I grew up in Saskatchewan. I was born and raised in Moose Jaw and went to university in Saskatoon. In the summers during my undergrad degree, I worked with the City of Saskatoon in the Horticulture Department. I was taking care of parks, trimming the trees, cutting the grass, doing all that type of thing. But I was actually one of the only students. There were a number of people who worked in that department who were permanent seasonal workers, who were much older than I was, and came from all scopes of life.
At that time, as a young person, I was already engaged in practicing my faith. I didn’t flaunt it, but I also was very genuine when people would ask, “So what did you do on the weekend?”. If I had participated in, perhaps a Catholic youth gathering, I would say plainly, “I participated in this Catholic Youth gathering.” I didn’t hide it but also didn’t make a big deal about it.
At first, my experience was one of being a bit ridiculed and kind of ostracized. Especially in groups as we were sitting around the lunch table, different conversations would come up and because I was a person of faith and generally the others weren’t (or it seemed that they weren’t) they would barb me or tease me or challenge me in various ways. But I tried to continue to be genuine in my responses, authentic in the relationships, and to work well together.
As time went on, and in different settings, what I found was that some of the walls began to break down. When we’d be together in groups this kind of jabbing would continue, but then when we’d be working together alone, with one other individual out at a park, that person would sort of wander over and then they’d start asking questions. For example: what is your faith all about anyway? Why are you so engaged? Why is faith important to you? We would have a very fruitful, honest and deep conversation. And it happened over and over and over again in these settings. These individuals, that at first blush were very hostile, as time went on and when the context became more personal, began asking some of the same questions that I had once asked. They were curious about faith. They wanted to talk about big questions, spiritual questions.
I share this story to begin with because over these few days at the Faith in Canada Millennium Summit, we’ve been surfacing a number of difficult challenges. Many challenges for Millennials who are persons of faith were identified yesterday. In this brief time that I have to share, it is not possible for me to try and address each and every specific challenge. Rather, I want to speak a little bit to how we interact with challenges and how we approach them. Sometimes, as I shared from my own experience, these challenges can be very personal. It can be a very personal attack as I experienced in my summer job. But at other times they’re broader as well. And this morning we are inviting you to look at these challenges that you face as a generation.
In a certain sense, every generation including yours can be a little egocentric and can think that the challenges they face as a generation are the most difficult challenges that have ever happened in the entire world. That it was a lot easier ‘back then’, and that, ‘right now’ it’s the most difficult time. But in fact there have been challenges in the past and there will be challenges in the future. In this present moment, we have an opportunity; it can be a gift to be able to engage in today’s challenges. I think there are three primary ways we can respond to the key challenges related to Millennials and faith.
The first one is FEAR. We can be afraid to confront the challenges. We can be afraid of what might happen. We heard in some of the discussion groups during the Summit, people sharing that they are sometimes afraid of what other others might think of them and their faith, or what they might have to say about their faith. We can be afraid of being put in a box. We can be afraid of the unknown. As a result of fear, we can shrink back from wanting to confront or engage in these challenges. Fear ultimately hinders us.
The second response to the challenges could be one of FATIGUE. Sometimes we engage in challenges, we have courage, but we get tired. It’s hard. Especially when we’ve been trying to sincerely engage dialogue with others and we don’t see any progress, we don’t see understanding, we don’t see any positive results coming from these experiences and we may want to give up. Fatigue also hinders us.
But the third way we approach these challenges is to respond through FAITH. And that’s why we are gathered here. We are people of faith. We can look at these challenges and we can draw courage and hope from our faith. We can seek to trust God and to move forward in faith. I don’t think that at this gathering of the Millennium Summit, part of the Faith in Canada 150 campaign, we should settle by responding in fear. I don’t think we should give in to fatigue. Rather, we are being invited to enter into the challenges through faith and hope. Faith can give us courage in the midst of fear and faith can give us hope in the midst of fatigue. And for me, I find this faith and hope in two principal ways.
First of all, for me personally as a Catholic Christian, I find my faith and hope in God. In my tradition, in the Catholic Christian tradition, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ into the world to save the world. And that even in death, Jesus has been triumphant, and that I can share in that resurrected life. For me, through my friendship with Jesus Christ, He gives me strength and hope to face the challenges of life.
The second way that I find this faith and hope is actually in each of you gathered for this Millennial Summit. As I mentioned, I am from Saskatchewan and the high school that I attended was Vanier Collegiate – named after former Governor General Georges Vanier. One of the things he said in a speech in 1966 was written on my gymnasium wall. I spent a lot of time in the gym, playing sports, so this quotation from Georges Vanier has been etched in my mind ever since: “Tell me the character of a nation’s young people, and I will tell you the future of the nation.”
Recently I was researching this quotation and I want to tell you the rest of it. He said, “Tell me the character of a nation’s young people, and I will tell you the future of the nation. Tell me what occupies the minds of a country’s young people, whether their thoughts be selfish or noble, self indulgent or disciplined, self-centred or dedicated. Tell me this and I will describe for you the future of a nation in that world.”
So as I look around the room, and have observed your conversations, I’m filled with a lot of hope. Because I see a group of young people who have noble thoughts. Who seek to not be self-centred but to be dedicated. Who want to bring their faith into the public conversation. Who want to ennoble our world through the practice of their faith. This is encouraging.
There is one final thought that I will share with you. Last summer in Poland there was an event called World Youth Day. World Youth Day is a gathering of Catholic young people with the Pope. There were 2.5 million Catholic youth gathered last summer in Poland, and Pope Francis gave a speech at the Vigil which is worth considering. If you have an opportunity to read the whole thing, you can just Google, “Pope Francis vigil speech Poland”. It’s not very long and it is addressed to the youth of the Church, but really, as well to the youth of the world. And it’s very insightful. One final thought from Pope Francis:
“This is the secret, dear friends, and all of us are called to share in it. God expects something from you. Have you understood this? God expects something from you, God wants something from you. God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different. This is the challenge.”
So when we talk about millennials and the key challenges, my conclusion would be to say to you this: The real challenge is for each and every one of you to offer the very best of yourselves to the world. And the very best of yourselves includes your faith.
These remarks were given by Jeff as a presentation at the Faith in Canada 150 Millennial Summit on the topic of “Faith and Millennials: Key Challenges”. The Millennial Summit gathered 75 millennial leaders from across Canada from a variety of religious traditions for two days in Ottawa on the eve of Canada Day 2017. This article was also published by Convivium Magazine at: https://www.convivium.ca/threads/170_offering_the_very_best