By Mark Haney
The Catholic Times
LANSING — With a theme like “Celebrate the Legacy: Leaping and Dancing Before the Lord,” the 25th annual Diocese of Lansing Jamboree marked a milestone and celebrated all of the adults and teens who made that legacy possible.
Organizers also considered the future of the Church and the 900 young people who attended the Sunday, Oct. 30, event at the Lansing Center.
Which is why one of the day’s workshops was “Handing On What We Ourselves Have Received.” Leading that workshop were Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea and Saginaw Bishop Joseph R. Cistone.
The two shepherds opened the historic session by sharing a little of their past.
“I grew up in a very Catholic family; my parents were very faithful in their church life and very active in the parish,” said Bishop Cistone, who was raised in Philadelphia. “I came from a little Italian neighborhood where as you walked to school half the people were related to you somehow or another. So if you got in trouble in the streets, your parents found out immediately. When I began studying for the priesthood — early on I always wanted to be a priest, as I remember — everybody encouraged me in my vocation. I was just very surrounded and nurtured very much in my faith and my vocation.
“But in thinking about passing on what I have received, I have received such a wonderful garden, as it were, of faith, where my faith was really nurtured, helped to grow. In difficult times in our family we would always try to see the hand of God in situations rather than the abandonment of God. I many times, feel so blessed. And what I am passing on, when I am passing on my faith, is possible because I grew up in an atmosphere and even a society, a neighborhood and even the times themselves that was fairly innocent and even more so supportive of what I believed in, of what I wanted to do in my life. So when I preach, I talk a lot about my family. I don’t know where I would be without that. When I talk, I hope I pass on the idea of how important families are to the ongoing faith of their children and of society. I grew up in that kind of atmosphere and I was really, really blessed because of it. In passing on the faith, the first thing that would come to my mind is that I am grateful because of my roots, my family setting.”
Bishop Boyea grew up in a Catholic family in Pontiac. He remembered being in the seminary when his dad still was cutting his hair — a tradition that started because his parents couldn’t afford to send the boys to the barbershop. And his father said to him, “Earl, I don’t know where you got all of this, You certainly didn’t get it from us.’
“It was a very humbling thing for my dad to say,” the bishop said. “I was really taken back by it. But there is some truth in what he said. I’m not who I am just because of my family, I am who I am mostly because of God’s grace. That is something I have no control over at all. I just rely on it.”
Bishop Boyea said he recognizes the challenges of passing on faith in his own clan.
“In my family right now, about half of them go to church and half don’t,” he said. “So what is effecting my family is affecting everyone’s family, it is just part and parcel of what happens in the Church today.
“How can I get my brothers and sisters back to church? I know, for one thing, that even though as my mother said, I do have a big mouth and I do like to talk, that is not going to do it. That will not bring them back. Now, if they ask me a question, then there are no holds barred. I go full guns a-blazing and just go at it. But they rarely ask the question because they know that is going to happen. So I view my best approach is to love them, pray for them, be a witness to them.
“That is not necessarily a great way for me to hand on the faith as a priest or a bishop, but it can a great way for us, as individuals. It may not sound like a lot, but I have faith in God’s grace.”
The father of five boys was among those participating in the session.
“I think in this world it is getting tougher,” he said. “I really struggle with the people who I love because I have really turned to God, more so in the last few years than I ever have before. This is a faith journey. Most of my life I’ve been a hard-working, successful guy. And you get it in your head that this is all my effort. That is something I struggle with.
“But we have this free will and it is hard to watch people exercise that in ways I think are wrong.”
“Of course, we have that free will because that is what love is,” said Bishop Boyea. “I wouldn’t want someone to have to love me. That would be awful if someone had to love me. Rather, I want them to choose to love me. But if you choose to love me, then you can choose not to love me. The person you like the best, doesn’t necessarily like you the best. And the person who likes you the best, you may not like the best. … That is one of the reasons faith is so complicated. It is a messy thing. Love is a messy thing. It is never simple.”
He mentioned reading recently about how difficult it is for anyone age 18-23 to make real commitments “because there is no job market, no housing market, you can’t settle down. You may finish your schooling, but where is it going to lead you?”
Most people in that age group instead of settling down by 21 or just after college, now consider that maybe by 30 they can finally have a family.
“What does that do to the whole plan?” he said. “It just creates a gap in one’s life where nothing is theirs. What do we, as a church, hand on to a group that feels unmoored, disconnected, unsure, and unable to make a commitment? How do we hand on the faith? I don’t have answers.”
A Milan woman spoke about how her town has strong Baptist and Methodist churches. Peers of those faiths, she said, challenge a lot of Catholic kids, with Bible passages. The Catholics don’t know how to defend their faith or cite passages that support Catholicism.
“That is true not only about Scripture,” said Bishop Cistone, “but we as Catholics often don’t know our faith in general. “
As dean of formation at a seminary, he said, “catechetically, nearly all of the incoming seminarians needed remedial work. They just didn’t know their faith/
“How are we passing on our faith if our young people, once challenged, don’t know how to defend that faith? So they can dialogue, not respond, but dialogue with people of other churches about the faith.”
Another woman said it goes back to how we were taught.
“When I was young we were told, ‘this is what you do in church,’” she said. “You didn’t question it, you just did it. Now it is being questioned and those of us who were told to do it, we don’t know how to explain it. Now they want to know. They are questioning it, which is fine, but how can we explain it when all we’ve been told is what to do?”
“That,” said Bishop Boyea, “is a very good point.
“Catholics are probably exposed to more of Scripture than any other group. There are three readings every Sunday that are different for three years. In many of these other churches they only take a little segment and hammer away at it. But do we prepare well enough? Have we read the readings ahead of time? And does the preacher really talk about the readings? We know there are problems.”
Another woman reinforced that. She has a Protestant friend with whom she’s had religious discussions. Her friend was surprised to learn she was Catholic, but knows her Bible. “I can’t quote it,” she said, “but I realized I know a lot about it.”
Bishop Boyea said he likes it when a non-Catholic comes in to talk and they cite various Bible verses to support the idea of “being saved.” He then asks them about John, Chapter 6 (Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish and then tells the people “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you shall not have life within you”): “And that just shuts them down … because they don’t have the Eucharist. …. And I ask them, how can you have life in you if you don’t eat of the flesh of the Son of Man?”
That said, he added, ”you don’t want to get into a debate, but be confident that the Church has dealt with all of these issues for 2,000 years.”
Bishop Cistone told of meeting at the airport a fallen-away Catholic who’d taken to reading the Bible. “So I asked him about Paul, where he speaks of handing on the Eucharist. As a Catholic you understand clearly what he was talking about in Scripture about eating the flesh and blood of Christ. Knowing that, how do you live your life without it?’ That ended our discussion.”
Being that forthcoming has a price, he added.
“Sharing your faith and giving up popularity is a tough thing to do,” he said. “As priests, we are very human. We liked to be liked, we like to be accepted, we like to be loved. There is always that temptation to not go the full bore to preach the word because ‘How are my people going to respond? How is society responding?’ I think that is true of us as priests but it also is true of us as Christians. Passing on the faith, I think, is getting harder and harder in our society today. You have to be willing to live with yourself when people who know you and love you just will not acknowledge what you are saying. Popularity is a great temptation. So it is not easy to pass on the faith to any single one of us.
“There is a cost to discipleship.”
The problem, one woman said, is too many people want a plastic Jesus, not a living man who loved even when it was tough love.
Being openly Catholic can be scary, said one teen. She said many teens she knows are weekend Catholics, who go to church and youth group on the weekend, but don’t act out their faith in school during the week. “They don’t want to be identified as Catholic by their non-Catholic friends.”
”That is a tough thing (to see),” said Bishop Boyea. “But at least, the seed is planted. Now what will happen down the road? Either God will give that increase or they will reject that seed that has been planted.”
Bishop Cistone said the challenge is to not just pass on the faith, but also moral values.
“I think parents struggle too much to teach their children and to get them to appreciate moral values,” he said. “It is almost as if parents are asking them not to live in society or in the real world.”
His office is near Nouvel Catholic Central High School, he added, “and I sometimes wonder how the guys, faced with how the girls are dressed, get through the day with a clear conscience. And how the girls, with the ways in which the guys act, get through the day with a clear conscience.”
But if an adult, a parent were to suggest a change in behavior, attitude or dress, the teens would tell them to “get with it,” he said. “So just living a moral life is a challenge, without being prudish. That’s it, isn’t it? You are at either extreme, either modern or you’re just a prude.”
The teen asked what she can say to people who tell her religion is just a bunch of rules and life would be easier without them.
“Adults feel the same way,” Bishop Cistone said, with a laugh. “Our lives would be a lot easier without them too.”
“I think the key is to somehow tap into the joy of following Jesus,” said Bishop Boyea. “That will win people over. But if we don’t have that joy ourselves, then can how can they tap into it? And the only way to have that is to get to know Jesus, to have that relationship with Jesus, of saying ‘You really are important to me and I know I am important to you.’ It does get down to that ultimate foundation. That will give us joy. There aren’t a lot of things in this world that can give us great joy. Things can give us fleeting or passing joy — I enjoyed this or I enjoyed that, but then it is gone. But Jesus can. If people find you are a joyful person, they’ll want to know why. Through Christ. That is all you need to say.”
Just don’t expect to change people or places.
“We are not going to change our high schools,” he said. “It is not going to happen. We’re not going to change our society. All we can is change ourselves. I can’t change anybody else. And even I can’t change myself. Only God can do that.”
The goal of the Church, said Bishop Cistone, is to create an environment where people who think alike can come together, something they can’t have or do often in a school setting.
“I think that is our challenge and responsibility as parents and in our parishes,” he said, “to be able to have opportunities for our young people to meet together, to be okay with that. And to know that they are not alone.”
“It is really hard for people to hold on to their faith today,” said one woman, “because there is so much they have to do.”
A college student agreed, saying she has to hold down a job, take 20 credits and find time for the faith. On campus, however, the big non-denominational churches are attracting more students because they offer fun, but not a lot of anything else.
“And more people are questioning and questioning,” she said, “and they are asking the same questions you ask yourself and you don’t have the answers because you’ve just been taught that this is what we do, but you don’t know why.”
“Questioning is a very good thing,” said Bishop Boyea. “It is the only way you are going to make the faith your own. There is the risk that you won’t follow through and try to answer the questions, but if you do then you really make it your own.”
“As a people,” said Bishop Cistone, “we can be intimidated and be a little reticent to respond (to questions). I give kudos to those who are comfortable in their own shoes (and will respond).”
For another teen his problem is his uncle, who has joined another church, questions him about his faith and acts superior in his new beliefs.
“Again this is a case where we can only change ourselves,” said Bishop Boyea. “We can’t change anybody else. Be an example, pray for them, love them and be at peace.”
But, said one man, “you want to be that person who comes up with the right thing to say at the right time that will change their life. That is something I come up against all of the time. It is not about me, it is about the Holy Spirit. That is who will ultimately have a positive impact. You just need to be that joyful person that they look at one day and say, ‘There is just something different going on there.’ I think that is the best thing we can do, just be that living example of God’s love.”
Jesus was criticized for hanging around sinners, said Bishop Cistone, and now the Church is facing criticism for its own failings.
“I think that is a critical issue in our church, especially in the more recent years as our faults, failures and sinfulness have become just so well known,” he said. “The immediate response is, well, because of the sins anything you say is hypocritical. Lost in there is the whole notion of sin and forgiveness, with Christ coming and dying and rising to pardon our sins.
“I think the whole sense of forgiveness of sin is part and parcel of who we are. Christ pardoning sinners has a lot to do with it too and people needing the church. We’re not perfect but we’re the ones He came for. He came for sinners.”
He told about woman who checked out a mega-church. She said there was no Scripture and very little preaching but a lot of music. And all of it was centered on a personal relationship with Jesus. She said she even got caught up in that because, after all, who doesn’t want to have a personal, one-on-one relationship with Jesus?
“A lot of statistics show that they have big doors on these mega-churches;” said Bishop Boyea, “big front doors and they also have big back doors. People don’t stay with it. A lot of people come in but then they leave. They get a lot of turnover.”
One teen said his local mega-church was very one-on-one and “very causal. People were wearing shorts and flip-flops, even pajamas.”
“That says something about what people need, doesn’t it?” said Bishop Boyea. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to respond to everything, but it does say something about what they need. People are looking for something, affirmation of who they are as individuals. And they are not finding it in other places.”
One man said some people from other faiths seem to use the same 10 talking points to target the Catholic Church.
“We are the big target,” added Bishop Boyea.
So few other churches, said another man, realize it was the Catholic Church that decided to pull all of the writings together into the Bible. “So basically they are quoting from our book.”
Bishop Cistone said he hopes the young people, after they leave Jamboree and are back in school and feeling alone in their faith, will remember the people they were with at the event and the spirit and enthusiasm and faith they experienced and rely on that to help them stay strong. He has seen that with Diocese of Saginaw youth at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. They realize they are part of something larger when they enter the Verizon Center and are with 25,000 others at a Mass. He hopes they keep that feeling with them when they return to their parishes, especially those that are small and might have only four or five others their age.
Bishop Boyea: “Ditto.”