By Laura Melius
Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
The youth of the Diocese of Sioux Falls are responding to the call to be lifelong Catholic missionary disciples, using their God-given gifts as they grow in faith and serve their parishes and communities. No matter the size of the parish or the age of the parishioner, God is counting on all of us to share the gifts he has given.
Know your gifts
The first step in sharing gifts is to identify them. Caleb Honner, parishioner at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Sioux Falls, suggests one of the best ways to do this is to serve others. Through serving on retreats, Caleb recognized two specific gifts in himself: the gift of joyful service and the gift of understanding difficult teachings.
“I first found my gift for serving others when I started to help on retreats, like SEARCH retreats, here in Sioux Falls,” Caleb said. “I identified it when I started to find a joy of serving God by helping others get to know him. I found my gift for understanding difficult teachings from many of my friends. There would be this hard teaching that they would have trouble understanding, and I would be able to understand the teaching and what it taught.”
Jessica Boekelheide, parishioner at All Saints Parish in Mellette, discovered one of her gifts when she started serving as a lector at children’s Masses in fourth grade. She later became a parish lector in junior high, which she continues today.
“My parents encouraged me to start lectoring when I was younger, and this has increased my involvement in the parish,” Jessica said. “I would urge youth to try a variety of things and see where the Lord is calling them.”
As Jessica grew older, more gifts became evident, which led to another opportunity to serve.
“When my mom noticed my eagerness to share the faith and my patience with others, she encouraged me to help teach religious education at my parish,” she recalled. “I have learned so much from the religious education teachers whom I have helped, and God’s gifts continue to grow in me.”
Youth groups and other faith-filled groups can be another way for youth to identify their gifts. The adults who lead these groups can offer invaluable support.
“Our high school youth program [at O’Gorman High School] is very encouraging of continuing a relationship with Christ,” Caleb said. “I remember when I started to follow Christ at the start of freshman year, I relied only on my friends and my own will.”
As he looks back, Caleb said he now realizes that the spiritual life was sometimes more difficult than he had anticipated. He could have benefited from the extra support from his parish, which he did eventually seek.
“I wish I would’ve done it sooner. Having a spiritual mentor within the staff at my parish is something that has helped me to grow and to stay encouraged, even when I feel like I want to give up,” he said.
Taking the initiative
Once we recognize our gifts, we should take action to use them to grow in faith and encourage others. A group that formed two years ago at All Saints Parish has been a great source of encouragement for Jessica and her peers.
“Our post-confirmation class, which we named TLC for Teens Loving Christ, meets to learn about Catholicism and to grow in prayer,” Jessica said. “Currently, we are studying apologetics. This study has increased my love for Christ and my trust in Christ.”
Denise Clemens, leader of TLC, was their former confirmation teacher.
“The inspiration came from the youth themselves. Knowing they were ‘finished’ after confirmation just did not seem right,” Denise explained. “Father Tom Anderson advised wisely that when we have saints in our midst, we need to do all that we can to help them grow in their faith. Creating a post-confirmation group was inspired by the Holy Spirit, created by faith-filled youth and developed by a supporting parish family.”
The TLC youth soon discovered ways they wanted to serve their parish through new events and more opportunities for prayer. Events such as an annual Rosary Walk (pictured opposite page), monthly 12-hour adoration, and leading the Rosary before Mass have all been warmly supported by parishioners.
Jessica has especially appreciated her time spent at adoration.
“My parish’s overnight Saturday adoration has brought me closer to the Lord through prayer and silence,” she shared.
Parishioners of all ages have participated by signing up to pray for an hour through the first Saturday night of each month.
“If the event fails, it fails, but if it flourishes, the whole parish benefits,” Denise said. “The faith of our youth is an inspiration for me to do what I can to help foster that faith. The individual gifts of our youth are a treasure that is encouraged and utilized.”
Inspiring each other
By supporting older youth, the faith lives of younger students who look up to them is also bolstered, providing a strong future for our parishes. As a younger student, Caleb noticed the joy experienced in his parish’s youth group.
“I could see this joy in these youths that were just being themselves. Just being themselves, not what they want their friends to think of them, but their true authentic self is a gift to our parishes,” he said.
Now, as a high school student, Caleb learns from the youngest members of his parish.
“Younger kids especially have the energy and joy to show small little things, these little gifts, that could be meaningless to many, but it brings out the gifts in others,” he said.
Jessica agreed, as she has learned from the young children at All Saints through her years of assisting in teaching religious education.
“Although youth may be limited in physical ways, they can serve the Church,” Jessica said. “Their vibrancy and playfulness are true gifts to be cherished. Hopefully, children can remind us of our child-like dependency on God. The faith of the youth is a great gift to parishes, especially as the youth lift the Church in prayer.”
Additionally, the size of the parish should never determine a young person’s ability to identify their gifts or to share them.
“It doesn’t matter how many youth a parish may have, all have something to give,” Caleb said. “When youth are together, a parish is more lively. This is a gift from God that I hope every parish may have. I know for parishes in smaller towns there may not be as many youth as the bigger towns, but the youth are still a gift no matter how many there are. They are loved by God and have many gifts to share with others around them.”
Ask God for help
What if, despite exploring these options, it’s still difficult for youth to identify their unique gifts? Jessica recognizes it may be difficult to recognize God-given gifts in middle or high school.
“I would encourage youth to ask the Lord for gifts and to ask him to reveal those gifts to them,” she said. “Gifts often don’t appear overnight. Instead, we grow into them as they become part of our personality. The Lord wants to give us great graces, but we must ask and be ready to receive.”
Caleb also encourages youth to look at the areas they are passionate about.
“God wants you to be happy, and usually where your heart is drawn toward passionately, the Lord will give gifts,” he said. “Even if you don’t see a gift within you, someone else who knows you knows that you have a gift. Some may have similar gifts to you, but the gift for you is totally unique. You may not know why right away, but over time, it will be revealed to you.”
No matter what gifts are revealed in our youth, they are all given by God to show his unfailing love to the world.
“A gift that everyone receives is God’s love,” Caleb said. “We sometimes reject this amazing gift, myself included. This is a gift that God will never take away from us. Use his gift of love to love others where it might be hard.”
As our youth continue to find and share their gifts, we can all support and encourage them in their faith journeys. The result will be a stronger parish of lifelong missionary disciples from which all will benefit.