Spoiler alert: you can't!
Tell me if these statements sound at all familiar:
Unfortunately, in my line of work I hear these sentiments regularly. From priests and deacons during homilies, from parents venting about something, from coaches giving pep talks, and from well-meaning youth ministers and small group leaders. Sometimes laced with sarcasm and other times surrounded by good intentions, these often cutting remarks of perceived superiority are rampant and help no one.
It is hard being a teenager. Yes, they have phones at an earlier age, but that means they are exposed to more things in a swipe and a quick keyword search than earlier generations had access to...ever. Our 7th and 8th graders are struggling with sexual activity, pornography, graphic language in the lockers rooms and back seats of buses. Social media gives them another area to bully others and to experience bullying. Social media also leaves kids feeling more lonely than ever. There's a 48% chance now that our youth come from a divorced household, and a 40% chance they're raised without a present father. 1 in 12 teenagers self-harm. and half of those who do stem from past sexual abuse. Add to that a mounting pressure to be perfect. Only perfect grades get you into college, perfect practices get you onto sports teams, and perfect hair gets you attention. There are still 24 hours in a day, but modern teenagers use less and less of that for sleep because, let's face it, sleep's for the week. Sleep won't get you into college, it won't pay for your college, it won't get your band noticed, and it won't study for you.
We get frustrated and annoyed at our youth. They aren't showing up for youth group, are absent at Mass, fall asleep in our classrooms. We huff and we puff and we get red in the face because we have the answers! Sure, we may be a bit sarcastic or jaded, but it's not malice. It's just....tough love. It's care and concern.
It's not coming off that way and it's not helping. Youth will never care how much you know until you show them how much you care. We can talk about Jesus at them until we're red in the face - but what good will that do if they're tuned out. If they're rolling their eyes at yet another adult telling them yet another story about how their lives are SO much easier and they're SO much luckier than anyone else that has ever been born.
Jesus had it right. He didn't begin his ministry by telling people he was the Messiah. Why? Because who would have believed him, even after a while the apostles had a hard time coming around to that idea. He started teaching of love, of mercy, of freedom. He reached thousands with his works of mercy and healing, his attention to the crowds' physical and spiritual needs. He met them where they were at, which is what we're called to do. Jesus never stayed on top of that mountain and preached at anybody. He didn't call the children to come to them and then bemoan the fact they had nicer sandals on or they couldn't really sit still. He met their needs and we must follow his example if our New Evangelization is going to grow many seeds.
Wading through my Facebook posts has all but let me know that it’s that time again – election season. Like Christmas, it seems to creep closer and closer every few years. Politics can be a messy topic. Election season, unlike Christmas, tends to bring out the worst in people. It makes good friends and good people seem petty, mean, and stubborn. I’ve seen the greatest, holiest people reduced to rambling, incoherent Facebook hate posts. Unchecked, our passion for politics can be a threat to our minds and our souls. Worse yet, it can be a threat to the hearts and minds of our young ones. So please, read this not for you – but for our youth.
In our high school ministry, we’ve been focusing on human dignity. We’ve been learning over and over that God can do anything with anybody. From the Mother Teresa’s to the murderers and thieves, God’s ability to make good things happen through unlikely channels holds no bounds. God loves us all equally and absolutely none of us really deserve it. Grace isn’t earned, yet it’s poured out on us with mercy because of God’s inexhaustible love. We, as Christians, are meant to be vehicles of that mercy and love to everyone in all aspects of our lives. In all aspects. That’s the Gospel message! We don’t deserve Heaven but Jesus died for us anyways, so let’s get ourselves and everyone else there by being authentic disciples of Christ.
Guess who has this inherent human dignity? Murderers? Absolutely. Abortion doctors? Yes. The poor and the immigrants? Yup. And the hardest to swallow…the politicians. Yes, even Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump and others are wonderful and beautiful children of God. They deserve love, respect, and our prayers. This isn’t anything new, but take a minute and look at your Facebook feed or bring up politics at a family dinner. For full effect, wait until after a debate or another Benghazi hearing. What’s being said? What’s not being said?
Yes, these candidates have chosen to be in the public arena and they have chosen to have strong opinions about things. No matter how wrong they are, we cannot sacrifice our souls or discount their souls. We are all incredibly flawed and have things we don’t want brought into the public light. We’ve done things that we have brought into the confessional, thrown away, and moved past. These candidates don’t get that luxury. Every piece of dirty laundry is brought into the public confessional – aired out for all to see. And we, the faux priests, don’t dole out love and mercy but instead bring condemnation and judgement. If a priest ever treated us this way, I doubt we’d be back for a second helping. Yet these politicians, as corrupt as we make them out to be, are in public service for the greater good. I honestly doubt any of them are really looking to be President to ensure the downfall of our great nation. There are far easier and sneakier ways to do it. These people are willing to turn their lives and families upside down for a cause they believe in – and that deserves some respect.
Maybe your opinion won’t change, and that’s okay. X candidate will always be the anti-Christ, and Y candidate is the only way to our country’s salvation. However, before you leave, let’s think about the children.
How can we teach about understanding, love, and mercy to our children while we rabidly beat down any opposite leaning opinion or candidate we come across? Fittingly, the year of mercy and the year of election is one in the same. Our youth notice our actions, the good and the bad. They pick up on conversations that we may think are too over their heads. When we so actively judge, condemn, and even hate those who disagree with us, we are not being Christ-like. There is no way around it. When we turn our disagreements from what a candidate said to who they are, we turn what may be righteous and deserved into hate and condemnation. Instead of telling our children to not name call and hit, let’s be examples of this when it’s hardest. Let’s refer to everyone with respect and dignity – despite what they may believe.
Lastly, our salvation cannot be won or lost in the polls. We continue to make these very, very human candidates into much more. They become our political saviors. “Only x or y can save our country from the death spiral it is currently in. Without x, we are completely lost and have no hope.” Hope is not found in a polling booth and salvation is not held in the hands of a particular candidate. We cannot continue to teach our youth that hope is won or lost. Our salvation has been assured for us, no matter who wins or loses. Jesus is Lord, God is good, and the world will continue to turn. Look at all the evil that has been overcome in the world. Bills, political debates, and filibusters do little in the face of evil, unless backed by a popular mandate. We the people stop evil. We the people will be the ones to stop abortion, through prayer, marches, and loving conversations. Sure, a bill will officially end it, but only after we end the desire in the hearts of the people. Does it matter who comes into the United States and how, if in the end we refuse to love those immigrants who are already here? The greatest saints and role models were simple, normal people, not politicians. They were people who took the world by storm with their actions, who loved radically those who were not usually loved. To create saints, we must strive to become saints. We must teach our kids through our actions and our words, our Facebook posts and our dinner conversations.