JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH
By Fr Peter Hosking SJ, Rector, Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide
I’m often struck by the profound thoughts of our students, irrespective of their age. Some weeks ago, a Year 4 student wrote: “What is Mass about? Mass is about connecting with God, feeling God, and hearing God. Mass helps me do the right thing by choosing what God would want of me. It encourages me not to be afraid and to ask for help. During Mass, I pray to God.”
It was a profound and poignant summary indeed. At both the junior and senior campuses, we celebrate several Masses each term. Students of all faiths and degrees of devotion attend. Many comment positively about the experience. For some, it opens doors to the sacred and refreshes their relationship with God. For many, it helps focus and deepen reflection on our commitment to a purpose greater than the self. For others, they simply respectfully listen.
The Eucharist holds profound importance in the Catholic faith. This sacred ritual connects us personally with Jesus, guiding our moral choices, and encouraging us to find God’s support in all we do – the times that are good as well as those that are a struggle. In the Mass, we gather, break open the word, celebrate the Eucharist, and are sent into the world.
Our gathering provides spiritual nourishment and fosters unity among not just people of faith, but seekers as well. The prayers, scripture readings and homily support our journey of faith, hope, and love. They reinforce Christian beliefs in such things as truth, beauty, repentance, forgiveness, service, sacrifice, the soul and the promise of eternal life. They uncover the pomp of honour, fame, and fortune.
The Eucharist commemorates Christ’s Last Supper. We believe the bread and wine undergo a transformation, becoming Christ’s true presence. This shapes our deeper communion with God, fellow believers, the marginalised, and all Creation. Our celebration is incomplete while people suffer, so we go forth to protect human dignity, promote social justice, and do all we can to improve the world and to do so in God’s name.
In this precise context, I’d like to share another, more recent reflection from the same Year 4 student. This time she wrote down her thoughts about “Who is God?” Again, her reflections are extremely profound.
“Who is God? God is unique and special to each person. Some see God as a divine being whom they believe in and worship. Others view God as an intimate presence, someone who knows them better than even their closest friend, a source they can turn to for assistance, for themselves or others. God has a strong, beautiful and personal connection with us, enabling us to grow into the best versions of ourselves. Since nobody is perfect, God guides us to be truthful and accepting of ourselves, so we can grow and become better people.”
As she so accurately reminds us, the way in which people experience God is deeply personal and therefore can differ significantly from person to person. For many, it’s a very personal encounter felt through moments of wonder in nature, acts of kindness, or during meditation and prayer. In her wise words, this student shares how God is essentially a relationship. Faith-filled people share an intimacy with the One who created all things and who holds our destiny in the fullness of love. Our search for God is an encounter with the most real and the most mysterious. Fundamentalism would reduce that mystery to what we can control rather than draw us into and open us to the fullness of reality itself. Atheism would cast a false image of God that logically ought to be rejected.
In religious settings, God is often felt through rituals, sacred texts and communal worship, creating a sense of divine presence and connection with others. Mystical experiences also offer intimate encounters with the divine, often described as a feeling of unity with the universe. Some find God through self-reflection, while others see the divine in art, music or acts of kindness. The experience of God is diverse, influenced by beliefs, culture and individual spirituality, creating a beautiful tapestry of ways in which people seek and find the divine.
The concept of God is deeply rooted in human history and culture. Fundamentally, God is often seen as a supreme, all-powerful being responsible for creating and maintaining the universe. God often provides hope, moral guidance and a sense of purpose. People turn to God in times of happiness, sadness and uncertainty, seeking comfort, direction and a sense of belonging. Ultimately, understanding God remains a profoundly personal experience, shaping the beliefs, values and practices of individuals and communities worldwide.
Certain philosophies and spiritual traditions view God as an abstract, formless energy or consciousness, emphasising the interconnectedness of all living beings. Some belief systems, like Hinduism, embrace a polytheistic approach, acknowledging multiple deities or forms of God, each representing different aspects of the divine. In monotheistic faiths such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism, God is singular, infinite and the ultimate source of moral guidance. These faiths emphasise a personal relationship with God through prayer, worship and obedience to religious precepts.
In Christianity, God is perceived as the supreme and eternal being, the creator of the universe and everything in it. Christians believe in the Holy Trinity, consisting of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Central to Christianity is the belief in God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ, considered the Son of God and humanity’s saviour. Christians worship God through prayer, scripture (the Bible), and communal gatherings. God is seen as loving, just and merciful, embodying qualities of being all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present. The Christian God is viewed as a forgiving deity, offering redemption and eternal life to those who believe in Jesus Christ and follow his teachings, which highlight the virtues of love, compassion and forgiveness.
Catholicism stands out for its rich history, beautiful ceremonies and strong adherence to tradition. The Pope serves as the spiritual leader of the faithful. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, hold great importance, symbolising the spiritual presence of Christ. Catholicism emphasises social justice, ethics and charitable work, evident through global humanitarian efforts and advocacy for marginalised communities. The veneration of saints and the sacraments foster a profound sense of devotion among believers. The Catholic Church’s significant influence on art, education, and culture throughout history distinguishes it, shaping the world view of millions around the globe.
This article was originally published in a recent edition of ‘The Ignatian’ newsletter, published by Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide.