Recently I was asked to explore and write a reflection on Youth and Technology. You can view the full article HERE or read below. I hope you will join me on the curiosity train...
Teenagers may seem like foreign beings that speak an unknown language, but rest assured they, like all other age groups, seek the same thing – relationship and belonging. They are searching, open, enthusiastic and are often as confused as the rest of us.
Currently I am working full time as pastoral support plus design and communication in a Sydney high school. Recently I have found myself reflecting on how technology is woven into relationship and belonging for our youth?
Many of us remember our teenage years with the blissful absence of cell phones, Aunty Google or anything App related. If as a teenager I had said to a friend “Hey, I’ve ordered shoes on Wiggle, tagged the Pope, Lago filtered on Insta…” I would likely be sent for a mental health check! (#LostThePlot). These were simpler times; we navigated the murky swamp of adolescence by founding our relationships and sense of belonging through note-passing, limited landline calls, face to face conversations and when we left school property our interaction mostly ceased.
Today our youth navigate the same murky swamp that is filled with confusion, hormones, friendship loss, searching (where do I fit?), but they have the added element of technology. For many, Social Media (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook etc.) is a beacon of light helping them to navigate through the swamp haze; it is a vehicle creating connection, inspiring, helping them find where they belong. But for some, Social Media (if used incorrectly) can fuel the fire of bullying, isolating instead of connecting, leaving them stuck in sinking mud.
Our teenagers either love Social Media or loathe it; opinions are strong and clearly divided. I recently surveyed 200 high school students: ‘Love’ was born of a desire to chat and connect with friends instantly, sharing, journeying, learning with each other. ‘Loathe’ is founded in a preference for more tangible face to face relationships and is also often rooted in soil tainted by previous bullying or misuse of social media by themselves or others. This often creates fear of Social Media either through what has happened to the person, or what has happened to their friend (“I don’t want that to happen to me”). No wonder opinions are intensely divided as they navigate the murky swamp.
To LOVE or to LOATHE that is the question…
My spirituality and faith is based primarily around relationship and communication. I believe Jesus was communicating a message, a presence and he used the communication methods available in his time. Now in our time I find myself wondering… If Jesus were here would he would have a Social Media account? How would he use it? Would he have a gmail account?
Like it or loathe it, it is here to stay; Social Media and technology are part of our lives. Future employment will be based in technology, creativity and innovation. I feel passionately that in our emerging global society Social Media and technology can be used for good, it can create connection and relationship. But we must also be aware of bullying and malicious use, and continue to be open to technology’s development.
It seems to me that we as adults have a choice to make: Do we say “Oh, it’s too hard, I just don’t know how it works…” And with this option I find myself imagining a freight train carrying connection to our youth getting further and further away from the Relationship Station…
But if I choose love and curiosity perhaps as an adult I can learn with our youth. When I ask curious questions not only do they self-identify but I also learn; finding solidarity in curiosity. Not only can technology connect our youth but it can also be a train line to connect generations.
As an example I recently created an Instagram account for ministry (@msj_light) and have achieved amazing results in a matter of weeks. There is a new buzz among students, teachers and parents, the spirit of connection and belonging is alive. This is a powerful tool.
How it would be if we openly ask pastoral questions as our youth search and experiment?
- What's your favourite App?
- How is it for you when you use Snapchat?
- What does it feel like when you use that App?
- Can you show me something you learned online this week?
- What’s the best photo filter for me to use, and why?
And how can we help our youth with guidelines regarding appropriate use of Social Media? Visual aids? A check list of simple question/s they need to ask themselves before posting anything online? Can we model this ourselves and in our organisations?
Pope Francis has addressed Social Media and it’s use many times, most notably in his 2015 papal encyclical Laudato Si. “Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.” (1)
Papa Francesco seems to be saying that we need balance, and I think he’s onto something. Social Media and technology are wonderful, yet perhaps we need to ensure that our youth can learn to use technology in moderation through appropriate education in our schools and churches?
“From the certainty that God’s grace is with us comes the strength to take courage in the present moment: the courage to carry forward what God asks of us here and now, and in every area of our lives.” (2)
Love or Loathe, in this year of youth what will you choose?
I hope you will join me on this curiosity train to relationship station…
Jane Maisey rsj
More recent news from Pope Francis + Year of Youth Resources:
I was recently asked to write a reflection about my discernment leading up to First Profession in January. This article was written for the wonderful NZ publication Tui Motu (seriously worth checking out). I hope it resonates with you. Namaste...
When talking with a young friend recently the word ‘discernment’ came up. He looked at me with confusion and said, “What does that mean?”
As my forehead assumed the ‘hmmm extract explanation from brain’ pose I found myself explaining discernment as more about listening than thinking. Yes, it is making a decision but in order to make that decision listening and contemplative prayer seem to be at the core of discernment.
When I first felt the allurement to religious life I felt a sense of newness and life. I started to listen to what was happening in my body and to what was shifting within my spirit. When I thought about it I felt alive; this joy and life was stronger than anything else I had experienced before. Even though none of this made any sense to my thinking brain, my heart was starting to sing a new melody. Over time I started to understand that discernment is a feeling not something you can think. A sense of home with God is in the heart, not in the head.
As the months and years passed I started to journey with a spiritual director and I found myself questioning God in prayer…
Why me, I don’t fit the typical ‘nun’ stereotype…?
Will it be life giving?
What will the future be like?
Will I be the last one standing?
How will I help others?
Where will I go?
What will this be like for family and friends?
As my plethora of questions grew, so did my relationship with God; becoming aware of my fears and my joys and how these are woven into faith and spirituality. I had many moments of confusion with an array of “really, seriously God?!!!” moments. And with naivety I figured ‘no no, this religious life thing will just go away, I’ll just go make some inquiries…’
I have a sneaking suspicion that God may have just been laughing at me at this point!
A Jesuit priest once said to me that discernment is like listening to the waters… When you are trying to make a decision and you pray about it, listen to how your spirit feels, is it more like a ship sailing on calm peaceful waters? or are the waters rough with your boat being tossed around like a beach ball?
Don’t get me wrong; this journey has not all been smooth sailing. But for the most part as I have journeyed I have continued to feel a sense of deepening calmness, of peace and of home.
Discernment too is continual, it never stops. It seems that to think I have all the answers would be like saying to God “yea I’ve got this, I don’t need you any more”. Clearly this is not the case, I openly ask God every day in prayer to reveal to me the path to life (Jn 10:10); believing that when you feel most alive you are doing the thing or living the way that you are called to, you are honouring the light within.
As Augustine said “… our heart is restless until it rests in you.” It seems that to think is to control and to listen is to surrender and rest in love. On my life’s journey sometimes the waters have been changeable, but by listening in prayer I find peace, light and I am filled with gratitude. I am alive by sailing into the light of God’s melody. I hope this melody will ring out strong for you too…
On this earth, I am a finite candle
You hold the infinite match
Thank you for my light
With you I shine
Let us shine
Let us shine
Let us shine
(Prayer written for First Profession)
Reflecting back, the last month feels like a time of joy of movement and of many new surprising firsts. It reminds me of when you’re travelling in a car and things seem to whizz by in an array of colours and lights … zoom…
In preparation for my first profession on the 13th January I had a strong sense that this was a journey that I did not take alone. Therefore the theme for the Mass was Joyful Communion. Believing that we are all called to live life and live it abundantly (Jn 10:10). No one is greater than another, we are all loved by an endless love, we are all parts of one body in relationship (1 Cor 12:12-27)
As relatives, friends and Sisters gathered on the day my joy increased (as well as my nerves!). But the overwhelming sense of home, community and joy was what rang out most in my heart.
From setting up the sacred space display, printing of the booklet, organising the Mass, amazing musicians, welcomers, organising cold water (because God seemingly turned the heat and humidity along with the joy!), to our priest (Fr. Brendan), CLT and all who helped with the Mass, it was a community day, a day when we all remembered that we are parts of the one body and we are all nourished by the love that Christ gives us (Matt 15: 32-39). I am too absolutely filled with gratitude for all who helped with the day and for fall who have journeyed with me; may we have many more adventures to come...
As part of the preparations Sisters can also choose a name as part of our vow formula. I chose ‘…. of Joyful Solidarity’. I chose this because as I continue to listen and journey I admit my madness and my magnificence.
Promising to walk sharing Joy:
Joy that comes from surrender to God.
Joy that deepens when shared.
Joy not in things and stuff, but it is in us, in our body of Christ.
And walking in Solidarity:
Being with as Jesus lived.
Listening with as Jesus listened.
Walking with as Jesus walked.
As Mary MacKillop lovingly showed us with her life; “Remember, WE are but travellers here.”
And now as I venture out into my first community as a Sister of St Joseph and my first full time ministry in a High School I walk in joy and solidarity knowing with full heart that I am not walking alone. The peace and gratitude that flow from my heart reminds me that I walk as part of a whole, walking the path that gives me life, and I thank our God.
And I ask you as I did on the 13th January; please don’t pray for me, but please pray with me. And I promise you that in joy, solidarity and prayer I am always with you as part of this body too.
I am finite candle
You hold the infinite match
With you I shine
Let us shine
Let us shine
Let us shine
(Prayer written for First Profession)
13th January 2018 was a very special day. On this day I professed for the first time the vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience and I will now live as a Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart!
I feel absolutely filled with joy and gratitude. Thank you to all who were there and all who supported me in solidarity with prayer. I will post some photos and info when the dust has settled....
Over the past year I have continued to discern if I feel that God is calling me to live fully alive as a Sister of St Joseph. This discernment has gone hand in hand with prayer, ministry placements and study.
I have and still feel strongly called to pastoral care / counseling for people that are young. So, I was over the moon to be recently given the opportunity to experience school life in a high school in NSW (MacKillop College). I will admit that I felt like the apprehensive new kid at school when I first, arrived, plus when I was asked to speak in front of 1500 students on my first visit I’m pretty sure my jaw actually hit the concrete!
But, I said Yes… I flourished and ‘yes’ became my mantra. With embrace of fears and a lot of ‘yes’ moments I found an absolute sense of home. I felt myself become more and more alive with students, teachers and parents.
While at MacKillop College I had many opportunities for immersion and experienced a variety of things from sport days, leading classes, school events and even said ‘yes’ to doing a reflection for three Sunday masses. I used balloons and a bit of humour to talk about forgiveness in my reflection – figuring that it’s best to be your true self, full of joy (or… full of helium!). Thank you to all who journeyed with me in Warnervale – you are a beautiful group of humans.
I am now also past the two year point on my Emmaus journey (novitiate). When I travelled to Australia in August 2015 I really didn’t know what I was getting myself in for. It may sound cheesy to say, but I feel in many ways like I really am a different person now. The Sisters have been very patient; it’s not an easy transition from secular life into religious life. Sure, it’s not a different world, but it is a different way of living, the ‘thawing’ process takes time. I have been given many opportunities for learning, including CPE, which really humbled me and started me on a new path to self-awareness (which I get the feeling I’ll always be working on!).
At the two-year point I completed a seven day silent retreat. This was a very intense time, the retreat focused on if this path to religious life is what God is calling me to, or if there is another pathway that would help me to best live out John 10:10? It is also a time when the congregation looks more deeply into my call. It is a mutual relationship, almost like dating in a way. It requires a lot of trust – negative “what if” moments can creep in. But, I have discovered that with deep discernment, listening and total surrender to God that there is no need to worry – letting go makes way for pure grace, peace and joy to flow.
Through the retreat I also had a huge realisation… it was time for me to stop running! Wowsers. I had been running pretty much every day for 7 years. But for the past 4 months I have been walking every morning instead of running. And I must say, I feel calmer, my hip and knee are much happier with my mind and in general I feel more peace.
“When I could not see my way