Evangelization is a timeless vocation for all Christians. In our modern world, secularism surrounds us and sometimes it feels as though our Church can barely get in a word. Because of this, the current Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment could not have come at a more needed time.
Isaiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” Isaiah responds, “Here I am…send me!”
As the youth of the Catholic Church, we are the present and future of the Church. We are called to exclaim “Send me!” and to spread the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and always! However, it would be foolish if we thought that every young person innately felt and understood this call.
The secular world has had an impact on my faith, beginning in my own home. Not every member of my family is a practicing Catholic, which has given my mother and me the opportunity to evangelize in our own house. A prime example of this is praying before meals. I was taught to pray before meals in high school and I continue to do so in college. When I came home for the first time during my first year of college, I struggled to pray before meals because I feared someone noticing me or judging me. Eventually, God gave me the strength to begin to share this prayer with my family and now it is a tradition that we have established together.
When he addressed young people at a meeting in the beginning of October (which I attended), Pope Francis said, “Make your way. Be young on the move, looking at the horizons, not the mirror. Always looking forward, on the way, and not sitting on the couch.” Our Holy Father reminds us in these words that our time is now to be consistent in our faith, live the Beatitudes, and serve one another in an effort to help each other grow.
“How can I do this?” you might ask. As Pope Francis said, the Synod Fathers will—and have already begun—to answer you. In the synodal document Instrumentum Laboris under the section titled Beyond Secularization, the Synod Fathers speak about the changing view of religion in the secular world. Quoting a Bishops’ Conference, the document states, “Many young people declare that they are looking for the meaning of life, pursuing ideals, searching for their own personal spirituality and faith, but they rarely turn to the Church.” Recognizing that every young person’s path towards the Church is different, the Synod Fathers propose that we focus on the “changed attitude towards religion,” moving away from a “liquid” form of faith to a more concrete belief.
Pope Francis uses the same metaphor in his response to the young people at the Synod rally I attended. He said, “Every road you make, to be reliable, must be concrete.” He continues, reminding us that “concreteness is the guarantee to move forward.”
Every day, we have concrete encounters with our surrounding world. How can we as Catholics take our faith and make it concrete to those around us? This call from Pope Francis reminded me that my everyday experience of studying in Rome (only a short walk from the Vatican) can be used in my own acts of daily evangelization, especially when I return to the United States. Sharing a concrete experience is “making a gift of oneself and participating in the proclamation of the Good News,” as the Preparatory Document for the Synod states.
We, as young people, are the present and future of the Church. She needs us to go out and make a difference. The salvation offered by Christ enables us to rejoice in this world, and the best way to do that is to spread His glory. Be concrete in your faith and you shall “renew the face of the earth.”
For more resources on the ongoing Synod, please click here.
To learn what it means to be a missionary disciple, please click here.
From October 3rd until the 28th, 2018 bishops from around the globe are gathering in Vatican City for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod is an assembly of the world’s bishops who assist the pope by offering insights on important questions the Church is facing in a manner that preserves and promotes her teachings. A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called “Ordinary” if its topic is “for the good of the universal Church” and seems to require the “learning, prudence and counsel” of all the world's bishops. For October’s historic meeting, Pope Francis dedicated the theme to “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Although the young adults invited to participate were not voting members of the Synod, they had the opportunity to address the Order of Bishops as presenters and auditors. It can be useful to consider the gathering as a conversation that included involvement from bishops and small group sessions. These activities were a beautiful continuation of the dialogue and collaboration characteristic of the Second Vatican Council: of a Church embracing renewal throughout the Body of Christ.
Yet the vast majority of the Church was not in the Vatican participating in small groups, sharing experiences, or making presentations. While the meeting has been significant in its own right, it may not be on the forefront of most people’s minds a city—let alone an ocean—away. As we wait for the working documents of the meeting to be finalized and published, we may be asking how we can best support the work of the Synod from afar. As a young person myself, I think it is incredible that this demographic is being discussed and studied at length by the Church. The Synod inspires a unique opportunity to ponder young people’s place in the Church and world.
The typical young person is preoccupied with studies or work, family and social obligations, and sorting out his or her place in an ever-changing world. Thanks to technology, the world is better connected in some senses, though what occurs daily in our physical sphere tends to represent the extent to which a young person may physically engage with the outside world. Why think about faraway gatherings when there is plenty to deal with right in front of you? You may also wonder, Why would anyone care about little ole me and what I do?
But that’s exactly what—and who—the Holy Father is interested in hearing about. Over a year before the Synod was scheduled to meet, Pope Francis released his Letter to Young People and invited youth to “Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.” To help facilitate gathering the input of young people, the Vatican Synod Office launched a special website and survey which invited responses that were incorporated into a working document. Furthermore, Pope Francis issued his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today’s world, which directly relates to the vocational aspects of the Synod.
Seeking for something more concrete? Look no further than your own parish! The walls of a church are not designed to keep persons out, but to gather them in to live more actively in Christ and the Church Universal! Never doubt the awesome power of prayer: interceding for not only the participants of the Synod, but those around you whose needs you may know personally. Go a step further and offer your gifts, talents, time, and presence as a young person and give witness to charity. Show the world that young people are not self-absorbed but active and invested in promoting the good of humanity. Find others who want to make a difference. Invite them to pray with you, to volunteer in service, to catechize, and even just to share in the joys and fun of youth. Demonstrate that youth is not just a period of transition, but an opportunity to channel passion and energy in a meaningful and responsible way for the Church and world.
A lesson from the 2018 Synod is that the Church wants to better minister to young people! Recognizing young people as a treasure not merely for the future, but for the Church here and now signifies their potential and important state in life. Instilling the values of the Faith in young people inspires them to more actively discern God’s call for them in holy vocations. The world is not perfect—neither is the Church—but recognizing the good that can be brought about and the ability to pick oneself up after falling short is a great gift God has uniquely given young people to witness! By growing in our vocation to holiness, we fulfill the mission and dream of this year’s Synod. What a joy it is to see young people take to heart the holiness that God has called them to.
To learn more about the recent Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
“We declare and define Blessed Paul VI, Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, Francis Spinelli, Vincent Romano, Mary Catherine Kasper, Nazaria Ignacia of Saint Teresa of Jesus March Mesa and Nunzio Sulprizio to be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.” -Holy Mass and Canonization of the Blesseds: Paul VI, Oscar Romero, Francesco Spinelli, Vicenzo Romano, Maria Caterina Kasper, Nazaria Ignazia di Santa Teresa di Gesu, Nunzio Sulprizio
This was the moment I had waited months to experience: the official canonization of these seven men and women.
This past May, I knew I would be studying in Rome for my fall semester of sophomore year. I wanted to know what, if anything, would be happening during my time in Rome. Little did I know that I would be blessed with attending a canonization Mass. I’ll say it again if you didn’t catch my excitement the first time: a CANONIZATION!
But at this moment I know some of you are asking, “Tom, what is a canonization?” Well, I’m glad you asked, inquisitive reader.
A canonization occurs when the Catholic Church formally recognizes that someone who has lived an exemplary life of holiness and virtue is now in heaven with God and can be prayed to and venerated in all the Catholic churches throughout the world. With this solemn declaration, they are added to the official canon, or list, of saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.”
The next question you probably have is, “Tom, you said you waited months for the canonization Mass. Why were you so excited?” Dear reader, what a wonderful question!
The answer is that I love the saints and want to grow in my relationship with as many of them as I can, in as many different ways as I can, because they are examples to all Catholics of how to live for Jesus Christ in this world. This canonization Mass was a once-in-a-lifetime way for me to exercise this desire. This is further illustrated by a beautiful and unintended consequence of my studying in Rome and attending the canonization Mass: I got to tangibly experience the saints. Let me explain.
When I prayed at St. Peter’s tomb and later read the passage about how he walked on the water toward Jesus, I thought: “Woah, the Peter I’m reading about is the same Peter whose tomb I just prayed at.” When I prayed before the skull of the young Saint Agnes, I thought: “This is the skull of the patroness of my diocese. That’s amazing.” As my friends and I waited to enter St. Peter’s Square, we talked to a woman from El Salvador who listened to Oscar Romero’s homilies and was 19 years old when he was assassinated. She told us that when he was killed, she felt as if she had lost her own father. After she said this, I thought: “I have read about Oscar Romero’s life and sacrifice and how much he influenced the Salvadoran people, but I didn’t truly grasp it until I heard this story.” And that is the lesson: Catholicism isn’t dead—not even close. It is fully alive! It is an encounter with Jesus Christ through His saints who are alive among His faithful people here on earth!
A final question you may have for me, and a question that I asked myself, is: “What lessons can we learn from these seven saints?”
I believe we should emulate Pope Saint Paul VI’s fortitude for defending the truth of the Catholic faith, Archbishop Saint Oscar Romero’s passionate love for the poor and oppressed in our midst, Saint Francis Spinelli’s devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, Saint Vincent Romano’s zeal for the Word of God, Saint Mary Catherine Kasper’s “openness to the Holy Spirit,” Saint Nazaria Ignacia’s caring heart, and Saint Nunzio Sulprizio’s youthful devotion to the sufferings of Christ.
I encourage you all to learn about these seven saints and as many saints as you can, and then to go tangibly experience them, however you can.
Please click the following links for more resources on the canonization of Paul VI and Oscar Romero.
Editor’s note: The following transcription is from an interview we conducted with Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport about the ongoing Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. To watch the entire interview, please click here or view below. This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.
Brian Rhude: Bishop Caggiano, thank you for joining us here, for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us.
Bishop Caggiano: My pleasure, my pleasure.
Brian Rhude: We're very happy to have you. So, we are about half way through the Synod at this point.
Bishop Caggiano: Mmhm.
Brian Rhude: So, it started October 3rd, it’s now October 16th. So, what is it like inside the hall? What is the energy? We hear reports about the applause that just burst in the Synod Hall.
Bishop Caggiano: Oh the young people!
Brian Rhude: What's the energy like in the Synod Hall?
Bishop Caggiano: Well, they bring a tremendous amount of energy, and they're very expressive. So when they're happy, it's obvious, and when they're polite, it's obvious too. But that, I think is new in the Synodal process, that sort of interaction. And, there was an initiative to have a pilgrimage, a one day, basically it's turned out to be a half day, pilgrimage, which the young people are absolutely enthusiastic about. So that sort of sense, that sort of interplay, gives me great hope.
Brian Rhude: So what are some of the topics that you think are the most important, that have been covered so far?
Bishop Caggiano: Well I think, initially, the elephant in the room was the sexual abuse crisis. That was ventilated very well. I think there's a general consensus that we need to address that in this document. And the young people spoke very directly about that. But now there are other things that are corrupt. Accompaniment is a huge thing in what that means, which is part of that second section of the document. Listening, which is more than just listening with your ears, it's acceptance of the value of the person with you, it's the appreciation of the person, the welcoming of the person, we're unpacking that. And then it’s just the basic questions that the young people have about their faith, that's coming up, in part three, that has not happened yet, but I'm sure that's gonna be an animated discussion as well.
Brian Rhude: So, where have you seen, out of those topics, where have you seen the most unity between the bishops, between the bishops and the auditors, the young people in the room, where have you seen the most unity?
Bishop Caggiano: Well, one of them certainly is the need to address the elephant in the room, we're all on the same page, and rightfully so. I think also there's a general consensus that the young people who are here, as much want to listen as they want to be listened to. What strikes me is they want to hear what the church has to say. It's not just "you don't listen to me". And that also is something where there seems to be great unanimity, that it's a mutual process, it's a mutual information one of the other. And therefore, that's dialogue, right? That's the definition of dialogue. So, in many ways, what I see coming out of this is perhaps a permanent call for that dialogue to happen on every level of the Church.
Brian Rhude: That's great. And I think it's obvious when you talk to young people, anyone really, within the church, I mean you know hearing your name, knowing that you're being heard is so important and so vital and it makes people feel at home in the Church. So you said that the young people have been very clear with the need to address the “elephant in the room” as you call it, what else have they been vocal about? What are the other things, I mean, in accompaniment of being listened to?
Bishop Caggiano: Social engagement. You know it’s a trendy value among young adults to be socially aware, socially engaged, and address some of the injustices in the world. To make a positive difference, to be a force of charity, a force of mercy. That rings through in many different ways. My sense is, if I were to summarize it, it's “I want to make a difference in the world.” So, my faith is not a personal possession, my faith has to make a difference, not just to me, but the people around me. And that is a healthy corrective to an over-privatization of faith by a lot of Catholics. You know, I do my thing, I go to Mass, I give my collection, and then life goes on, but they say no. It's gotta permeate your entire life. So, that is, again, a take-away from the Synod, that could change the whole church not just our relationship with young people.
Brian Rhude: Yeah, that's great. So, it's kind of a two-part question. What specifically, and you kinda talked about a little bit, but what can young people expect to come out of this Synod?
Bishop Caggiano: Ah. Well that's an interesting question, because I'm not exactly sure of how to answer the question. If a young person is expecting a very detailed document that can simply be implemented in his or her diocese, I hope they're not going to be disappointed, because when the Holy Father actually writes his Apostolic Exhortation, you do have to consider he's talking to the youth of the whole world. So a young person in Nairobi, and a young person in Caracas or San Francisco or Bridgeport, there's totally different experiences, when the bishops of the East, particularly from Asia, spoke about some of the issues that the young people are facing, it's just a different world. So, how do you speak to the whole world? So my sense is, the Holy Father is going to—he's been listening, been at all the general meetings, he's going to give a general direction. So my hope is that young people will hear a general direction that makes sense to them, but then the hard work begins. We have to take that general direction and say, "Okay, Bridgeport. How do we live that? Like, how do we make that concrete?" You know I mentioned to some people, it almost makes sense to me to have a diocesan level Synod, that involves young people just to do that. Okay we've heard the Holy Father, now how do we make it real in our dioceses. I'm still debating that, but I think that probably makes a lot of sense as the next step.
Brian Rhude: What was your preparation for the Synod like?
Bishop Caggiano: Well you know, I’m involved with a lot of young adult ministries because of my position as the Episcopal Advisor to the NFCYM (National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry) and in my diocese, I make it my business to be involved with a lot of the young people and the ministries we've created: Catholic Service Corps, the diocesan choir, a bunch of stuff. But I also had a listening session with, it was really kind of, a very eclectic group of young people—some very traditional, some very untraditional, some practicing, some not practicing—and it was fascinating to hear what they said, because it's echoed, I've heard, what they have said to me, I've heard from different Bishops and different young people, so their views are here. The one thing that was interesting is every single one of them in Bridgeport, raised the question of credibility of leadership, as a number one issue for them.
Brian Rhude: Wow. So I think when we're talking about applying what's going on I know, like you just said, it's so hard to take whatever Pope Francis writes, and just say we're gonna apply that. So maybe taking these topics, hard copying them, and saying these are things that can be universally applied, granted in different, maybe nuanced ways in different cultures and different individual people, but maybe looking toward these topics. You know what, what are ways, before the Synod even finishes, that we can take some of these concepts, some of these topics?
Bishop Caggiano: Okay I'll give you mine. For the last year, I have been animated by, challenged by, captivated by this idea, that you encounter God in three principle ways: truth, beauty and goodness, that's St. Thomas (Aquinas). I'm absolutely fascinated with that idea because I think Thomas is onto something fundamental in the ministry to young adults. In the end, you will have certain groups, certain movements, that focus primarily on one of those. So apologetics, truth. You know, music and music ministry and liturgy would be beauty. Service, mission projects, mission trips, you know, goodness. But in my mind, to have a complete ministry, you need to hold all three together. You can start with one, but you have to bring the others in. In my own diocese, I'd like to explore that further. And be able to say: “okay, you do this, you do that, you do the other. We can learn from each other, but are you doing all three of these, and if not, what do you need to add?” So that your ministry could look very different from mine, but when you sift out the details, we're all going in the same direction. I'm hoping that will come out of this document actually. That's going to be my fundamental direction, what are the elements we all need to be involved? Because then best practice willshow what's working and what's not. And what can work in your community may not work in mine. But it doesn't matter, as long as we're going in the same direction, that's all that matters.
Brian Rhude: That's great. So the Synod is on, “Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment. How has the idea, the concept, the reality of vocational discernment come up in the Synod Hall?
Bishop Caggiano: Its beginning now. Alright, because the second part was introducing vocation. And what's interesting, there has been a maturity developed in the notion of vocation, because, in the “old days,” which aren't all that old, vocation was meant specifically for the permanent states of life. So you make a permanent decision to marry or to be a priest or religious or a deacon. The Holy Father is broadening that concept out so that vocation is your concrete stance in any given moment in your realization of your mission as a disciple. So you, as a communicator, you as a youth minister, you as a lawyer, you as a doctor, you as having vocation. So that's new and it's intriguing, because there is truth to that, we don't want to lose the value of a permanent state of life, particularly married life, so we have to figure out a way to use the same word and nuance it in different ways, but to broaden it out because most young people are still single and there is value in what they do and who they are. So it may be permanent, it may not be permanent, but you have to say something positive because that is what young people are asking for: “what about us?” So that's an interesting conversation we're having. I’m not exactly sure where it's going to land, we'll have to see what the Holy Father says, but my guess is he is broadening the notion so that there is no one in the end who doesn't have a vocational expression of the call to holiness in Baptism.
Brian Rhude: So this idea of this universal call to holiness that Pope Francis, like you said, is so, he is bringing this to the forefront of a lot of our discussions.
Bishop Caggiano: Yes.
Brian Rhude: And I think a lot of people don't know that this concept isn't new to the Church it's just we're kind of seeing it..
Bishop Caggiano: Lumen Gentium! It was in [the Second] Vatican Council..
Brian Rhude: Vatican II. It was St. Vincent Pallotti, St. Francis De Sales..
Bishop Caggiano: Mmhmm.
Brian Rhude: It kind of goes back..
Bishop Caggiano: Jesus!
Brian Rhude: Jesus, the main one. But thinking about these great saints that we have that, that have really lived a life of calling people to holiness or, you know, or expressions of accompaniment or mentorship. What, let's talk about briefly, Sunday. And we have seven new saints in the Church. What does, are there any of them specifically who have stood out to you as models as you prepare for this process and for your ministry? What does it mean to have these saints be canonized during this Synod?
Bishop Caggiano: Well, of the seven, I know a bit of really, of three of the seven, to be very honest. Paul VI, I was, I came of age in Paul VI. I was a child. I was born in 1959, so when he became pope, I was about five or six. So he was the first one I actually remember. And a man of tremendous courage. To publish Humanae Vitae was a very lonely act for him, but he was true to what he believed and what the Church believes. You have Oscar Romero who is the firebrand. Deeply courageous and a martyr, right, who was not worried about the consequences of faith. And then you have a nineteen-year-old, who just in the quiet his life, is a tremendous inspiration. So, what's the takeaway? The takeaway is we all excuse ourselves in the great mire of mediocrity. We're very comfortable giving the baseline in every state of life. But Jesus is calling us to greatness, right? He is calling us realize our destiny. And the [Second] Vatican Council clearly said that. It's just echoing the Master. So now, perhaps, young people and young adults who are somewhat disillusioned with the world around them, this could be the moment, this Synod could be the moment to say: You have a choice. You either go into the mediocrity that's out there and just survive or you strive for something better. That “something better” is a life of holiness. That's being courageous like Oscar Romero, it's being faithful like Paul VI. It's like being like Frances de Sales: in the ordinariness of life is your call to greatness, to courage, to holiness. Imagine if we could unlock that in the Church, in the world. So, Francis, I think Pope Francis is getting us back to the basics. And in a world that wants to lose itself in the trees, we have to remember there's a forest. Perhaps hopefully that the Synod will help us do to that.
Brian Rhude: You kind of answered it, but this will be the last question. If you could just, if you had a group of young people in front of your right now with the two weeks that you've had here and your experience in the ministry, what would you say to them?
Bishop Caggiano: Hold on. Hold on. Be patient. Because in the end the change you seek is not going to happen on the dime. If you really want it, you're going to have to fight for it. You're going to have to give of yourself for it, and you're going to have to get to the trenches and make it a reality. So, this is not a short-term, this is a long-term commitment. And if you're in, I think the majority of the adults and ecclesial leaders who are here, particularly the bishops, are willing to learn. (Had to do this because I'm not sure they all know how to, including myself) to accompany you to do it, but you gotta be in it to do it. That would be my message.
Brian Rhude: Okay. Bishop Caggiano, thank you.
Bishop Caggiano: Pleasure.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
For the past few weeks, bishops from across the globe have met in Rome for the XV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. This is a momentous time for the Church, one in which she has paused from her work in order to listen and dialogue with a powerful age group in our world today: young people. In imitation of Christ Himself, who sat down during His ministry and said, “let the children come to me,” the successors of the Apostles are engaging the young people of the world in order to learn from them, engage with them, and better accompany them on their faith journey.
But what does this mean for the rest of the Church? What does this mean for us personally? The Synod is not just an event occurring in Rome, nor a series of documents and pastoral initiatives. Below I have compiled 5 key take-aways from the Synod that we can apply to our own spiritual lives.
1. Invite the Holy Spirit.
In his homily for the opening of the Synod, Pope Francis reminded his brother bishops to call upon the Holy Spirit before embarking on their work. “It is the Spirit,” Pope Francis said, “who ensures that the richness and beauty of the Gospel will be a source of constant joy and freshness.” This is true for each of us. Christ left us with the gift of the Holy Spirit after His Ascension into Heaven; the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and remains with us today, present in our hearts as a result of our Baptism. Before embarking on our work on earth, let us call upon the Holy Spirit in order to guide us and ensure we are faithful to our mission. It was the Holy Spirit who transformed the cowering Apostles into bold missionaries, evangelists, and martyrs. The same Holy Spirit leads us today and helps us fulfill our baptismal call. Invite the Holy Spirit into your life, work, and day to day actions in order to live out the richness and beauty of the Gospel that Pope Francis mentions.
The Synod participants have been encouraged to listen intently to what the young people of the Church have to say. This attitude can only be successful if it stems from a posture of humility, an openness to the other, and a flexibility to adapt our perspective based on what we learn. All of us are called to listen to and accompany those we encounter in our day to day life. This is especially true for those of us working in ministry, but can be applied to whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. We live in a culture that seems afraid of listening. Listening is often associated with vulnerability. It opens our minds and hearts to the perspective, ideas, and dreams of the other—whether or not we agree or resonate with these personally. However, “love for the Gospel and for the people who have been entrusted to us, challenges us to broaden our horizons and not lose sight of the mission to which we are called,” Pope Francis said. Listening to another person challenges us to step outside of our comfort zone and acknowledge the truths of the other. Only by listening can we hope to dialogue respectfully with those who might not share our worldview or beliefs.
3. Discern and be silent.
After calling upon the Holy Spirit, we need to create a space of silence where we can listen to God’s promptings. For the first time in a Synod, Pope Francis has instituted 3 minutes of periodic silence for participants to reflect on what’s been shared and on what God is stirring in their hearts. This is a wonderful example of ongoing discernment, which invites God into our life and asks Him to guide us in our everyday actions and decisions. “Discernment is the method and at the same time the goal we set ourselves,” Pope Francis said. “It is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to me.” We can also learn from the spirituality of The Society of Jesus, which emphasizes being “contemplatives in action.” This spirit of discernment is radically different from the world of busyness and noise we often find ourselves in, but it also is capable of existing within that world. When we periodically withdraw into the inner room of our hearts and pray to our heavenly Father in secret, we become better attuned not only to His presence in our hearts, but also to God’s presence in those around us.
4. Be flexible.
Sometimes, it is easy to come up with preconceived notions of how things ought to be done or to maintain an attitude of “it’s always been this way.” Throughout his papacy, and once again at the beginning of this Synod, Pope Francis has challenged the Church to be flexible and to shatter our temptation to conform. In his homily for the opening of the Synod, he called the Church to “broaden our horizons, expand our hearts and transform those frames of mind that today paralyze, separate and alienate us from young people.” A healthy flexibility is key to our well-being in whatever vocation we find ourselves. Flexibility also relies on humility and allows us to admit that we don’t always have the right answers. When we as a Church are flexible, we are better able to encounter others and work together to seek the truth of the Gospel.
5. Dare to hope, to dream.
A great gift that young people can give the Church is their ability to dream. Young people have passion, enthusiasm, hopes, and dreams that offer freshness and renewal to our Church and to the world. This is even more important in a world laden with suffering and problems, where it is easy to succumb to a defeatism or a pessimistic attitude. Pope Francis reminds us that “The future is not a threat to be feared, but is the time the Lord promises us when we will be able to experience communion with him, with our brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation.” When our faith is rooted in the goodness and beauty of Christ Himself, we are better able to share His joy and hope with the world. Let us learn from the vigor and hope of young people today. May it be contagious, so that others are drawn to ask us for an account of our hope.
As Pope Francis concluded in his Address at the Opening of the Synod of Bishops, “Let us therefore work to “spend time with the future … to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands, and inspire in young people – all young people, with no one excluded – a vision of the future filled with the joy of the Gospel.”
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
There are about a million things I could say in praise of being a Catholic in Rome. The Eternal City is one of the most significant locations for our faith, and it is almost impossible to come here and not experience Catholicism in some way. Everywhere you turn there is an incredible church that you’ve never even heard of, a monument related to our past, and of course the constant shadow of Saint Peter’s. But beyond that, the history and culture of the city are impossible to separate from the role this place has taken in forming and guiding our Church throughout centuries. You can become almost supersaturated with the beauty of it all, and if you choose it, the experience of being here can be transformative in the faith.
But what does it specifically mean to be a young Catholic in Rome? How can you describe the experience of being in one of the oldest places, while simultaneously knowing that you are one of the newest things on the planet? And what responsibilities do we have as young people while here, especially during the current Synod?
I am so lucky to be able to study abroad in Rome this semester. One of my classes here is Church History, which includes a weekly visit to a historical site of the faith and a discussion of its role and development within the early Church. I’m a little shocked at how much I thought I knew, and then learning something I never understood about our past.
Nothing is more convincing of the fact that the Church is a survivor than one look at its history. The number of upsetting things that I have learned about in the Church’s past are always overcome somehow by the next generation in a manner and consistency that is honestly shocking. Today, this strikes close to home for me, and I’ve come to more deeply see my role and responsibility as a young person called to renew the Church. My course on Church History has been eye-opening in understanding the adaptability and beautifully dynamic nature of our faith, as well as the importance of strong members of the Body of Christ stepping forward to guide her in holiness. In Rome, the city itself is a testimony to the consistency of the faith and its principles, as well as the varied ways this faith has been passed down over the centuries.
This is the knowledge that dictates the responsibility of a young person in Rome. It is a gift to be here and a privilege to see these places that hold such significance in our faith. But to view being a young person in Rome as a mere occasion to take and absorb the city without seeing the opportunity and even responsibility to contribute something to the narrative would be a mistake. If there is any place to learn that the Church is built on the living out of the Gospel, it is here, where ancient structures meet the next generation in the ever old-young duality so present in our faith. The Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment is going on in my (current) backyard and is literally designed for me as a young person! One of the coolest sections of the Instrumentum Laboris (the working document of the Synod), in my opinion, is Chapter V, titled “Listening to the Youth,” where it talks about what it means to be open to the real and organic ideas and needs the youth have. It is our responsibility now to take up the Church on her offer to listen to young people by speaking. You don’t need to be the most involved person in the Synod, but perhaps you can learn more about it, read the documents that come forth from this meeting, pray for good fruit to bear, and engage with what is going on.
To be in Rome as a young person right now is to be in Rome trying to make our faith more understandable and encounterable for all young people. It is more than an opportunity to evangelize, it is a responsibility. The Synod talks about Jesus’ role as a young man preaching to a young Church. How incredible is it to be the echo of that in the present Church today? May God give us the grace to live that role well.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
In this world of artificial connection, can we still discover and grasp an authentic connection within ourselves to our Triune God? Many of us are technologically connected throughout the day and into the evening, whether it be through social media, texting, e-mails, the Internet, or general screen time. In a normal day-to-day setting, take a moment to reflect on how often you have face-to-face time to truly speak with and connect with your family, peers, friends, or co-workers. In those moments, are you able to reach beyond a superficial level of connection?
Oftentimes amidst the busyness of our lives, schedules, commutes, and responsibilities, we find it difficult to truly maintain a connected relationship with others that goes beyond our phone, tablet, or computer screen. If maintaining this human connection has become difficult, how much more difficult is it for us to find those moments of quiet, internal spiritual connection to God? Our society and technology have fooled us into believing that all of this quick and easy access has made it easier than ever to keep in touch with those that mean the most to us. And yet oftentimes it has instead succeeded in building walls of electronic screens not only between us and others but, more importantly, between us and God.
There are many things that resonate between our physical, or exterior, and our spiritual, or interior, lives. What is the equivalent “screen time” in our spiritual lives? Where are we holding onto surface-level connections instead of digging deeper into our relationship with God and growing in our spiritual life? Are we holding onto a barrier that is holding us back from maturing in our spiritual development? Just as we grow, develop, and mature in our physical lives, we are called to do so in our spiritual lives as well.
Today, we celebrate and commemorate the life of Saint Teresa of Jesus, also known as Saint Teresa of Avila. Saint Teresa was a spiritual writer and mystic. She is one of four females to be named a Doctor of the Church, meaning that her spiritual writings have been given special authority. Her teachings, writings, and life can point us in the direction of growing in our interior life and thus growing in our faith and connection to God.
In Saint Teresa’s spiritual writing The Interior Castle, she likens the stages of growth and development of our interior life to seven mansions within a castle. Saint Teresa describes the dwelling of God within us as residing in the seventh mansion of our castle. Through the growth and development of our spiritual life, our soul is to journey through the mansions to find its rest within the seventh, the kingdom of God.
The first step in entering the castle is prayer. Saint Teresa teaches that, “Souls without prayer are like people whose bodies and limbs are paralyzed.” Let’s take a moment to reflect on our prayer life. Are there any “electronic screens” standing in the way of deepening our relationship and our conversations with our Creator? Are we connecting to God in our prayer life as if we are updating our Facebook status or posting our latest photo to Instagram? Or are we really striving to power down the screens of distraction in our life to speak with God AND listen to Him?
Let us turn to the life of Saint Teresa as an example and inspiration for our desire to develop the maturity of our soul. The next time you enter into prayer, “Go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” (Matthew 6:6) If we look at these words of Scripture through the lens of Saint Teresa’s teachings, we must pass the walls of our castle, our body, in order to enter our inner room. Allow yourself a few moments to quiet and calm the body in order to turn your focus to God. Take time to power down the screen. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. The Divine Physician has created our body in such a way that by slowing and deepening our breath rate, our heart rate and blood pressure decreases, our muscles relax, and the racing thoughts of our mind slow so that we can focus on one Triune thing, our God. In this state of quiet and calm, invite the Holy Spirit into this moment and seek a true, contemplative connection in prayer with your Creator.
I would like to close with a prayer often attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila: “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”
Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us!
On October 14, 2018, Pope Francis will canonize two great church leaders who helped shape Catholicism across the globe in the second half of the twentieth century: Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero. In reflecting on their lives, I cannot do justice to the complex and controversial circumstances that forged these extraordinary men into the saints they are. Instead, I’d like to reflect on something common and fundamental to us and them: Baptism.
Baptism sets the foundation for a lifelong calling and mission. The Catechism calls Baptism “the basis of the whole Christian life” and “the gateway to life in the Spirit” (CCC 1213). A saint is someone who lives their baptismal identity to the full. The three fundamentals we are called to live and practice “on entering the People of God through faith and Baptism” (CCC 783) are what we call the “three offices of Christ”: Priest, Prophet, and King. What made Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero saints was the integrity and fullness with which they lived out their baptismal vocations as priest, prophet, and king.
Both Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero were ordained Catholic priests, but by virtue of their Baptism they shared what we call the “priesthood of the faithful.” What is this priestly vocation? We live it by offering prayer and sacrifice for others. At the heart of every saint is a love for and commitment to prayer. Archbishop Romero lived his priestly vocation in a powerful and tragic way when he was martyred on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass in Divina Providentia Hospital—uniting his prayer and sacrifice with Christ’s into eternity.
Paul VI and Oscar Romero excelled at the way they lived the prophetic vocation of their Baptism. A prophet, in the biblical sense, is someone called by God to deliver a message of truth through either words or actions. One of my favorite descriptions of a prophet is one who comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. During their lifetime, prophets are often inconvenient, unpopular, or even attacked, but history proves they shared the right message at exactly the right time.
Both Paul VI and Oscar Romero faced harsh criticism, and Romero (as did many other prophets through history) suffered martyrdom. When Paul VI issued the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (1968), which affirmed traditional Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, he faced a wave of criticism and dissent in the Church. Fifty years later, many Catholic moral theologians and historians see that his analysis and predictions were right on target. Archbishop Romero, standing in the tradition of Old Testament prophets like Amos and Isaiah, stood up and spoke out to the government (known as the Junta) in his home country of El Salvador, as well as other world governments (including the United States), on behalf of the poor and marginalized who were being treated unjustly. Like Paul VI and Romero, every baptized person is called to stand up and speak out for truth and justice, especially when it is unpopular or inconvenient.
While we gravitate toward thinking of the “royal” or “kingly” role as one of being above or served by others, it is actually the exact opposite. A true leader is one completely dedicated to serving others through his administration and decision-making. I can think of few more monumental or difficult tasks a church leader faced than Pope Paul VI when he was called by the Church to steer the conclusion and implementation of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which has been called the single most important religious event in the twentieth century. Archbishop Oscar Romero was often criticized for his ecclesial administration getting mixed up with the political situation. Yet Romero recognized that in order to effectively lead and serve the church under his pastoral care, he needed to engage the civil government around him.
We, like Paul VI and Oscar Romero, do not become saints by being perfect administrators or leaders, but by bringing God’s spirit of wisdom into the challenges and opportunities that come our way. I would guess that at their baptism and even priestly ordination, Paul VI and Oscar Romero had no idea how God had planned for them to exercise their royal vocation. Under extraordinary times and circumstances, these saints modelled for us how we all are called to exercise leadership in ordinary, everyday circumstances with humility and whole-hearted devotion to God and others.
On October 14, let us rededicate ourselves to living our own priestly, prophetic, and royal vocation of Baptism with the same spirit and integrity as Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Please click the following links for more information about the canonization and lives of Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero.
Christian accompaniment is best understood through the Gospel story of the Road to Emmaus. If Emmaus is Heaven, each of us is on our own journey: afraid, confused, and attempting to make sense of the joy of the Resurrection. Each of us needs someone to walk beside, someone who will minister to us by simply listening, then understanding, and advising. On this journey, our earthly traveling companion is on one side and Jesus is on the other. The disciples couldn’t have come to understand the Paschal Mystery or their relationship with it until they let Christ be their guide.
As a precursor to the 2018 Synod, the Synod of Bishops released their working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. In its second part, the document discusses the necessity for vocational accompaniment, defined as “a process that is able to unleash freedom, as well as the capacity to give and to integrate the various dimensions of life within a horizon of meaning.” Though a rather lofty definition, it is clear that accompaniment centers around a proper understanding of discernment.
Discernment can be a confusing Catholic buzzword. For some, the mere thought of it causes extreme panic, while others understand it as equivalent to “religious life.” I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had where someone leans over to me and asks in a hushed tone, “Are you discerning?” to which I respond bluntly, “EVERYONE is discerning!” Every young person is constantly discerning not only our capitol “V” Vocation (such as a call to religious life, the priesthood, or to marriage), but also our vocation for every year, month, or moment of our lives. Each day is an opportunity to ask to know God’s will. Even a small daily prayer invites Him to let the Spirit work in our lives.
With this definition of discernment in mind, accompaniment is the simple act of being present to someone, forming a relationship in order to walk with him or her towards an understanding of Christ’s will. The Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris says that there are many kinds of accompaniment. Whether it be formal spiritual direction, psychological accompaniment, advisement from a trusted elder, etc., accompaniment is necessary for the spiritual journey. We cannot live out our faith alone. We need others to share with, to learn from, and to pray with in order to grow as children of God.
In my own journey, I have been blessed to be accompanied by many different disciples. My parents were the first to show me what it means to be accompanied in and through love. In high school, a few wonderful teachers gave me room to grow and begin to understand how Christ was speaking in my life. In college, I learned how to open myself to totally new companions and walk with college-aged ministers. In the most traditional sense, an excellent diocesan priest and longtime friend welcomed me in spiritual direction last year and together we learn how God is calling me to serve Him as I grow as a person and daughter.
I know accompaniment is important because when I try to walk the road alone, I am met with a sense of isolation and confusion. When I made the decision to study abroad in Rome for the semester, I never realized the sort of impact it would have on my spiritual life. Leaving my closest companions, faith friends, and spiritual director behind in the United States, I felt unable to cope with the new challenges I’m facing. I’ve come to realize that without those spiritual relationships, the journey towards Christ becomes far more difficult.
To accompany and to be accompanied are not positions to be taken lightly, and hopefully this Synod will show the Church how to better foster these sorts of relationships. In a time where many of us are feeling betrayed or isolated by the Church, it is difficult to trust that She is the source of these types of reliable and authentic relationships. As young people, however, we have to trust in the healing mercy of the Holy Spirit and the grace bestowed upon our Church’s shepherds. It is not an easy time to be a Catholic or a young person, but that is all the more reason for us to persevere on the journey with a companion on one side and Christ on the other.
Throughout the month of October, the Church gathers in Rome for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. For generations, young people have heard that they are the future of the Church, and now Pope Francis, bishops from all over the world, auditors from various fields including youth and young adult ministry, and even some young people gather within the Synod hall to discuss this future and the young people that will help move the Church forward.
On October 6, 2018, the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture hosted an event in Rome titled, “’Behold, I make all things new’: A Conversation on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” The event kicked off with a reception where members of the media, members of the audience, and Synod participants spent time talking and getting to know one another. Seemingly always talking with someone new was John Allen Jr., the founder and editor of Crux, the Catholic news outlet that was co-sponsoring the event with UND. As the start time of 7:30 approached, Mr. Allen announced in a loud voice that the Synod session had run long and the Bishops would be there soon.
After the audience had gotten settled in the hall, Bishop Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, and Bishop Onah of Nigeria entered the hall to a round of applause. Dr. Pia de Solenni, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Orange, moderated the event and welcomed Bishop Onah to give some opening remarks. After Bishop Onah shared some words, the six participants gave short testimonies to the audience and bishops present about their lives as Catholics. These participants from across the world, including countries such as China and Bermuda, shared about their relationships with the Church and God, the influence their families and friends had had on them, and their hopes for the Synod. The audience was clearly moved by these young people, not only by their courage to get up and speak in front of this crowd, but by their love for the Catholic Church and God.
After the testimonies had finished, Bishop Barron and John Allen began a conversation on the topic of the Synod that was moderated by Dr. de Solenni. Mr. Allen provided interesting and challenging questions to Bishop Barron, but both provided an insightful view into the Synod and the different paths that the discussion and prayer could take. After the conversation, Bishop Onah was again invited up to provide his thoughts and reflections on the six young people’s testimonies. Bishop Onah’s enthusiasm for young people and trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Synod was obvious, and the passion with which he spoke was infectious. The event ended with a few questions taken from the audience and answered by Bishops Barron and Onah. One of the topics of these questions included beauty in sacred spaces, including an explanation of the Faith while presenting it as true and beautiful. Bishop Onah’s answer was remarkable. He pointed to the universality of the Church, witnessed by all of the different nations and peoples present and active at the Synod, as a manifestation of the Church’s beauty. He left the entire room, Bishop Barron included, speechless. We prayed together, concluding the evening by joining our hearts to God and focusing on the beauty that he’s given us in the Church. I couldn’t think of a better way to end, and a better thing to reflect upon as the Synod continues.
The recent news of scandal within the American Church has understandably been the cause of immense frustration, anger, and disappointment in the public and, most especially, among the faithful. I have also seen many who have become disillusioned by the Catholic Church and decided to separate from the rest of the faith community. The danger in this response is that it risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as our faith community is one of the greatest gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit.
Through my travels this summer, I had the opportunity to experience two very different cultures very much tied to our Catholic faith. My experiences in these cultures reminded me of the great blessing of our faith community.
In early July, I set off with a group of teenagers and adults from my parish on a mission trip to visit our sister parish in Dessalines, Haiti. When we landed and traversed the countryside, I came face to face with poverty unlike any I have ever experienced. My concern over a lack of modern amenities quickly dissipated, however, as I was overwhelmed by the warm hospitality of our Haitian hosts. Most especially, the Haitian children and teens we worked with throughout the weeklong summer camp showed us true joy and hope. The pastor told us that our presence meant so much to the community, solidifying our relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ more than any monetary donation could achieve.
In September, I travelled to visit extended family in Ireland. Despite it being only the second time I had met most of them, our conversations continued well into the evening and it felt as though we were picking up right where we left off. Evident among our conversations was a shared concern for the scandals facing the American Church, but there was also a resolute hope that keeping our eyes fixed on Christ would see us through. As we talked about the family history and previous generations, I was reminded of how grateful I am to have had the faith passed down to me and how much I owe to my ancestors.
In these distinct experiences of encounter, the hospitality I was shown and the underlying hope I received from my conversations with my hosts reminded me of the great blessing of our faith community, no matter how far flung it might be. This an especially difficult time to be Catholic, but I firmly believe that with God’s grace our faith community, broken and imperfect as it may be, will also be among our greatest sources of hope. In times of adversity, let us cling to our communities of faith and to Christ Himself. Rather than abandon our parishes and local church communities, let us work to ensure that they are rooted in the love of Christ in order to build a holy Church, a community of hope.
“Dear young people, let yourselves be taken over by the light of Christ, and spread that light wherever you are.” Pope St. John Paul II’s words to the participants of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto are as true now as they were over fifteen years ago. As the Church prepares for a Synod of Bishops to discuss Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, Pope St. John Paul II’s words are a great call to prayer.
The Synod of Bishops was established in 1965 by Bl. Pope Pius VI (who will be canonized during this year’s Synod) to meet whenever the current pope deemed it necessary or opportune to gather the world’s bishops to discuss important matters within the Church. Before the October 2018 Synod, the most recent synod will have been the 2014 Extraordinary Synod that was called to discuss the topics of family and evangelization, out of which came Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love.
This Synod has been called by Pope Francis and is the 15th Ordinary Synod of Bishops. The Instrumentum Laboris, or the working document for the Synod (available here) was created after listening to groups of young people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and geographic regions. It discusses important topics, like what it means to be a young person today, accompaniment, vocational discernment, evangelization and our universal call to follow Jesus. Even after the publishing of the Instrumentum Laboris, Church leaders will continue to gather young people across the world to listen to them on these important issues to decide how best the Church can move forward.
These are serious matters facing the Church, especially our Church here in the US, as vocations to the priestly and religious life seem to continue to decline and Church attendance dwindles. As a student at The Catholic University of America (CUA), I feel that there is great hope in this generation. You need not look further than the on-campus Masses and weekly Adorations to see that the Holy Spirit is moving within our youth. Yes, the small student body of CUA is surely not indicative of the entirety of young people in our country—but if you look to other Catholic institutions and talk with high school ministers, youth ministers, and religion teachers, there’s reason for optimism.
This summer, I was a counselor for Light the World, a summer institute organized by CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies. I was blessed to minister to about fifty high schoolers from across the country. While fifty might not seem like that big of a number, it was a sampling of the young people who are looking for Christ in their lives, a sampling that gets bigger and bigger when you add programs like the Steubenville Conferences, Life Teen camps and events, and other independent conferences and events (not to mention World Youth Day!). It is through the witness of young men and women like the ones at Light the World that we can find hope in times so desperately in need of it.
In my experience, I have seen that this is a generation being moved by the Holy Spirit. We are grateful that the Church is inviting young people to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences, and pray that she will use what she learns to create a stronger and more unified Church moving forward. The optimism of our young people is a call to prayer and action, both on the part of our Bishops and clergy and that of the laity. Let us look to our great saints who had devotion to young people, like Pope St. John Paul II and St. Vincent Pallotti, as our guides in order to see the Church grow and flourish in the good works that Christ has called her to. Our youth can also look to young saints such as Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Maria Goretti as inspirations of holiness to help guide them closer to Christ.
This Synod will be a good first step in figuring out how the Church can better accompany and encourage its young people to be saints, but it cannot be the final step. In the coming months, more writings and documents will come out of the Synod, pastoral plans and diocesan initiatives will emerge, and new ways of ministry and accompaniment will come. It is through prayer that the Synod and the resulting actions will bear good fruit; and it is in Christ alone that we will find our hope. During this momentous time in our Church, let us pray for our young people, for an increase in holy vocations, and for the will of God to be done.
For more information on the upcoming Synod, please click here.