I was interviewed by John Allen and Ines San Martin of Crux on Monday. It lasted about half an hour and covered a wide range of topics, some related to the Synod and some outside. You can read the article on the Crux website.
One of the challenges of article writing is finding an engaging title for the article. You want to capture the attention of people to get them to read more. Often a title is not even written by the author of the article (although I do not know what Crux does in that regard).
Anyway, the title originally said "Canadian prelate says synod is about bringing youth to Christ, not church". Crux has since amended it take out the last two words (thank you!) but to some it might have sounded like I don't think we should bring people to the Church, or that the Church and Christ are somehow opposed. I hope people will realise I certainly don't think that way, but one of the advantages of blogs is I have the chance to complete the article with my own words.
To put this in context, at one point Ines San Martin introduced a question by saying that the purpose of the Synod is to "bring the Church to young people and to bring young people to the Church". I jumped in to correct her, saying that the purpose of the Synod is to bring *Christ* to young people and vice versa.
To be clear, in my thinking these are not mutually exclusive elements. In my experience, when people discover Christ they desire to join a community of believers journeying as disciples of Christ. In other words, bringing people to Christ will tend to lead them to the Church. My own growth in faith included a personal encounter with Jesus at one point (in the Eucharist, in my case), and my spiritual life has been defined by that encounter ever since. I love Christ as Lord and as friend, I love him in his glory and in his humility, I love him in his Eucharistic Body and in his Mystical Body, i.e. the Church.
Unfortunately, I have also learned that simply leading people to the Church does not always lead them to Christ. The Church's job is not to announce itself, but to announce the Lord. In my experience, though, sometimes we aren't even introducing them to the Church so much as we are introducing them to a behavioural pattern that churchgoers should follow. Again, one does not exclude the other, but it is as though we are trying to socialize them into Christianity (i.e. "ecclesialize them") rather than bringing them to faith in the living Jesus. That process is just not enough.
As a bishop I have met many people who see young people as a "problem" because they don't follow "the rules". I get that they don't, but neither did hardly anyone when Jesus came to Earth -- he came to seek and save the lost! I find this attitude of the "problem of the young people" as sometimes a deflection from the fact that mere attempts to merely socialize people into faith have failed. It is easier to be socialized into behaviours than to truly be transformed day by day by the Holy Spirit. It is also far more fragile, especially as a broader society becomes more indifferent, or even hostile, to our faith community.
Of course, there are other, gentler-sounding attempts to "address the problem". I have heard some people say that what we need is for Mass to have better music, for example, to "attract the youth" back to Church. I am sorry, but the field of youth ministry is littered with the relics of past attempts to find the right gimmick to "bring people back". I am not saying we should be satisfied with poor music, but just that the entire line of thinking that finding the right gimmick is going to actually work is, in my opinion, very misguided. We need to bring things back to basics: proclaim the saving work of Christ; make disciples of all nations, baptizing them so that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit; send those disciples forth as apostles; and persevere until Jesus comes again in glory, growing in personal holiness along the way.
As a founder of a movement dedicated to the evangelization of young adults, I know that many young adults don't follow "the rules", but I also know that many have never really been introduced to Jesus as Lord and friend. Once they catch that flame, however, they are more than eager to ask questions and even start the process of conversion of life that includes the behaviours proper to disciples of the Lord. And they discover the Church as a community alive in the Spirit, joined by their brothers and sisters (and even their bishops) who are on the same journey.