Teaching Confirmation classes to 11th graders can be challenging. You cannot get much reaction or gauge interest. Last week I taught a lesson about where the Holy Spirit can be found in their lives. I issued a challenge at the end of class for these students to use the gift of the Holy Spirit, which they will receive soon, to move off “meh” or, put another way, indifference.
In a video, Fr. Mike Schmitz describes it way better than I. “It’s not that a person doesn’t care. It’s that they don’t care enough.” It makes all the difference. For them, it can probably be seen in a fellow student struggling on a particular day. You do not have to know the back story or the gossip, but maybe on that day, they need a smile instead of whispers. Or, at a minimum, they do not anyone to pile on.
Even the top athlete, smartest person in the class, or the Homecoming king or queen could use a little of this. Or the biggest, quietest person who always stands in back or the person with obvious struggles, be it economic, mental, spiritual, physical or all of the above.
We talked about all the mistakes they might make and absences they may have from church attendance, but they will always be welcome. I also assured them that how others judge them is different than God. I thought they needed to hear that God can see through a social media profile and all the fancy filters on your phone. God is not fake like all that stuff.
And, really important, He knows when they are hurt. They are never alone. All this is worth more than a “meh” when it comes to faith and Confirmation. I am realistic. I know Confirmation likely may not be circled as big on their calendars as prom. But, I do not want them to be “meh” when it comes to opportunities in their daily lives to move past indifference.
“The most deadly poison of our time is indifference.” St. Maximilian Kolbe
Indifference is the worst. When people are hurt, no matter the age, having friends and family be indifferent makes a person feel small and without value. Too often we hear things like “get over it,” and “move on.” But, it is not anyone’s right to say that hurt did not happen or judge its severity. The pain, when this happens, is overwhelming because it comes from a much more personal place. We cannot fail to acknowledge each other. It is OK to take up space, and not shrink yourself just because others believe that what you feel is wrong and that your opinion does not matter. Kids need to learn this early. Otherwise, we live in a world where we see, and we feel, but just not enough.
We think of cancel culture regarding celebrities and social media, but it happens every day. Cancelling someone as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure. It does not work. It is a tool of indifference. Among teenagers it is hurtful because of the unfortunate emphasis on things like Snapchat and Instagram. I heard on the radio on the way to work on Tuesday morning that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. We look, but we do not see. We hear, but we do not listen. We make assumptions without facts and fill in blanks without truth. We seek “likes” for attention, but fail to recognize the person standing right next to us.
Fr. Mike Schmitz explains this as having a circle of interest vs. a circle of influence. It is one thing to be interested in lots of stuff and have busy lives, but those are just empty distractions. Meanwhile, within our circle of influence, we could make a real difference, but that involves action and accepting a responsibility to act. He goes further and explains that many people say they care and appear to care, but then stop. They do not take the next step; they pass on opportunities to make a difference because to do that would cost something. (Fr. Mike Schmitz “The Poison of Indifference” podcast 7/18/2021). Regrettably, because it involves change, and putting their phone down, they do not move past indifference. But, we cannot say “meh” just because it is hard, or involves change.
Pope Francis talked about it recently at his general audience at the Vatican. He said, “It makes no sense to accumulate if one day we will die. What we must accumulate is love, and the ability to share, the ability not to remain indifferent when faced with the needs of others.”
I saw a story about an idea for children. When a family is experiencing difficulties at home, large or small, and the children head to school, the parents or guardians can text the teacher “handle with care.” No explanations. No details needed. What if each of us, during Lent, look at each other as though each of us have a note, large and bold on our shirts, foreheads, or wherever, that says “handle with care”? Odds are we need it and it would get us a little closer to moving away from “meh.”
While I do not expect these young people will be leading Bible Study after Confirmation next month, I hope they will find opportunities – people, places – where they can take a step forward. Maybe listen a little more intentionally, see where the Holy Spirit is working in their lives, and be moved to act – not with the express goal of changing the world, but to show someone that they have worth and they matter. That alone will change the world, whether they know it or not.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.