Henritze: Service is a crucial part of the Christian journey

May 22, 2018

When I was a youth minister, I would take my teens twice a month to serve at a homeless shelter near our parish. Every night a team of volunteers would set up sleeping mats, serve food, distribute clothing items and provide hospitality for 180 homeless men and women.

One night I had a young woman who was trying to complete her Confirmation service project accompany me. She and I were assigned to work together at a table passing out bowls of popcorn as the clients came into the shelter.

At one point, the young lady stopped and stared intently at a young man who had just walked in. He was no older than 20, but he had the look of one who had been on the streets for years. My teen remained transfixed on him as this man made his way through the check-in line and found himself a mat to sleep on.

I asked her if she was okay, and she turned to me with tear-filled eyes and said: “I think that might be my cousin who ran away years three ago. No one has seen or heard from him in years.”
Together, we approached the young man. She called out his name and he looked up at her; as their eyes met, the joy of their reunion was palpable. The young man was reunited with his family through this encounter.

The next week I was sitting with that same girl at youth night, and she was already wondering when the next trip to the shelter was. She realized that every person there was someone else’s cousin, brother, sister or parent.

I was proud and convicted when she said: “My cousin said that he felt alone and unloved the entire time he was on the streets. I want to serve as often as I can so that no else feels that way.”

The ministry of justice and service is an indispensable component of authentic and comprehensive youth ministry. That young woman had already encountered Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, but her faith was radically altered when she encountered Him in the poor and lowly.

Service and a commitment to justice are cornerstones of Christianity; thus, they must be an active part of Catholic Youth Ministry.

There has been a growing trend in youth ministry that emphasizes bringing teens to Christ in Exposition and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. This is a beautiful thing, but more is needed for youth ministry to be complete. Service and a commitment to justice are cornerstones of Christianity; thus, they must be an active part of Catholic Youth Ministry.

It is not enough to stir up in young people a fervor for prayer and piety; those two interior qualities of a Christian must be made manifest in exterior acts of service as well. Pope Francis, in his recent apostolic exhortation “Gaudete Exsultate,” asks the question: “Can any spiritual fervor be sound when it dwells alongside sloth in evangelization or service to others?”

When youth ministry, or any ministry for that matter, becomes slothful in service it fails to be authentic ministry. We must provide young people with a witness of service so that they see through our actions an imitation of Jesus Christ. Young people must also be a witness to the greater Church of what it means to serve the poor with humility and joy. 

Brian Henritze is an associate director of the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.