In my work at the Catholic Apostolate Center, and as a self-identified millennial, I am frequently asked: "How can we bring young people back to the Church?" It's a question I get asked a lot by people who are my parents’ age and older, mainly because they see their children, grandchildren, or nieces and nephews ‘willingly’ leaving the Church. Fortunately, our Church across the globe is also asking this very question during its October 2018 synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. In preparation for the synod, the Vatican recently released the Instrumuntum Laboris (Latin for "working instrument") for the bishops of the world to review, discuss, and offer insights to Pope Francis. The document talks about the challenges that face young people, classified as those aged 16-39, in the Church and world today—from being an individual in a global society, to finding meaning in life, to living in an increasingly materialistic world, etc. —and then discusses possible solutions to these problems. The document suggests that solutions for individuals vary, but that all begin with discernment through accompaniment.
When we speak of accompaniment, we might think of one person who helps another work through some difficulty by offering insight or expertise on how to overcome it – kind of like a coach. Instrumuntum Laboris, however, emphasizes that the accompaniment is not just a simple form of coaching, but rather:
"...true accompaniment will strive to present vocation not as a pre-determined fate, a task to be carried out, a ready-made script, to be accepted by discovering how to implement it effectively. God takes seriously the freedom He has given to human beings, and responding to his call is a commitment that requires work, imagination, audacity and willingness to make progress also by trial and error" (Instrumentum Laboris, 121).
It is through accompaniment that young people (and by extension all people) can understand the power of God in their lives because they see God working through that other person. This mentor helps the young person to see how God calls each and every one of us to be a messenger for the Word of God. The mentor also helps the young person to discover the best way to use his own talents and gifts for the Mission of the Church. The hope is that through this pairing, the spiritual growth of the individual will lead to the spiritual growth of the universal Church.
Now the next questions to ask are: "Who is a mentor? What does a mentor look like?" Our Bishops and Magisterium have wisely begun to ask this question as well and have devoted an entire section of Instrumentum Laboris to mentorship and the ideal mentor:
"[A mentor is] a faithful Christian who engages with the Church and the world; someone who constantly seeks holiness; is a confidant without judgement; actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind; is deeply loving and self-aware; acknowledges their limits and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey ... mentors should not lead young people as passive followers, but walk alongside them, allowing them to be active participants in the journey" (132).
From my experiences with my mentors and as a mentor myself, as well as the experiences of friends and co-workers, I understand that active participation is the key. Unlike a coach who watches his players from the sidelines, a mentor is someone who walks with his mentee on the journey to holiness, allowing himself to grow in holiness as well. Spiritual accompaniment, as the document states at different points, is not easy—in fact it is quite difficult. It requires a deep love of Church, confidence, humility, self-awareness, and commitment. It takes time and dedication, like all strong relationships do. It requires an understanding that our faith is not passive, but rather a calling "to go and make disciples of all nations.” We are all called—priests, religious, and lay—to be mentors to those of all ages, demographics, and steps in their faith journey. Let us pray that God reveals to us those whom we are called to mentor and that we have the courage and strength to walk alongside them in our shared pursuit of holiness.
Question for Reflection: What aspects of myself are well suited to mentorship? How can I continue to develop those traits or skills?
“The New Evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown.” – Cardinal Timothy Dolan (Address to the College of Cardinals, February 2012)
There is nothing simplistic about Cardinal Dolan’s point above. Some, who are not examining it carefully, might see it as such. No, instead, in a short, pithy comment that is very emblematic of his style of speaking, he is summarizing his main point that “the missionary, the evangelist, must be a person of joy.” Sadly, there are many dour people among the baptized who Pope Francis calls “sourpusses” in Evangelii Gaudium, n. 85. Interestingly enough, Pope Francis uses this word not simply as a rebuke to those who hold a particular view, but instead as a call to trust in the One who sends us forth, Jesus Christ.
“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9).”
The smile then on the face of the joyful evangelizer is one of confidence in Christ. Note that it is confidence, not arrogance. Some confuse the two and become self-proclaimed judges of the level of Catholicity of another. Instead, we are called to docility in Christ, a trait that is not practiced often enough. It is a humility that understands that no one person has every answer. We look rather to the community of faith, the Church, for our guidance, our deeper understanding, and our unity with one another amid our diversity. As Pope Francis teaches, “differences between persons and communities can sometimes prove uncomfortable, but the Holy Spirit, who is the source of that diversity, can bring forth something good from all things and turn it into an attractive means of evangelization” (EG, n. 131).
Let us go forth, then, joyfully – as evangelizers, as missionary disciples, as apostles – as those who are fully confident in the message that we have received, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all and that the Church shares this good news and continues his mission until he comes again.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!