However, in this Kingdom mission and the work of making and forming disciples, we are challenged by the realities of declining participation in many communities of faith. Many people, young and old, continue to disengage from ecclesial life and we acknowledge the confronting reality that in the current climate some will question if the Church has anything worthwhile to say. Another challenge presents itself in our parishes. If we were to measure how many of the hundreds who receive the sacraments in our local parishes each year or attend Mass week to week, emerge on the other side as missionary disciples, we sense something is amiss. Where is the fruit?
The reasons for our gradual decline have become clearer over time. At heart, we have a discipleship dilemma. When it comes to a personal and active relationship with Jesus, our communities can take a pastoral approach that assumes the sacraments will simply ‘take care of it’. We have neglected our duty to awaken in each person that active and personal faith, that fertile soil, in which the grace of the sacraments can take root and bear fruit. To make the point, “baptisms, confessions, weddings, funerals, daily devotions, anointing, and adoration. It’s all good stuff, it’s how some Catholics grow spiritually. For others, it’s what they do instead of grow . . . For certain, the sacraments give us grace to put us in right relationship to God and his life in our soul, nourishing and strengthening us for our discipleship walk. But they’re not mean to replace it’”. This is not to discount the centrality of the sacraments or to deny the place that devotions have in the Catholic life. However, it is to say that people can be ‘sacramentalised’ without being evangelised. It is entirely possible to undertake a routine of religious custom without a personal and responsive relationship to Jesus Christ.
In this Year of Youth, we are challenged to name and then meet the situation of young people in our Church. Children and youth who have no explicit personal attachment to Jesus are likely to grow up to be adults with no personal attachment to Jesus, unless that relationship is introduced into their life through a process of evangelisation. Jesus himself gives us this Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). We are to make disciples and then baptise, for the mission of the Church is not sacraments but disciples which the sacraments nourish.
It is important to acknowledge that the young people in our care are already being formed by this culture of sacramental routine, marked by gentle decline. Through many of their eyes, church attendance doesn’t seem to make a great difference to people’s lives. When present they may hear a little about the Church, history, or even morality, but they may not hear much about the life of Jesus himself present to us now in the Holy Spirit. Indeed, they may never have witnessed an adult actually speak about how Jesus has changed their life or heard conversations among adults about Jesus. They may witness very little outreach to those outside the community, despite the fact that the future of our parishes depends on those who currently don’t believe.
As a Church we all have a role to play in the evangelisation and mission of the young. We desperately need adult or older mentors in the lives of young people for experience is a rough teacher, it costs precious time and leaves regret. All of us can bring something of our imperfect selves and the treasure of our life and experiences of the world to young people who are shaping the Church by their questions, witness and hope. Having adult mentors and witnesses in the midst of youth ministry, and a variety of adults, is essential if talk of discipleship and the Church is going to be meaningful in real-life ways. As it has been said, our faith is ever one generation away from its silence if it is not passed on. By our renewed dedication to young people in our midst as agents of change, inspiration and innovators, learners and teachers, we can together promote God’s Kingdom, making and forming disciples who “bear fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
 Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran, Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, Making Church Matter (Ave Maria Press: Notre Dame, Indiana, 2013), 77.