I ARRIVED at our office in Cebu around noon. About 20 millennials and their families had gathered for their entrustment ceremony marking the end of a 33-day spiritual journey. Each did daily readings from a home retreat booklet that reflected on the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was followed by the rosary and short journal entry-writing session. Once a week for about a month we met for two hours to share stories and reflections. The kids, most of whom were not active in their parishes, were about to entrust themselves to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.
A survey done on millennialS in the Philippines leaves a picture that seems not to bode well for the religious practices of this sector. According to the study, “Millennials see themselves as more spiritual than ritual. They find very little meaning in the rituals of the Holy Mass probably because they don’t understand them or they find them boring. But they will attend Mass because they know it is expected by their elders.”
But my experience with millennials in the home retreat points otherwise. How does one ignite the interest—and sustain it for 33 days—of this group? I began by asking Jillian, a 22-year old, to accompany me on the journey. Millennials are not shy about sharing their ideas, and their lives revolve around technology. Jillian suggested an FB group where the young participants could interact. I prepared daily tweet-like text inputs summarizing the lessons of the day. At the start of our weekly sessions, the millennials had 30 minutes to themselves to help set the tone. Then I spoke in a language accessible to them with the goal of making the message more easily understandable. It helped that the booklet we used was written by the author in a conversational tone.
It worked. They persisted. And we had fun.
The youngest participant, 13-year old Jenine, confidently stood up in one of our sessions with a miniature metal luggage to reflect on the impact of the home retreat on her. She imagined herself at an airport carrying a lot of heavy bags. To her right was a woman dressed in brown and holding a baby. The woman only had two bags. “I think you should check your luggage again,” the woman advised her.
Jenine then took took out from her miniature luggage some symbols of things that cluttered her bag. She then replaced these with sheets of paper with the words “rosary”, “poor”, and, above all, “Jesus”. Her bag was now so much lighter. Her destination awaits her.
The budding teenager got the point. And she was not doing this to meet certain expectations since her own mother was also pleasantly surprised. The same survey on millennials also reveals what I would refer to as creeping spiritual heroism. It says, for instance, that millennials “would rather choose to do work they are passionate about rather than work that will make them rich.”
Jenine and other millennials give me hope. If only we knew how to push the right buttons in the hearts of our young people.
I am thoroughly enjoying a book entitled Heroism and Genius, by William J. Slattery. The description on the jacket says: “How Catholic priests helped build—and can help rebuild—Western civilization.” It continues: “Heroism and Genius presents some of these formidable men: fathers of chivalry and free-enterprise economics; statesmen and defiers of tyrants; composers, educators, and architects of some of the world’s loveliest buildings; and, paradoxically, revolutionary defenders of romantic love.” The book presents a panoramic view of history of how the Church, particularly through its priests, accompanied the historical upheavals and process from the classical Greco-Roman world, through the so-called Dark Ages, and into modern civilization. There is even a section on how the Irish method of confessing sins was crucial in this transition. The Church indeed is a humanizing and civilizing presence. There is always an element of new evangelization in every epoch of the Church.
“New methods” in new evangelization does not just deal with the effective use of modern technology. It begins with mindsets which, in turn, results in and are the effects of modern technology. When computer technology led to social media and internet commerce, our ways of viewing reality changed and our ways of interacting with reality and one another also changed, including evangelization.
Technology leads to economic breakthroughs. This, in turn, requires political intervention to ensure that the common good is served. Above technology, economics, and politics are culture, the call to personal authenticity, religion, and spirituality. These “scales of values” provide a scale – akin to the musical scale—that allows the various dimensions of human living to work in harmony, with the lower value being taken up into the higher value for greater integration.
Yes, “new methods” emanate from and bear fruit in new mindsets.
During the recently-concluded “National Conversations on Church-Led CBRP (Community-Based Recovery Program) and Related Initiatives” held in Cebu City from April 16 to 18, 2018, one of the participants, a priest who is a recovering addict himself, said that what led him towards the journey of recovery towards restoration was the “eternal perspective.” He was unexpectedly attending Mass—he was still a lay person with no seminary background—when he heard an announcement that struck his heart. It opened up an eternal perspective.
About 42 representatives from 18 local churches, with observers from the PNP, Liga ng Mga Barangay, and the DILG, came together to share stories of their experiences in CBRP. Those farthest north came from Bontoc-Lagawe, farthest south from Davao. Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches gave the keynote address. His one-liner—“For heaven’s sake, let us do something!”—joyfully became the gathering’s rallying cry and a veritable hashtag. Standards and best practices were then identified.
The highlight of the two-day gathering was easily the encounter with Labangers (i.e. recovering addicts who are clients of Labang) of Barangay Subangdaku in Mandaue City on April 17 at the barangay garden. This lush area was once a dumping site until the present barangay chairman, Ernie Manatad, took the bull by the horns and transformed the area. Now about 50 Labangers and their families call this their home and their fellow recovering addicts and barangay and parish volunteers “family”.
The conversation participants witnessed an “open” NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting where the clients gave personal testimonies and shared the ups and downs of their journey. This was followed by a Lectio Divina conducted by two young blood sisters. Finally, supper was provided, ending with some intermission numbers by the Labangers. Perhaps the impact of the event was captured by a priest who had to leave the gathering for a short while because he could feel tears welling up in his eyes. He also threw away a packet of cigarette, realizing that he himself was being called to conversion.
“New methods” involve very broken people touching the hearts of “normal” people who, upon closer look, actually have their own addictions.