Tue. Oct 27th, 2020

At home, I can never quite tell what will cause the next chorus of chuckles, or who will provide a symphony of snickers. Laughter emanating from another part of the house usually prompts my curiosity, to see what was so funny and to hopefully join in on the joyfulness.
On one particular day this past summer, my wife was in hysterics over a show on Netflix that she had discovered called “Nailed It!” For those unfamiliar with this streaming program, it is a baking and competition show for those who aren’t bakers, judged by professional and award-winning bakers, where the contestants have to create their versions of elaborately designed and well executed pastries. Failure inevitability follows, as cakes fall over or steps are not followed properly. The finished products, when compared to the immaculate models, prompted my wife’s fit of giggles.
However, the failures are not downplayed or cast in a negative light. In fact, the slipups are celebrated with a joyful, “Nailed It!” from the effervescent host or even the candidates themselves. The show is edited in such a way that the viewer is actively hoping for the candidates to not only try their best, but also to provide mistakes of epic proportions so that the “Nailed It!” payoff will be bigger and better. Messing up and not being the best at this particular task is in the fabric of the show.
When one compares that spirit with what is seen on social media, it is a stark portrayal of what is real and what is not. Granted, “Nailed It!” is a reality show that is heavily edited but has a great appearance of having real people baking real products that look nothing like the professional cakes presented. For the sake of my greater point, please permit me a small suspension of belief that reality shows are, in fact, reality.
Social media allows the users to present what they want one to see, polishing their lives and making things appear in one particular way. The photo sharing app, Instagram, is great for showing friends and loved ones what users are doing; however, filters and editing software can be used heavily, even to the point of creating the illusion that the user is in an exotic location when they are not. Influencers grow in popularity. A certain lifestyle and ascetic based on a photography app that works with Instagram —VSCO girl — is becoming more prevalent. Social media allows young people to present a filtered view of their lives to their parents, friends, and the Internet as a whole.
Teens in middle school and high school are challenged to be authentic and genuine, especially as many of them are discovering the true answer to the question, “Who am I?” We walk with them as they hopefully discover that first and foremost, they are a unique, unrepeatable, and loved child of God. Teenage years are a time of self-discovery, but that discovery must be rooted in the one who gives them their deepest identity, that as they look at themselves in a mirror, they are seeing the image and likeness of God.
It’s when young people reflect on a further question — “Who am I called to be?” — that requires discernment, mentorship, and faithful witnesses. Our youth need parents and trusted adults to model an authentic and genuine discipleship. To model an authentic faith life requires that each of us actually lives our faith life and seek sainthood through our own vocations.
We hear in the Gospel of Luke the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying at the Temple. While the Pharisee makes a big show of his prayer, the tax collector quietly and reverently makes a heartfelt prayer. Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) Unfortunately, many of us could recognize disciples like the Pharisee, and perhaps we have fallen into that trap ourselves. Just like social media, we can choose to present an inaccurate portrayal of our faith life, acting in public one way with our true faith looking quite different.
Yet, like the tax collector, we are capable of humbling ourselves and presenting our true selves, faults and all, to God. This generation of young people has a growing sense of fear and anxiety, often tied to a crippling fear of failure. Our society does not celebrate or normalize failure, so our young people are becoming trained to find their self-worth and self-identity in perfection. In other words, their beliefs and behaviors can morph into a carefully filtered way of life that minimizes the failures and accents a perceived perfection.
Parents and adults who accompany our young people are challenged to model authentic discipleship and to be disciples themselves. Show a teen or a child the way to pray, devotions to have, and saints to ask for their intercession. One of the most significant acts that an adult can make is to frequent the sacrament of Reconciliation. It not only shows a young person that we are sinful and in need of reconciling ourselves to God and the Church, but it is ultimately good for the soul. The model is secondary to the graces received.
This week, let us look for ways to recognize our failures, to approach them with a resolved sense to better ourselves, and to ask our merciful God for forgiveness. In short, how can we be more like the tax collector than the Pharisee in that parable?
Hopefully, our young people will be watching and seeing the adults in their lives being authentic and genuine, which may inspire them to live a life unfiltered. Our discipleship may not be a perfect model, but when our young people strive for holiness themselves with their own gifts and talents – nailed it!
— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at aganucheau@mobarch.org
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