Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Use the Music
Music stays in your mind. That—s why this Youth
Update offers a little traveling music for your Lenten journey.
The musical themes you—re certain to be hearing (whatever
kind you prefer) offer a connection to the stories of Jesus— life,
death and resurrection. Listen for these themes in your favorite
music and look for them in your life.
You may wish to read this Youth Update very
slowly, just one section each full week of Lent. Use the music as
the melody of your week. Use it to help you remember the life of
Jesus and your connection to that life. Use the end of each section
to help you reflect.
Feel the Pain
As a result of this [Jesus' teachings], many
of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer
accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, —Do you also want
to leave?— (John 6:66-67).
Because Jesus was speaking about connections between
his own life and the bread of life (the Eucharist), people were
leaving him. Jesus almost sounds cynical when he asks, more or less,
Well, are you going to turn your back on me too?
Faith Hill also sounds a bit cynical as she sings
these questions in her song, Cry: Could you cry
a little? Lie just a little? Pretend that you—re feeling a little
Just as those lyrics put it, the worst thing about
feeling lonely or rejected is that, when it—s you in that emotional
state, you feel as if you—re the only one who—s ever been there.
That—s not true, of course. Everyone wonders sometimes if he or
she is likable at all. Even Jesus.
The day before Jesus— experience of rejection, he
had performed a spectacular miracle. With only five barley loaves
and two fish to work with, Jesus managed to feed thousands of people
(John 6:1-15). The crowds were ready to make him a king.
Now that the food is gone and Jesus has challenged
his followers with difficult teachings (see John 6:60), the crowd—s
attitude shifts. How must Jesus feel to see so many people turning
Maybe you—ve experienced feelings of loneliness and
rejection because you can—t find your niche. Maybe you—ve just found
out that someone you counted on isn—t really a friend at all. Maybe
the pressures of school, family and social activities just feel
like too much to handle right now.
It might help to remember how Jesus— story ends:
Simon Peter answered him [Jesus], —Master, to whom shall we
go? You have the words of eternal life— (6:68).
Oftentimes, when we reach out from those dark and
lonely places—as Jesus did—to someone who cares about us, we find
out we—re not really so alone after all.
Who do you turn to when things seem darkest? Have
you thanked them? Do you know someone going through a lonely time
who could really use a friend? Could you be that friend?
Week Two: Full of Forgiveness
My son—now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was
lost and has been found (Luke 15:31-32).
These are the words that the Father speaks to his
beloved older son in Jesus— parable of the Prodigal (lost) Son.
The rock-pop group No Doubt sings a similar message in Underneath
It All: You—ve used up all your coupons and all you—ve
got left is me and somehow I—m full of forgiveness.
No Doubt isn—t singing about fathers and sons, but
the issues bear comparison all the same. The song says, You
know some real bad tricks and you need some discipline. The
father of the prodigal son could say Amen to that.
The younger son had lost his sense of right and wrong
(and his father—s money) in a far-off city. Now he has returned
home to find his father joyful and his older brother angry. The
older son cannot understand how his father could throw a party for
his irresponsible brother.
The father sees things differently. Here is an opportunity
for the family to be whole again. Please join us, he
pleads with his angry son.
And so God the Father pleads with us. Have you noticed
lately how heavy that grudge you—re carrying has become?
Perhaps you—ve been hurt by a friend who—s really
sorry and whom you miss a great deal. If you could only let go of
your anger long enough to hear him or her out, your friendship could
come to life again. You might be angry with your mom or dad for
asking you to take on more responsibility than you—re ready to handle.
Has your brother or sister ruined a prized possession and you just
can—t get past the loss?
Forgiving means making a decision to let go of a
grudge because your relationship with the person is more important.
We never find out what the older son decides to do
in the story Jesus tells. We do know, however, that if he can—t
get past his anger he can—t join the party. And the field in which
he is standing is a cold and lonely place to spend the night.
Is there someone you miss very much and need to
forgive? Is there someone to whom you need to apologize?
Week Three: Making Progress
You shall love your neighbor as yourself
Most of us spend a lot of time struggling with the
first part of that biblical verse. But how about the second part?
Do you love yourself?
In Work in Progress, Alan Jackson appreciates
his own good qualities, few as they may seem to his wife. Loving
yourself does not mean that you are selfish or egotistical.
The person who constantly talks about how much better
he or she is than you are in sports or in science class or in getting
dates is not exhibiting self-love. Those kinds of people often don—t
feel good about themselves until they—ve made you feel bad.
The self-love Jesus is talking about comes from realizing
how delighted God is by you. You are a unique creation, and God
sees the magnificent potential for greatness within you. Do you
Maybe you have a special ability in math or in writing.
Perhaps you have a gift for athletics or sportsmanship. You may
have a great flair for painting, dancing, acting or public speaking.
Are you the person who makes others in your group
feel comfortable? Or who has the courage to speak the hard truths
to your friends when they need to hear them? Perhaps you have a
fascinating hobby or an extra-special helping of patience. You may
be the one called to serve God and the Church through a religious
If you—ve yet to figure out your particular talents,
this may be the week when God will give you vision. Let God remove
any heavy burden of feeling, I—m just not good enough.
You are loved and cherished more than you can imagine. God knows
that you, too, are a work in progress.
What are your gifts and talents? Have you complimented
Week Four: No Conditions
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them (Luke
Jesus— story about the Samaritan must have really
shocked some people. Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies. This
doesn—t matter, however, to the Samaritan in Jesus— parable. All
he sees in the injured Jewish man is a person who needs his help.
That—s what loving others is all about. You see a
person in need and you do what you can to help.
I swear I ain—t going nowhere, (I—m not
going to leave you) sings Musiq Soul Child to his girlfriend, who
thinks she has to deserve love by looking attractive.
Musiq says, My feelings are truly unconditional.
How about you? Can you express unconditionally positive
When that freshman comes to you asking how some school
system actually works, what do you see? A neighbor who
needs you—or an obstacle to getting to class on time? What do you
see when a friend who—s having a hard time asks you to sit and talk
for a few minutes? Or when your exhausted mom or dad asks you to
help around the house?
Do you ever take a few minutes just to ask your younger
brother and sister how things are going? Must the elderly woman
down the block shovel her own driveway of snow because she—s been
mean to you? Or can you offer your help to her anyway?
Loving your neighbor is not about doing heroic things—although
one day you just might. It—s about seeing a person for who he or
she really is—special just like you.
What is one nice thing I can do for a person in
need? One nice thing I can say?
Week Five: Moments With Meaning
The young man said to him [Jesus], —All of
these [commandments] I have observed. What do I still lack?—
At the end of her American Idol hit, "A Moment
Like This," Kelly Clarkson sings, People search for every
moment. Some people wait a lifetime. To most of those who
saw her on national TV, it seemed that she was singing about the
experience she was having right then. Yet the song makes sense on
It—s the same way with the experience of the rich
young man. He was also searching—for something missing from his
Like the young searcher who finds his way to Jesus
in Matthew—s story, you do the right thing more often than not.
The values that your parents or guardians have taught have become
a part of you—even when you wish they weren—t! Still, things don—t
always work out the way you want or expect them to work out.
Perhaps you—ve studied your hardest to get a good
grade on that history test, but there—s a guy in the third row who
cheated his way through. Or you—ve tried your hardest to make a
team only to get cut, while someone who hardly practiced made the
roster. You may have experienced the death of a beloved grandmother
or grandfather who didn—t get better despite your prayers.
When you hear about people flying planes into buildings
or about acts of violence or vandalism in your own community or
school, it—s only natural to wonder about what—s really going on.
What—s the point of being good? How can any of us make a difference?
This is a good week to do what that young man does.
Take your questions and struggles to Jesus. You can create moments
of happiness, moments with meaning.
What are the Big Questions you have for God right
now? Who are the people God has placed in your life to help you
on your search for meaning? How can they help you?
Week Six: Heaven Hears You
Jesus said to [the young man], —If you wish
to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and
you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me— (Matthew
I—m going to let you in on a secret that might shock
you. Some high school students are not delighted to go to Mass!
O.K., maybe that—s not such a big secret.
When I ask students who tell me this why they don—t
like to go to Mass, they often tell me that they—ve been there and
done that already. Nobody—s added any new chapters to the Bible
in a few thousand years. The Mass seems pretty much the same to
Look again. The basic teachings of our faith, the
basic structure of the Mass, are unchanging, but you aren—t. For
example, each time you reflect on a parable of Jesus, you bring
with you life experience that you didn—t have before.
You—ve probably memorized the Eighth Commandment
about not bearing false witness. Now, however, you know much more
about how much bearing false witness—in the form of
gossip and rumor—can hurt someone.
Your new life experiences may have caused you to
rethink your image of God as well. Perhaps you used to think of
God as a year-round Santa Claus. All you had to do was ask nicely
and you got what you wanted.
Now you know that prayer doesn—t work that way. Sometimes
the reason God lets certain things happen are hard to figure out.
Chad Kroeger can—t figure it out very well in Hero,
when he sings, Heaven don—t hear me.
Growing in faith means letting go of outdated images
of God so that you might form new ones that will serve you better.
The search for God that this process requires is sometimes
difficult because it—s hard letting go of things which are comfortable.
Remember how hard it was to give up that stuffed
animal or blanket you loved when you were little? Or how scary it
was to go from elementary school to junior high or to high school?
The young man goes away sad after speaking with Jesus
in the second part of Matthew—s story, probably thinking that it
was impossible to follow Jesus any more closely than he already
was. That—s never true, however.
To search for God is to receive an invitation to
enter into a deeper relationship. You—ll have to hold on to
the wings of eagles, as Chad Kroeger sings.
When you let yourself rest with that image (which
is very biblical), perhaps you can feel the faith and trust that
it would take to allow yourself to be carried into the sky by a
majestic bird. What a yes that takes!
As Jesus— advice to the young man points out, you
accept the invitation partly through prayer but also through giving
of yourself to others, confident that your love will make a difference.
When was the last time you spent some time in
prayer? What relationship in your life really needs your attention
right now? What is one particular way you might give of your time
and talents to help a particular person or your community?
Your musical journey through Lent is ending. Use
music to underline the message of every season—on the calendar and
in your life.
When I consider a song, it—s hard not to think of who—s singing
it. Are there some individuals or groups you just wouldn—t even consider
Some songs don—t call for a second listen! I don—t think it—s a
good practice to reject anything without some consideration, however. Jesus
certainly never worked that way. One complaint his enemies made against him was
that he spent too much time with offensive and undesirable people—sinners, tax
collectors and prostitutes. Listen critically. Ask yourself what message or
values the song seems to be promoting and if they—re consistent with your own
values. A singer or group that you really don—t like might still offer a song
that moves you in a good direction.
Using some of these songs for prayer is more of a stretch than
with some others. Do you really think it—s worth the trouble?
A song that contains an insight into truth based on human experience gets you
thinking. Reflecting more deeply on any aspect of your life can—t help but
bring you further into the mystery of God. God uses all people—including people
with musical talents—to communicate. One complaint people of faith often make
is that our culture is too secular. Authentic religious belief doesn—t get
enough attention in the media. Looking for a spiritual meaning within a secular
song turns the tables. When you find a deeper meaning in the popular music you
already enjoy, then every time you hear that song, that message will replay in
In some ways, popular songs and parables are alike—they lack
important details! Aren—t we supposed to care about details?
Songs and parables leave
details out as an invitation to fill them in for yourself! The very act of
doing that draws us into the story. Stay with questions like the one you posed
here and you—ll find yourself looking at your own beliefs about justice and forgiveness—and
whether they mirror Jesus— teaching. Your comparison is really insightful!
People remembered Jesus— parables because they had the same qualities that make
many songs popular: They were brief and easy to understand and talked about
real struggles and experiences. Not every song is a parable, but some artists
give their listeners lots to think about after the music fades.
Broering (17), Christine Homan (17), Stephanie Schmackers (14) and Kyle Seitz
(16) met at St. Sebastian—s in St. Sebastian, Ohio, to consider this edition of
Youth Update, to recommend changes and pose questions for the author. Sandy Niekamp, volunteer
youth minister, extended the invitation.