Homily of Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ: “Today’s Youth: Is There Hope for the Church?”

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ celebrating the mass in Extraordinary Form in honor of St. Jerome Emiliani last 20 July 2013 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University

Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ celebrating the mass in Extraordinary Form in honor of St. Jerome Emiliani last 20 July 2013 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University

by Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ

(Latin Low Mass for the Feast of St. Jerome Emiliani last 20 July 2013 at the Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

TODAY’S YOUTH: IS THERE HOPE FOR THE CHURCH?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Reflecting on this gospel passage, I asked myself: what was in the mind of the young man that made him reject the invitation of Jesus to sell everything he owned, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow him? The gospel tells us that he was rich and thus found it hard to part with his wealth. Was this truly the reason for his refusal, or was there a deeper reason that prompted his negative reply? And what if this invitation of Jesus were extended to a young person of our time, what would the reply be?
As I was toying with this question, I thought about consulting a survey made some years ago on Filipino youth by McCann-Erickson Philippines in partnership with GMA-7 and Trends-MBL, one of the leading market research agencies in the country. The study was commissioned by the Ateneo de Manila High School in order to better understand the Filipino youth. It was a nationwide study covering urban areas in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, using a statistically projectible sample of 900 respondents, aged 13 to 21 years old from class A-B-C-D homes. All respondents were chosen randomly using multi-stage probability sampling methods. A synopsis of the youth study reveals very interesting highlights. As I was perusing through the report, I was looking for what it had to say about the idealism of youth; their capacity for self-transcendence, or at least their desire for it; their desire to do great things for others, and for God. What did the survey yield? Listen to this:
With regard to values, the survey revealed a widening of gray areas between right and wrong among today’s youth, a phenomenon that is probably reinforced by the various circumstances that the youth today have to contend with in their everyday lives. For a good number of young people, for instance, abortion represents a very tangible option that they would consider under certain situations. They feel that with the financial difficulties their parents are going through, having another mouth to feed is the last thing they would need in the event of an unwanted pregnancy With harsh financial realities, they know that there is no one to rely on but themselves. As one respondent puts it, “Kung mabuntis ang girlfriend ko, isa na namang palamunin sa bahay. Hihinto ako sa pag-aaral at magta-tricycle driver. Magiging tricycle driver na lang ba ako habambuhay? Hindi pwede ‘yon!” It is noteworthy that the survey says nothing about young people’s commitment to a cause or to a value higher than themselves. I thought, perhaps that will be revealed by the persons they hold in high esteem; the young are an impressionable lot, and it is normal for young people to have idols. And so, I checked:

Who are the models or icons of the youth? The study reveals that many, if not most of the people they consider their models or “idols” are showbiz and sports personalities, both local and foreign. It is significant to note that not one mentioned a priest or a church dignitary, not even Jesus Christ. Then, I thought, maybe the section on aspiration and ambition will reveal something. This is what the survey said:

As for ambition in life, the youth want to land good jobs. Many want to be professionals: engineers, lawyers, CPAs, or teachers. Some also want to be part of the healthcare industry: nurses, doctors, or physical therapists. A good number also want to join the police force, become entrepreneurs, or live life as a seaman. Technology-related professions are also being considered by a good number of the youth. About 6% say they plan to join the I.T. industry as computer engineers, programmers, or systems analysts. Not one of them mentioned a desire to serve others as priests or religious Sisters. It seems that ambition in life among the youth is very much attached to making money; financial gain and security is the goal.

Certainly, we need not take the results of the youth survey as gospel truth. For one, it is in the nature of surveys such as these to come up with general statements and projections based on gathered data. If we base our conclusions on the Filipino youth on the result of the survey, it would seem that we in the Church have already lost them. But that is not true, as you yourselves can attest to. And granting that the survey results are true, our situation is much better than in other, more developed countries.

Going back to our gospel reading, if the invitation of Jesus were posed to a young person today, based on the survey we have just reviewed, the most probable answer would be, “I am sorry, Lord, but I would rather be a lawyer or perhaps a doctor, or a systems analyst, because there is no money in your trade. I cannot live and enjoy a comfortable life if I accept your offer. I’m sorry.” Or, perhaps he or she would accept the offer to follow Jesus, provided there is something to be gained from it.

Perhaps I am being too simplistic. After all, if a census were to be taken of young people in seminaries and convents all over the country, we could say that a good number of Filipino youth still consider the priesthood and religious life a viable option and a noble vocation.
But the reality remains that at present many of our young people find it really difficult to see beyond the passing gratifications offered by the culture of our technological age. What does the Church have to say to this phenomenon? Are we able to reach out to young people and inspire them to look beyond the fleeting comforts of today to an ideal—a person—beyond themselves worthy of their commitment? Can we even inspire them to consider commitment? Marami sa inyo mga bata pa kung ihahambing sa aming mga senior citizens. But unlike the young man in today’s gospel, you are serious about your relationship with the Lord. Some of you may even be thinking of giving His invitation a try. And because you yourselves are young, you can resonate with the youth: I challenge you to help us, your elders, bring back the fire of idealism into the heart of young people by the very witness of the life you lead: a life that is lived for others—like St. Jerome Emiliani, the saint we honor in this Mass—who lived a life that did not consider what can be received and gained, but rather a life that finds its joy and meaning in consuming it for others, for Jesus Christ and the reign of God on earth.

Laudetur Jesus Christus!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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