Welcome to Catholic Truth. In this part 2 of our series, we are going to continue talking about how to reach our teens, our youth. You can read Part 1, here. We discussed some indispensable principles that you need to know and that leaders of the Church need to know regarding Youth Evangelization. Parents desperately need to know these principles in order to keep our kids Catholic and prevent them from leaving the faith, and if they have left the faith, hopefully to bring them back. This article will mainly be talking about how to teach our kids to pray.

This is one of the biggest reasons teens leave the Church because they don’t know how to pray.

They don’t know how to connect with God, and they don’t have that relationship that really satisfies them. They don’t get their questions answered. This goes back to part 1.

So, they either become atheists, lukewarm, thinking that God doesn’t love them, he doesn’t answer their prayers, he doesn’t really care for them or what’s going on in their lives, or it’s a slow slide into agnosticism where they don’t necessarily disbelieve God, but they just stop being religious and they just go about living their life without thinking about God.

This is logical because what has God done for them? He hasn’t answered their prayers, he hasn’t done anything in their life, and not knowing how to pray, not knowing how to overcome obstacles, will surely keep them away.

Prayers not being answered are going to lead our kids astray, and so we need to create a firm foundation of prayer for them. It is said that prayer is the foundation of the Christian life, it’s the weapon of a Christian. So, if someone doesn’t have a weapon and they don’t know how to use it, they’re going to get picked off and destroyed. Can you imagine a soldier going into battle without a weapon? Can you imagine a Jedi going against Darth Vader without a lightsaber? It would never happen. They would never survive. And so, we are sending our kids into these toxic culture and world to destroy them, without a firm foundation of prayer and spirituality.

It’s no wonder our kids are being picked off by the truckloads. It’s no wonder our kids are walking away and not coming back. And it’s no wonder that so many of our parishes are just missing the youth. However, this starts with the parents teaching their kids how to rightly pray.

My parents taught me to pray since I could talk and growing up I prayed for a bunny, a bike and some toys, and I asked God to bless my mommy and my daddy and my sister, and it was just words, and I repeated them every day for years and years and years. And when I evolved to a teenager, my prayers really didn’t evolve that much. It just turned into asking for girls and for money and for things I needed, and I was still just asking and asking God and thanking him for things.

My mom told me to pray the rosary every day, and I don’t know why, but somehow, she convinced me to do it, so I did. Through High school, and even though I was dressing in black and I went down a really bad, dark path, these prayers and this rosary and my mom praying for me night and day, kept me on the straight and narrow path, where most people would had gone astray, and where I probably should be in jail today.

But I had a profound, powerful encounter with God in college, and it’s all because I prayed my entire life. I never gave up on prayer, even when I thought God wasn’t listening to me, even when I thought he was ignoring me. Even when I thought he didn’t like me, I kept praying, which most people don’t. They give up, but I kept praying and I stayed faithful even though it didn’t make sense at times. And God changed my life upside, down and backwards and he transformed me.

And yet most of our kids, don’t even know the basics. My daughter, she’s three years old and she knows the Our father and the Hail Mary prayers in two languages. I mean, the first time she prayed the Our father, she said: “Our father, who I in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” And we were like, this is good! But she belted out the whole thing. We didn’t even know she knew it. And she said the whole thing from beginning to end when she was like two and a half.

Most of the teens I know, and I have worked with as a DRE, as a youth minister, and as a religion teacher in High school,  don’t even know the Our father and the Hail Mary prayers. They don’t even know the basic prayers, nor could they say them on their own from start to finish. This is a huge problem. It’s a huge failure of religious education, and by religious education, I mean the parents teaching the kids and handing on the faith, the faith that we promised God at their baptism to teach them.

At baptism we said we’re going to teach our kids to be faithful to God. We’re going to teach them the prayers, we’re going to take them to Church. We’re going to teach them all about the faith. And most of these kids don’t even know the Our Father or the Hail Mary!

It’s so sad that I give Confirmation retreats all around the country, to talk about the importance of knowing God and of knowing prayer. And teens come up to me and say: “Bryan, I don’t know what does that even mean? How do you pray?”. They don’t even have a basic understanding and they’re at such a loss, and it’s such a tragedy of our times.

Alphonsus Liguori once said that if you pray a lot, there’s a great chance you’re going to get to Heaven. If you pray a little, there’s little chance you’re going to get to Heaven. And if you don’t pray at all, I’ll let you use your imagination on what he said. But the fact is, if we are not teaching our kids to pray and to really know God, then we are failing our duties before God. We are failing as parents, we are failing as religious instructors and we need to fix that. We need to try to redeem that.

Here’s the thing: Even after we teach kids the prayers, half of the problem remains: It is that most people don’t know how to go deeper than that. My parents taught me the prayers my whole life. I said the prayers, and they didn’t do much, or at least I didn’t think so. They didn’t really connect me with God. I didn’t feel God and I didn’t know how to go deeper. I just said prayers.

We really need to stop saying prayers and we need to learn how to pray prayers. We need to learn how to connect with God, to know God on a deep and personal level, and to learn how to find him, and how to hear him and know that he’s working in our lives.

I was a Theater major, and in theater, they say that the lines you have to memorize are the least important part of the play. Why? Because they don’t do anything. They’re just lines. And if you do the lines, but you don’t act, then the lines are useless. The acting is the most important part. The acting choices you make, the way you inspire an audience, that is what’s important. But you can’t do that unless you know the lines first. So first, it is about memorizing the lines to a point where you don’t even have to think about them. You just know them front and back. That’s when you can stop thinking about them and start focusing on acting. Start focusing on getting into your character and living through that character. And it’s the same thing with prayer. The lines are the least important part.

Living that prayer, praying that prayer, getting our hearts behind that prayer, loving God through that prayer, giving everything we have to God through that prayer and really meaning it from the bottom of our hearts. That is what the most important thing. So many times, youth just swat flies! I mean they make the sign of the cross, but they make it so fast they don’t even think about it. Then after they swat flies, they recite: Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord… (mumbling)… Amen. Swat flies again! And they think they prayed. It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t change us.

We really need to teach kids how to go deeper. We need to teach kids how to thank God, how to ask for the things they need, how to intercede for others. We need to let them know that God is right here with them. He’s not someone up in Heaven, a billion light years away, who’s distant and not tuned into their needs. We need to let them know that he’s right here, right now, listening to them, loving them, with all of his intention on them. Then in fact, we need to teach kids how to sit in silence in the Eucharist at adoration, and just let God love them, speak to them.

There’s no better prayer time than just letting teens sit before God in adoration. For this reason, I end all of my Confirmation retreats with a Eucharistic Holy Hour of adoration. I remember this retreat I gave in New Jersey once. This lady said: “I don’t want adoration. These eighth graders are too young, they can’t sit there, they can’t hack it, and I don’t want that in our retreat”. And I said, my retreats have to have 45 minutes to an hour of adoration. That’s what we do. She proposed to do five or 10 minutes, and that would be enough. I still included 45 minutes on the schedule since I figured she would change her mind. At the end of 45 minutes, I could not find the lady. She was literally gone. I was walking the Church and I finally bumped into her at the very back of the Church and she had just come out of the bathroom, and she was crying her eyes out. Not just crying, but with an ugly makeup cry, just sobbing! And she told me: “I have been doing this a very long time, but I have never seen anything like this. And if you had told me this, and if I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed it.” Because these eighth graders were praying for 45 straight minutes, and they had walked up to the altar to kneel. Some of them had their heads bowed down. Some of them had their hands out. Many of them were crying. These kids were praying harder than you’ve seen adults pray in your life. These kids were praying like warriors, and it was the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.

This happens so often in our retreats because we prepare them to meet Jesus, we prepare them to pray, and we prepare them to know how to encounter God and what to say and how to go about it during adoration. And this lady saw the power of prayer.

Kids are not too young. They need to know God at a young age. They need to go deep, to meditate, to contemplate, they need to really be there with God. And this kind of prayer, if they did this consistently, would sustain them throughout their high school and college years and throughout their whole life. I mean, we wouldn’t see kids falling away, because they would have this deep prayer life with God that changes their life.

That is what is going to keep them connected to God all throughout their childhood and throughout their adulthood. Because there are so many storms and catastrophes. There are so many things that we just don’t understand in life, and we need to keep connected to the rock, the source who is Jesus Christ himself, who is never going to let us go. But how can that be if they don’t even know the Our father or the Hail Mary, if they just pray to God for one minute before they go to bed every night.

I always joke with the kids by saying: “If I ignored my wife all day, every day. And I only looked at her for a minute before I went to bed, talked to her, and then said, the minute is up, I’m going to sleep”. Would I ever have a good relationship with her? And the kids all shake their head, and they say NO. Of course not. So how do you expect to have a life-changing encounter with God if you only give him a couple of minutes before bed or when you wake up?

We really need to have deeper prayer lives, and this is a call for you adults as well, if you don’t have a prayer life, you need to figure out how to get one. We have a whole prayer series on our website. It’s actually a 12-part prayer series on how to really grow your spiritual life. You can find it here. In this series, we address how to Pray, how to go deeper with God, how to overcome obstacles. What do you do when you’re struggling? What do you do when you just can’t concentrate?

The Saints have already showed us the path to God. So, we need to get this in line for ourselves and we need to do this in our own life. And then we can teach our kids and radiate it to the world. How many eucharistic ministers, DREs, youth ministers I talk to and I ask them if they prayed every day? And they say: “I know this is going to sound terrible, but No, I don’t. I’m just so busy. I mean, my job consumes me, and I don’t have time to pray”. How can you do work for Jesus without Jesus? How can you serve God without him? God doesn’t care about your work. He cares about your heart. He cares about you. There’s nothing going on in Heaven except the relationship with God. And we need to start that now.

If we can’t model prayer, peace and stability in our own lives, how are the teens going do it in their lives?

When I have had youth groups in the past, our teens said that the adoration time, just sitting in silence before God or listening to music, was the most powerful time for them.

So many times, we run around like chickens with their heads cut off, and we don’t have time to stop. But we need to teach our teens to prioritize God. When they have that time to stop and just sit in silence in adoration, to just be and to reflect on their life, reflect on where they’re going, reflect on what they need to work on, these are powerful means of fixing their spiritual lives, of helping them to come closer to God.

I was giving a talk after a retreat and a kid came up to me and said: “I want to pray more. How do you think I should do that? Do you think I should wake up 20 minutes earlier before school every morning?” I said: “Yes! That’s exactly what you should do, 20 minutes before school to pray. That would be an amazing way to start your day.” Are you kidding? If all our teens would start every day praying to God for 20 minutes, reading the Bible, doing Lectio Divina, learning to pray these deeper prayers like the rosary, meditating on its mysteries, it would literally change their lives.

For generations now, we’ve just coexisted with our teens. Parents have not handed on the faith. Their kids grew up and did not hand on the faith. And here we are. So, we need parents to rise up. We need religious educators, youth ministers, priests to rise up and start leading and investing in our kids again.