On Wednesday 22 August at the World Meeting of Families Congress in the RDS Bishop Denis was delighted to present to young people Catechesis on Family and Faith in an Age of Consumerism.

Below is the text of his talk and the associated images used on screen.

World Meeting of Families 2018 – Catechesis – Teen Global Village         22.08.18

Families of Faith in an Age of Consumerism

I am honoured to have been invited by Dermot Kelly and his team to join you as guest catechist this Wednesday morning. I am doubly glad that this happens to be our Diocesan Day at the WMOF2018! Hands up those from Kildare & Leighlin!

These are the young people with whom in my short five years as Bishop in the Diocese I have travelled to World Youth Day in Krakow in the summer of 2016; these are the young people who have accompanied me to Lourdes on our first two Diocesan Pilgrimages ever, the most recent one last month; these are the young people who have completed the Pope John Paul II Award in our Diocese; these are the young people who have being commissioned as Meitheal Leaders; these are the young people I have met on Graduation Evenings around Leaving Cert Exams who got their results last Wednesday and of course these are the young people I have confirmed in our 56 parishes.

Meeting young people gives me great energy. Meeting young people keeps Pope Francis young. Pope Francis loves encountering young people. Someone once described him as our typical ‘grandad’, dishing out advice to us, some of it we will want to heed, more of it we would prefer not to hear, but we know it makes great sense and is good for us.

In World Youth Day Krakow at the eve of the All-Night Vigil Pope Francis warned us not to become couch potatoes: “The times we live in do not call for young ‘couch potatoes’ but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced. It only takes players on the first string, and it has no room for bench warmers”. He warned teenagers and young people against “sofa-happiness” which he called “the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis“. In Amoris Laetitia he continues this theme red-flagging: “extreme individualism which weakens family bonds and ends up considering each member of the family as an isolated unit”. What’s the end result our beautiful personalities are shaped entirely and absolutely by our desires. As the younger child who hasn’t learned to share yet, says to her two year old brother who fumbles with her toy: “that’s mine” and repeats it at a higher octave as World War III is about to break out!

‘Families of Faith in an Age of Consumerism’ – it is a very powerful title for catechesis, but what exactly does it mean? We know what family is and we know what faith is. We all come from families of faith, some have a strong faith and a very good commitment to regular worship and practice. They enjoy a very fulfilled prayer life. Others may not. No family is perfect, mine or yours, no family falls from the sky in a pristine condition.

I think of my own family, growing up in Slane in County Meath. We never missed Mass. We were piled into the car on a Sunday morning, I the youngest sat in the middle at the front between both my parents, sitting precariously on the break handle, not exactly a comfortable position and not exactly abiding by todays rules on ‘Health’ and ‘Safety’! My mother was the strong person of a simple unwavering faith who encouraged us to pray the Rosary as children using the kitchen chairs for support as we knelt on the cold kitchen floor, leaning against the back of the kitchen chairs. My dad was first in the car for Mass; my mam was first to suggest on a drive “we would say the Rosary and have it said”. I continue that tradition today, many times on my own in the car.

Consumerism is that bit more complicated. The Dictionary definition might run like this: “the protection or promotion of consumer’s interests”. We associate consumerism with brands, with gadgets, with technology, with apps. It’s not enough to have trainers, they must be the right brand; it’s not enough to have a phone, it must be a smartphone; I’m told it’s not enough today for teenage girls to have HD brows, they have now moved on to micro-blading. We have allowed consumerism to consume people, relationships, friendships. We have permitted consumerism to introduce new verbs into our conversation: “I’ll whatsapp you later”, “you’ll snapchat that”, “we’ll face-time tonight”.

Pope Francis didn’t just wait until Amoris Laetitia to speak about this topic and his concern around this area, several times he has commented in weekly audiences and in homilies how consumerism today determines what is important. I would suggest it is probably one of his most recurring themes, castigating a hedonistic and consumerist society and it’s consequent culture of indifference. A society that will discard everything that is no longer useful or satisfying for the tastes of consumers. Of course, only if we let it and if we let it we are in for a great impoverishment in society.

So how might Families of Faith exist and thrive in this Age of Consumerism? Inspired by Amoris Laetitia and my experience as a priest of thirty years and a Bishop of five years I’m going to offer you five pointers:

  1. In your teenage years you are already developing deep and lasting friendships with your peers. Never exploit or use a friend. Be careful how you use social media, social media brings with it a history and informs your history whether you like it or not. In time to come a potential employer may check up your social media history, don’t compromise yours or your friends. Not everything needs to go on facebook. In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis decries the “culture of the ephemeral”, defining it as “the speed with which people move from one affective relationship to another”. Love cannot be connected or disconnected like at the whim of a consumer; we can’t just suddenly “block” or “unfollow” someone, plug them in and plug them out. These are people we are dealing with, they are not possessions, they are personalities.
  1. Pope Francis suggests as an antidote to the current consumerist mentality for teenagers to set aside a moment of silence to be with God every day. In the current film ‘Pope Francis A Man of His Word’, which I highly recommend Pope Francis suggests young people need to take the foot off the accelerator once a week and spend time with family. That is why Sunday is a ‘Day of Rest’, not a day of feverish and fanatic activity like the rest of the week. A family’s living space can “turn into a domestic church, a setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ seated at its table”. Quoting from the Book of Revelation we are reminded: “behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and eat with him, and he with me”. Imagine if we weren’t at home, too distracted, too preoccupied, too caught up in ourselves to open that door? In his message for World Youth Day celebrated at diocesan level earlier this year Pope Francis suggests “prayerful silence is needed in order to hear the voice of God that resounds within our conscience”. May none of us be afraid of this prayerful silence.
  1. The word “tenderness” is used beautifully throughout Amoris Laetitia. Our experience of family life can be challenging and even chaotic but family is also the place where most of us first encounter love and tenderness. The Taize chant has that beautiful refrain: “Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est”: where love exists, God is present. I think of the radio advertisement for the Insurance Company 123.ie and the dad is stepping out of the shower as his daughter barges into the bathroom. After the usual grabbing of a towel the dad says: “Can a man have no peace in his own home”. To which the daughter replies: “I want therapy from this family”. There isn’t a family here at the World Meeting of Families in the RDS that doesn’t have a dodgy shower door! Tenderness leaves room for healing, for mercy, for forgiveness. Our culture is obsessed with the freedom of the individual to make the choices he or she wants. Satisfying my pleasure takes precedence. This kind of attitude leads down the path of pornography, experimenting with our bodies and using people for pleasure that are discarded in the mindset that “everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop”. A little like the jar of Boyne Valley Honey I pour on my porridge every morning! Pope Francis further speaks of “the current spread of pornography and the commercialisation of the body, fostered by a misuse of the internet”. His message and mine: don’t get swallowed up in an individualistic frame, be a young man or young woman, a young person who is tender and soft and not hard-hearted and manipulative. Someone who is tender is open to being healed and open to forgiveness, no matter what road you have gone down to date, now is the time to change direction.
  1. I mentioned earlier the amount of young people Bishops are privileged to meet on Confirmation days. I speak not only about the eleven, twelve, thirteeen year old being confirmed, but even more so their older siblings in later Secondary school years or early years at College. This year at every Confirmation ceremony I spoke about our unique finger prints. You might take a moment to bring your hand close to your face and consider your fingerprints.  Fingerprints are unique to you.  When did they first form?  Much earlier that we might imagine. Likewise, our own heartbeat, when did it begin?  All of this is determined in the womb, long before birth. Indeed, it is coded into our first cells. Some of the most committed people I meet who speak so movingly on the beauty of life are young people. I encourage you, more than ever, to speak for life in your classroom, in your assembly, in your debates. Pope Francis reminds us “the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed”. No matter what wording is inserted or taken out of a constitution, we don’t have the power to take life. May we make our homes places where life is respected from the little one in the womb to grandad in the corner by the fireside.
  1. A week ago to the day some of you may have received State Exam results. You are worth more than any grade. Every one of you are made in God’s image and likeness. God loves you as you are, not a product, but a person; not a piece of merchandise but a beautiful personality; not a passing fad but someone who is immediately present and precious. I love the line in St. Luke that reads: “Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows”. Never forget that. Your families love you. Your Parish loves you. Your Diocese loves you. Your Community loves you. And if any of us or all of us have let you down in the past, see this World Meeting as a nexus point to begin again this connection, this relationship built on faith. Don’t forget St. Luke: “every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows”. Some of us are finding the hair up here harder to count and you have wonderful heads of hair, remember each of you are loved by God and precious to Him.

A prayer I offer every Wednesday night, a prayer given to me by the wonderful Poor Clare community in Graiguecullen, Carlow, a prayer I will offer for each of you tonight reads:

I thank you Lord for creating me” (St. Clare’s dying words)

Help me to see myself as you see me,
life-giving God.
You made me as I am:
you delight in my creation.
You do not ask me to be strong,
you simply ask me to be yours.
I thank you, dear Lord.
Amen