I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Mt 28:18, 20)
Objective: To recognize that the history of each faith community is intimately connected to God's history of salvation.
This year of Jubilee marks an incredible, unrepeatable opportunity for young people to join together with the entire Church as it reflects on and celebrates 2000 years of Christ's presence in the world. Jubilee gets its roots from the Hebrew Scriptures; every seventh year was a special year of repentance, forgiveness and new beginnings. Farmers even let their lands lie fallow, no crops were planted. The land was given a rest so as to rise up the next season with new life, bringing better and more bountiful crops.
This session prepares young people to participate in and celebrate the great Jubilee of 2000. This process begins by inviting teens to reflect on their Christian identity and how it has been formed. By discovering and sharing with each other the significant people and experiences that have shaped their faith lives, they will begin to realize and appreciate their own and each other's unique social and cultural histories. They will begin to discover and realize that the Father, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, are the universal unifiers of our world today. "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit" (I Cor 12:13).
If this session is conducted in Advent, do not miss the opportunity to tie the season to this theme. Advent is our annual time of preparation for and anticipation of celebrating the great mystery and miracle of the Incarnation; God becoming human, entering our world as one of us, and showing us God's great love. The Advent wreath and the lighting of the candles remind us of this yearly time where we wait in great hope and anticipation for the coming of our Savior in our lives today. This session marks the beginning of your group's preparation for and anticipation of celebrating the great Jubilee. So light the candles, pray, and prepare for this awesome experience!
When inviting young people to this session, ask them to talk with their parents, siblings, and/or relatives about the significant family and/or cultural celebrations associated with the family's faith life. Have the teens seek information about baptismal celebrations, first Eucharist and reconciliation, confirmation, and other significant cultural religious events. You can even ask teens to bring pictures of themselves and their family members from these events.
Welcome and Prayer (15 minutes)
Have upbeat music playing in the background as participants arrive. Greet participants warmly, inviting them to either make their own name tag (out of construction paper and markers) or to fill one out by writing in their first name in large letters. If participants bring pictures with them, have a space on the wall or have a couple of large tables covered with sheets of newsprint. Invite participants to put their pictures up on the wall or on the table (using masking tape or glue sticks) and identify them by writing a brief description on the newsprint directly beneath each picture. Begin the session by gathering everyone in front of the wall or table of pictures. Welcome everyone to the session. Go around the room and give everyone a chance to introduce themselves. Finally, begin with a simple prayer and a song, such as David Haas's "Cancion del Cuerpo de Cristo/Song of the Body of Christ" (Gather II, GIA Publications, 1998) or play the song "God is Bigger" from the CD by Jesse Manibusan (OCP Publications).
Sharing Our Experiences (40 minutes)
Each one of us has grown up with different traditions. Just think of the way your family celebrates holidays and the ways your friends' families celebrate the same holidays. These traditions of our families, of our communities, of our culture, and of our Church shape the very heart of who we are as individuals. Today, we find our lives influenced more and more by a great variety of cultures. These different histories and traditions offer us great opportunities for growth as we try to appreciate different music, different foods, different behaviors, different ways of doing things. As the saying goes: variety is the spice of life! At the same time, these differences can also create problems as we try to respect and include all these traditions. For Catholic Christians, it is Jesus Christ who brings all these different traditions together and gives them unity. No matter what color we are, no matter what language we speak, no matter what nationality we claim, no matter where we or our family members were born, each one of us can trace our roots in faith back to Jesus through the Church. In these past 2000 years, what began with a little baby born to a virgin in the little town of Bethlehem has become a body of believers that has grown in every age of humankind since then and that now spans every corner of our world. As unique as we all are, we are united in our faith through Jesus. Each believer, no matter where he/she resides, no matter what language he/she speaks, no matter what cultural traditions are part of his/her life, is a brother or sister to every other unique believer. Nothing in this world has ever united more people and affected so many as this Church of Jesus Christ! Sharing our personal histories helps us to understand that we play an important part in God's history of salvation.
NOTE: Depending on the size of the group, decide if this discussion can be done in one group with all participants or if it would be better to divide the participants into smaller groups.
Reflecting on Our Faith Tradition (40 minutes)
Invite participants to find a comfortable spot in the room at least a full arm's (and leg's) distance from anyone else. As participants move to their spot, begin playing a tape or CD with relaxing, meditative instrumental music (volume should be such that you can talk over it and be heard). Invite participants to quiet down, close their eyes and to breathe slowly ... taking a breath in ... and letting it out. In ... and out. As participants continue this breathing, ask them if they can hear their heartbeat.
When you feel they are relaxed and focused, tell participants that in this special year of Jubilee, you will all discover more and more about not only people's individual experiences, but also what "we, the Church" believe and why we believe it. Ask participants as they continue to keep their eyes closed and keep their breathing slow and steady - to listen carefully to this installment of Our Faith Tradition.
You and I are living in a very special moment in the history of humanity, the welcoming of a new millennium. This may sound trite, but no one else will experience this event for another thousand years! This historic moment is very important for Christians as we not only welcome the new millennium but also celebrate the birth of Christ two thousand years ago.
Pause for about 20 seconds and then invite everyone to slowly return their thoughts to this evening and open their eyes. If you used small groups in the "Sharing Our Experiences" section, invite participants to return to these groups.
Time is a dimension of basic importance to Christianity. We speak of "the beginning of time" when the world and humankind were created. We speak of "the end times" when Jesus returns to our world and the fullness of God's Reign is realized. And for everything in between, we recognize Jesus Christ as the Lord of history. We believe that Jesus walks by our side every day and that he gives direction and hope to our lives. We believe this because, as recorded in Matthew's gospel, Jesus told us "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt 28:20).
This simple truth has tremendous value to us as we find ourselves living in a world often plagued by incredible problems and painful events, events that sometimes lead us to even question the very meaning of life. We all have heard stories of others or maybe even experienced ourselves being denied the very necessities and opportunities of life simply because of skin color. We all have seen the images of innocent young people gunned down while they eat lunch at school. We know families whose lives have been torn apart by sickness, death, suicide, separation, divorce and the aching loneliness that follows. Every day we see images of the pain inflicted on children and families by hunger, poverty and war.
All this would cause any human being to lose heart. But Christians never lose hope. We believe that these evils will be overcome. We believe that someday we will see those who have mourned be truly comforted, those who have suffered for the sake of justice in our world truly satisfied, those who have had much sorrow in their life truly rejoicing. The Reign of God will truly be realized!
(At the end of the song, as the final chorus begins and then is echoed until the song's end, lower the music and speak the text below over the music.)
To believe Christ is the Lord of history and he has conquered death and sin is to accept God's invitation to see the history of the world as God sees it. Each one of us right here in this room is called to believe all God's promises will one day be realized. We are called to have the strength to bear personal suffering and the suffering of our neighbor. We are called to recognize the wonders of God throughout human history and throughout our own lives. We are called to give our life with love in order to build a better world. We are called to believe that the history of humanity has its meaning in Christ for all human history is a great pilgrimage of return to the house of God.
When everyone is ready, begin the discussion with these questions
Putting Our Faith into Action (40 minutes)
As Catholic Christians, we know that it is the daily action of Holy Spirit in our lives that graces us with the gift of unity in Christ. This simple but awesome truth helps us to understand the importance of knowing each other and our faith stories, for this is how we build our faith communities. When we share our stories, we recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit, and that ultimately joins our stories with the whole history of salvation. When just one member of our community is ignored, absent, not welcomed, not appreciated, or denied involvement because he/she is too young, does not speak the right language, is not of the same race or sex, does not wear the right clothes, is not of the same social status, we are incomplete. To be a follower of Jesus is to see Christ in each one of our brothers and sisters. To call ourselves "Christian" demands that we see them, recognize them, know them, accept them and love them as they are! Only then can our faith community experience the wholeness and the unity to which we are called.
(Suggestion: do the first action listed below and then choose from the others. If the group is large enough, some people could do one thing and others could do another. Feel free to add other possible action steps to the list.)
Gathering Our Experiences (15 minutes)
Celebrating Our Faith as a Community (25 minutes)
Finish off the session by offering light refreshments. Encourage teens to check out the wall of photos, and to take their pictures home with them.
For Those Attending WYD 2000
While in Rome for WYD 2000, the incredible opportunity to meet and to hear the faith stories of young people from all over the world cannot be underestimated. As your group continues to prepare for WYD 2000, talk about how you might meet other young people from other countries and exchange faith stories with them. Find out what languages members of your group speak and focus on trying to meet young people from countries where these languages are spoken. Try to hook up with some young people beforehand via the Internet, email and regular mail. As you collect these stories, here are a few ideas on what you can do with them: