Today, we are going to focus on the seed that fell on the rocks. Jesus tells us that this represents those who hear the Word of God with joy, but they have no roots. As a result, when trials come, they wither away.
One of the biggest challenges we have in ministering the Word, especially to young people, is getting their attention. In my observations, the main way that youth ministers and guest preachers approach this problem is to pull at the heartstrings and create an emotional bond with Jesus.
Regarding teens, this especially makes sense. Their world is an emotional world. Their strongest relationships are emotional ones. It’s during this time that parents feel their children pulling away. For many of them, their strongest relationships are with their friends or their boyfriends or girlfriends. It is a time when new feelings come on with great intensity. The most real relationships that they have are with those with whom they share a deep emotional connection.
Age tends to cool the hot fires of passion, but it is still true that we are more likely act and change if our hearts are moved more than our minds. The mind is light, but the heart is fire. And fire is a fuel that moves us to action.
So, it makes strategic sense to use emotional and dramatic means to achieve this spiritual end. Powerful music, intense sermons, emotional bonding activities, and the like all work to make the relationship that people have with Christ one of real genuine emotion. We try to get people to fall in love with Him.
Working several different retreat programs, I can testify to the power of that emotional fire. I’ve seen the hardest hearts melt by being in proximity to the love and support of the retreat community and the Lord. How many of us have witnessed those coming off of a retreat filled with passion and love and excitement? They feel this way because they have received the Word of God with joy.
But there is a caution here.
As I mentioned before, the strongest relationship a teenager has tends to be the ones with his or her friends and significant others. Often they can’t picture life without them.
And yet how many of them will stay friends forever after high school? How many will marry their high school sweethearts? To be sure, there are some. But life pulls you in so many different directions that the emotional bonds which seemed so powerful and permanent in our youth are surprisingly quick to dissolve in place of new ones.
And that is the danger when it comes to creating a relationship to Jesus based on emotion.
Don’t get me wrong. Meeting Christ should enflame our hearts, as it did St. Augustine’s. But we have to remember that the hearts of men are fickle things. We cannot control our passions, especially their comings and goings.
How many of us have seen someone have made that emotional breakthrough with God at a retreat some other encounter? We think we see a permanent change in them. But then we encounter them years later and see that they have gone into a slow backslide into their former way of life.
Fr. Larry Richards once said, “Emotions are crap.” I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I understand his point. If you base your faith on only your feelings, then you are building your house on shifting sand.
The seed that fell on the rocks had no roots. A faith based on emotion has no roots.
When difficult times come, darker and scarier emotions crowd out the good feelings that came from our first encounter with the Lord. It becomes easy to convince ourselves that the feelings we felt from the Lord were only passing fancies or pious illusions. We scoff at our naive younger selves and how we used to be so in love with someone we barely even remember now in our old age.
Difficult times squelch the fire and leave that faith in darkness.
So what is the solution?
I am not saying that the emotional is unimportant. But it cannot be the foundation of a faith. It is catalyst; it is something that creates the bond between Christ and man, but it is not the bond itself.
If you are working in ministry, use whatever means you can to bring those to Christ, especially the dramatic ones. But once that occurs, it is time to lay down the foundation, not in the emotions, but in the will and the intellect.
Do not think that if someone has an emotional breakthrough that you have done your job. That is only the beginning. When I had my conversion experience, it was intensely emotional and my heart broke open and was set aflame. But if that was it, I guarantee that I would not be here today writing this article.
On my Teens Encounter Christ retreat, Fr. Larry not only stirred my soul, he challenged me. He said, “God to mass every day.” And I did.
That more than anything changed me. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I was there before the Lord, in constant contact with His reality. I encountered Him in my daily life through prayer, the rosary, and the mass. I found a community that I could pray with weekly. I found one person I could pray with daily. Then she became my wife and we still support each other in prayer every day.
And I dedicated myself to learning the faith. I studied and read and learned the reason and logic behind our beliefs. Our faith is not something we embrace because we have no answers. We embrace it because truth and reason have shown us that it is the ONLY answer.
Receiving the Word of God into our lives should be a springboard. We must remember that this emotional moment is not the end. The journey has just begun.
Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson