Sitting in that chapel made me feel safe.
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It gave me a place to step outside of my life. And it set me on a lifelong journey toward faith and a relationship with God.
When I started writing this story about the spirituality of teenagers, I wanted to see if kids today have experiences similar to mine. For many of these teenagers, time in church—especially time spent in adoration and silent prayer—was their chance to plug into another kind of experience altogether. Like me, they each responded positively to the opportunity to be quiet and alone with Jesus—together. In adoration, there is no pressure, no set prayer, no youth programs that pander to what they think young adults want.
Just presence. The teens I talked to have found this relationship with a higher power. At a time when many churches treat teen ministry like an afterthought or as a checklist of requirements for confirmation, these young adults seek something more—a deep and profound relationship with God. I got booted from the high school dance team after my mom died because I missed too many events.
The spiritual life of American teenagers
By my sophomore year I was barely going to school at all, though I somehow maintained passing grades. The doors were always open; I could sneak in, light a candle, and slip out again, unseen by anyone but God. Those clandestine moments were the beginning of a real relationship with God.
The teens I talked to felt a similar relief. But in a culture where parents prioritize grades, sports, and extracurricular activities, religious practice—worship, prayer, and communion with other believers—often simply gets dropped from a packed schedule. It can be overwhelming. That belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist—the conviction that Christ is present in this special way in the Mass—is one of the reasons Burr remains a Catholic. Coming to youth group every Wednesday also helps. I can be who I really am there. We have a real bond. Marie, 15, said when she was in fifth grade her dad got fired, and it changed everything about her life.
Because she went to Catholic school and wore a uniform on the school bus, one kid who said he was atheist started to challenge her, asking her questions about what she believed. For Marie, asking the hard questions about what and why she believed, and hearing the answers of other believers, strengthened her faith.
Around the same time, she started taking long walks with her cousin River, who is It made it that much more real. Those walks changed the way I think about everything.
Before then, faith was really just about going to Mass. For teens like Marie and River, part of what fuels their faith is expressing it in community and being able to talk to others who are wrestling with the same questions and issues. Just as my teenage self was compelled to pick up fellow wanderers on the side of the road, these kids are seeking someone who can identify with their lives and who can stand with them when they feel most alone.
Sarah, 17, felt like she never fit in at school. I was ostracized. I struggled with loving people. But when she took a mission trip to Haiti with her friend Grace to provide medical supplies and care to the poorest sections of Port-au-Prince, she said seeing so much love and joy amid pain and poverty made her stronger.
Catholic Spirituality | Commonweal Magazine
Grace, 17, says when she and Sarah were in Haiti and heard the children who were crying and hungry and in pain she thought she might not be able to handle it. There was Mass happening nearby. Many of the teens expressed their deep desire for meaningful service and close relationships. We should recognize this natural phase of their development as a time to encourage their spiritual lives.
In so many communities, teen ministry is an afterthought—slapdash and underfunded—when it should be a priority. They love the rhythm and the history of the liturgy of the hours.
But turning to prayer enables them to reset, to turn their minds and hearts back to God. They have each other, and they have God. For teens, faith is about developing a relationship with God. Liturgical ritual is one way they find that opportunity. So while community is essential teenagers need age-appropriate support systems and friends to whom they can discuss their struggles and questions prayer has to be a part of that.
He just wants me to know him. As a teenager, I found peace and the beginnings of a lifelong relationship with God in that quiet church. And, while my life threw up different challenges from those of the kids I talked to, they too found meaning in the Eucharist and the quiet contemplation of God. Kendall, 16, started to question her faith when, in sixth grade, her uncle was killed while serving in the military overseas.
This is who I worship. Brady, 18, says he looks forward to adoration every Wednesday for reasons that feel very familiar to me. As a teenager stumbling across the lights at St. Now I see it as grace. I remember being alone there, as I remember being alone for most of those years. Now I know that someone else must have been there, that the host is never unwatched.
It is difficult to maintain a healthy relationship under such conditions. In some cases, the desire to be "spiritual but not religious" may simply indicate that an individual needs to find a new way to connect with the faith community. Individuals who outgrow or feel uncomfortable in a local parish community may find new spiritual life and connections through a nearby retreat center, a local Catholic campus ministry, or a lay association sponsored by a community of women or men religious.
Although you may find it helpful, even necessary, to limit or withdraw from participation in a particular faith community at certain times or under certain circumstances in your life, it is disorienting and painful to remain separated from a community on a permanent basis. It is like being a spiritual orphan who in some sense is always longing to be reconnected with the parents and family where they belong.
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