Every year I speak to sophomores at a Catholic high school about mission, and every year they write very thoughtful letters of gratitude. These letters serve as an excellent window into how mission resonates with young people, and how it can enliven the next generation. These young people are not responding to anything special about me as a presenter, but to an encounter with the heart of our tradition, guided by the Holy Spirit.
Here's what some of them have to say:
"You have inspired me to serve my community more because as you said it, I would like to be a part of something bigger than myself."
"When I was listening to your presentation it made me think about my own faith and what faith really is. Faith isn't just believing God is up there somewhere watching our every move, and that you shouldn't sin because the ultimate goal is to please him. Faith is something more like what the missionaries of the present day are doing. It is the community behind the Church and spreading God's love to help the people in need."
"We cannot defend or live our faith through violence because the nature of violence is to drive people away from each other. Christianity is about love, bringing people together, and seeing Christ in each other."
"The thing that struck me most was you describing the Church as people, not a building or a hierarchy. This allowed me to realize that the best way for me to give back to the Church is to love God's family and give back to the people."
"You explained that everyone can be missionaries. Jesus taught us not to sympathize for the people who are not as fortunate as us, but rather talk to them and know their story. Through upholding the dignity of each person we are also serving God, for He sees everyone as equals."
"It was also really interesting the way you defined 'the Church' as a community of followers of Christ rather than a building. It changed the way I looked at my fellow Catholic community and how it is more about the people worshiping and participating in the Lord's work together, rather than just meeting in a designated building."
"The one phrase that has stuck with me the most since your presentation is that the Christian mission exists in the small things."
"Your presentation made me think about my faith because it helped me realize that the Church is not the building itself, but rather the people and community who make it up and do good works for others. It also helped me understand that it is important to put yourself out there and help other people, because that is what the Church community is about."
"You said two things that are going to stick with me for a while. You told us that missionaries were not those people trying to convert other people to their religion because theirs was the best, but they were people enriching theirs and other peoples faiths through acts of kindness. The second thing you said that is going to stick with me for a while was your definition of the Catholic Church. You said that it was not just the building or a pope or some cardinals, but that it was the people. They are the hundreds of thousands of people who go to mass, or are speaking the Gospel through their actions instead of words. They are the everyday people who are helping others less fortunate than themselves in any way possible."
"Your presentation made me think about my own faith because it gave me a chance to realize how much can be done in the world and how much us as Christians are called to live."
"Thank you for giving Catholics a good name around the world and embodying the Church's teaching of love and service to others."