Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Youth and adult leaders paint a ramp for a house on June 20, 2022, during Eucharistic Life Mission, held in summer 2022 in the Owensboro area. COURTESY OF MICHELE LINN

Helping young people be the hands and feet of Christ in the world


On the night that Jesus instituted the Eucharist, surrounded by his disciples, he also modeled for them what a life of discipleship would look like.

The Gospel of John shares, “He rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist…You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 4-5; 13-15)

What Jesus modeled in the “washing of feet” was a difficult teaching. This was a servant’s job. What we are challenged to remember as Catholic disciples is that a life lived with Jesus and nourished with the Eucharist is a life meant to be poured out for others. As we care for, work with, and accompany young people in the Catholic Church, this is the life we are inviting them to say yes to; this is the life of a missionary disciple.

In my March article we looked at the three big questions that matter to young people: identity, belonging, and purpose. Missionary discipleship is living out a Christ-centered purpose in the world. As disciples of Jesus Christ, each of us is invited into God’s greater story. The USCCB’s document “Living as Missionary Disciples” states, “As they get to know and love the Lord, disciples experience the need to share with others their joy by proclaiming Jesus Christ, not just with words, but also through service to those most in need.”

Here are suggestions for providing opportunities for youth to live out their lives as missionary disciples.

  • Walk through scripture with youth. The Gospels are full of the stories and teachings of Jesus and show us how to love and meet the needs of others. The teachings and life of Jesus show us God’s heart for the world.
  • Accompany young people in processing the needs of the world. There is much evidence in the world around us of the need for God’s love. We need to enter honest conversations with youth about where they see they need for God in their family, friendships, community, and the world.
  • Teach discernment. In a world full of need, how are we to know what God is asking of us? The answer comes through prayer and discernment. Disciples have a daily habit of prayer, and this is the space where we are available for the Holy Spirit to call us to love.
  • Empower and accompany action. Young people are often full of zeal and excitement when they see an opportunity to serve the needs of those around them. As adults in the Church, we need to empower and support that excitement, while also guiding those efforts in wisdom.
  • Not just service projects. We need to help young people see the often-overlooked needs around them. This includes how they treat and include others, how they act outside of church, how they love inside their families, and their willingness to share the Gospel message in their very lives each day.

As adults who care about young people, the main thing to remember is that we are always modeling a life of missionary discipleship. We are witnesses to a faith that is often easier caught than taught. Let us come alongside young people and help them to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in the world around them.

Charlie Hardesty is the director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Learn more at

Originally printed in the May 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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Publisher |  Bishop William F. Medley
Editor |  Elizabeth Wong Barnstead
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