Youth Meaning and Purpose Fostered Through Faith Experiences
Adolescents think deeply about their identity and their interaction with others and society.
What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? How do I ‘fit’ into society?
These are questions that resonate with young people as they interact with their peers and adults in an increasingly complex world. How does one manage these thoughts in the midst of forming relationships, questioning one’s identity of who they are and what they believe in, and what values resonate personally?
Individuals can find meaning in family, work or study, relationships or service of others yet one can argue that when these material and emotive aspects of our lives become challenged, displaced or fractured then individual mental health and wellbeing can be compromised. Think of an individual you know that has or is trying to overcome a lack of connection or disruption in their lives. It is not easy.
Religion plays an important role in our individual lives to connect to a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
But, are the youth of today interested in the formality and traditions of faith? Census statistics and church attendance rates highlight the number of practicing Catholics is indeed declining, particularly amongst youth. If not in a Catholic setting surrounded by youth one could settle that young people do not want to associate with religion.
I challenge this assumption.
As a Catholic school, Salesian College’s in many ways is counter cultural – we unashamedly promote that we are a joy-filled Catholic learning community; a parish that evangelises. Our religious education curriculum and programs, centred on the Oratory designed in the spirit of Don Bosco’s original construct of faith-based education in Turin Italy in the 1800s, provides our boys with the important message that religion and spirituality has a place in their lives.
As a College, we have been blessed this year with the celebration of 100 years of Salesian education in Australia, a visit from the Rector Major Fr Artime Fernandez (now announced Cardinal by Pope Francis) and last week hosted the relic of Don Bosco at Chadstone.
As an educator in Catholic schools for almost 25 years and a Catholic I share with you one of the most profound spiritual experiences in my personal life and professional career from last Wednesday.
Together with student leaders and colleagues, I participated in the welcome and mass of the relic of Don Bosco’s arrival to Salesian College Chadstone.
The first-class relic, a small piece of Don Bosco’s brain, is of immense reverence as it helps remind individuals of the holiness of a saint, and the fulfillment of God’s work. In the Catholic Church, relics make sense to us because of our belief that, at death, life is changed not ended, and so no-one ever stops existing. We can even pray to the saints and our loved ones in heaven to intercede for us – that is, to ask God for good things on our behalf.
Our Salesian youth experienced a spiritual encounter with God last week.
As we collectively prayed in the school’s top quadrangle and encircled the casket containing the relic of St John Bosco there was a sense that we were drawn to Don Bosco and his spiritual influence.
Our boys accepted and responded to the invitation to pray.
A student guard of honour amplified the mystery as Don Bosco was wheeled from the quadrangle to the College Chapel.
Mass in the Chapel further evoked emotion and a sense of God’s presence, as College Rector Fr Joe Binh Dinh stated, “We are lucky to have the opportunity to have St John Bosco come to us to experience God”.
As mass concluded and the final hymn echoed across the Chapel, students stood to light a candle, without instruction or example, before proceeding to show genuine love and joy to Don Bosco by kissing or touching the glass casket, genuflecting, and maintaining silence.
All students were welcome to come forward for this ritual, all were able to participate. Indeed, every boy and colleague present, regardless of their faith and culture (whilst Catholic, Salesian has many faiths and cultures in the community) felt compelled to light a candle and to be present with St John Bosco. There was deep care, love, respect and compassion. A loving kindness.
For those in attendance it was very clear that the youth present were not only demonstrating, but they were willing to openly express their faith.
It gives me a great sense of hope and optimism for society’s future that our young people are drawn to religion, spirituality or a personal faith experience. Our beliefs and how we express them through ritual, symbols and experiences enables a deeper sense of meaning and purpose leading to a stronger identity.
An identity where one can “be who you are and be that well” (St Francis de Sales).