youth

And no one [thrusts] an unformed young person into the Church community; otherwise the youth will burst the community and will be spilled, and the Church will be destroyed. But youth must be put into youth ministry. And no one after [encountering] a mature young person desires the unformed, but says, 'The old is good.'" ~ Luke 5:37-39

Now obviously it doesn't fit one-to-one, but the point is made: good youth ministry acts as a bridge into the Church community.  Their experience, however, cannot be too short (like immature wine) or too long (like vinegar).  But, youth ministry rightly done can act as a wonderful way to full integration into the life of the Church.  If we are not seeking to integrate the youth, then we are consructing a ghetto.  That reeks of division, not unity.  Good youth ministry will lead to integration into the community, especially the celebration of the Mass.

Recall what Sacrosanctum Concilium, paragraph 10 states:
...the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.  For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord's supper.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wisdom in the Young

Psalm 8:1-2 states:
O Lord, our Sovereign,
     how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
     Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have found a bulwark because of your foes,
     to silence the enemy and the avenger.

There was a reason that Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." (Matt 19:14)  Jesus recognized that there is much to learn from young people.  As Psalm 8 suggests, "out of the mouth of babes and infants" there is much wisdom and much insight.

This past week we hosted an event focused on Mary, our Mother in faith.  Several paintings were used to help explain our understanding of our Blessed Mother.  At one point during the presentation I showed these two pictures: one of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the other the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  They are complementary.

 If you look at the heart of Jesus you notice a few things.  His heart is on fire.  His heart is wounded.  There is a cross on top of the heart.  Mary's heart corresponds.  It is on fire.  It is wounded, by a sword. (Luke 2:35)  And there are roses where Jesus has thorns.

I had shown these pictures, and others, to the young middle schoolers.  Someone asked me a question: What was the meaning of the flowers on Mary's heart?  I scanned the room for priests who had a knowing look on their faces.  None.  Before hazarding a guess, I asked the young people what they thought.  An intrepid young man immediately put his hand up and answered, "Jesus' heart has thorns.  We know that roses have thorns on their stems.  Is that why?"  At that moment it all became clear.

Jesus died for our sins.  The cross, the thorns, the wounds are all there out of love.  He is wounded because he loves.  The fruits of this love, the effect of this love shows itself in the life of Mary.  Although she suffered because Jesus suffered, evidenced by the sword, she was also the first benefit of the merits of her Son.  She was full of grace.  The blooming roses show us that the suffering of Jesus (thorns) lead to our salvation.  The immaculate heart of Mary corresponds to the suffering heart of Jesus.  Our hearts should do the same.  And, in so doing, we too will experience the suffering of Jesus (sword) but also the glory and healing of the resurrection (blooming flowers).

This was the revelation that came to me from the lips of a young man who was able to see the wisdom in these paintings.  I know I have to be reminded again and again, but there is a simplicity, a wisdom that comes from young people who are often more connected to the obvious than some of us older people.  Jesus took young people seriously.  They are conduits of God's revelation.  Let us strive to remember this always.

by Fr. Frank Portelli

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A New Logo

Some of you may know that we here at the OCY have been trying to remake ourselves into being unabashedly parish focused, serving the parishes of the Archdiocese of Toronto.  We restructured based on the recommendations of the parish priests and have two focuses (or foci, if you want to be technical, technically speaking), being Youth Ministry and Young Adult Ministry.  The former focuses (not foci) on tweens (ages 11-13) and teens (14-17), and the latter on young adults (18-??).  The reason for the question marks is that we haven't yet set in stone the upper limit of a "young adult".  World Youth Day suggests the age of 35.  Some go a bit higher, to 39.  Others move in the other direction, to 29.  Once you hit your 30's, they say, you're no longer young. 

Keeping 'OCY'
In the spirit of this restructuring and refocus, we have proposed a new logo.  We toyed with the idea of changing the name of the office first.  Ideas that were floated included highlighting our newly added Young Adult focus, and adding other words that would change the current acronym.  Words like: Evangelization, Ministry, and so on.

After deliberating if the office should change its name to demonstrate the change, it was determined that the term 'youth' is generally understood to be an umbrella term, which can be further divided into two primary divisions of 'youth' and 'young adult'.  (Plus it saves money!)  So, 'OCY' stayed.

The shape that cuts through all the letters is the cross.  This is the cross of Jesus Christ.  He shapes and marks each of the letters.  The Office (represented by the 'O') has a cut in it from the cross.  We are shaped by it.  We strive to be rooted in prayer (we pray as an office every day, for the people we serve and their intentions) and to entrust all our ministry to the Lord.

Catholic Youth (represented by the 'C' and 'Y') are framed by the cross as well.  It is clear that the ray originating from the cross is the light of Christ.  He is the One that forms the youth, heals them, gives them grace as a light for their path.  Indeed, Christ is this for all Catholics.  The cross of Christ must be at the heart of our entire ministry.

The 'O' and the 'Y' have a cut through it that the 'C' does not.  It resembles the top of a parish church.  Its meaning is that the Office is shaped, not only by Christ, but also by the parish needs.  The primary mission of the OCY must always return to the service of pastors and parishes.  The sloping roof of the parish shapes the 'Y' of Youth as well.  Here we see that it is not enough to say that I am a follower of Jesus.  The best formation I receive is in the Christian community: the parish.


We have chosen the colour blue for the colour of our logo in honour of our Blessed Mother, Mary.  She is the example for all people to humbly submit to the will of God.  Her 'yes' to God's will brings salvation to the world.  Likewise, our obedience to God's will allows us to participate in God's plan of salvation.