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.
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.
“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.
This year, the theme for Catechetical Sunday (September 16th) is “Enlisting Witnesses for Jesus Christ.” This day is a reminder that all of the baptized play a role in the mission of sharing Christ with others, whether that be through formal or informal ministry.
This mission seems pressing today. In Bishop Robert Barron’s 2018 message for Catechetical Sunday, he says we are losing baptized Catholics at an alarming rate. In a Pew Research report, we see that Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics make up about 23% of the U.S. adult population.
This group of religiously unaffiliated individuals, or “nones,” is mostly concentrated among young adults, and the median age of unaffiliated adults continues to get younger. Of this population, those who describe themselves as agnostic or “nothing in particular” cite their top reason for not affiliating with a religion is that they question a lot of religious teachings. Having questions is actually an essential part of learning about and understanding the Catholic faith; only when we question can we begin to move beyond a lack of understanding and come to learn the truth of the Gospel. God desires for us to use our intelligence to come to know him before acting upon our faith.
The majority of young adults and “nones” find value in meaningful relationships over institutionalism and in authenticity over authority (Halbach). This shows us that the Church can engage the “nones” by forming relationships in order to accompany them along the journey of life. In the mission to bring Christ to others, we serve as authentic witnesses to the Good News of the Gospel through our lives. The Church needs the active participation of the laity to conduct outreach efforts in the everyday moments of our lives, both inside and outside of the Church. We were created to be social beings who can form relationships with others that will lead them to Christ and to the Church.
Much of this relationship building happens organically in our communities and parishes. For example, a couple of weeks ago, my parish young adult group heard that the grandmother of one of our new members had passed away. After hearing this news, we wrote and signed a sympathy card to mail her. By this small act of love for our fellow sister in Christ, we were able to show our genuine care for her and our desire to welcome her back to church after her travels for the funeral.
As missionary disciples, we know that there is no one “right” path to building these relationships and caring about those around us. This allows us to share our innate gifts creatively with others in order to build authentic relationships. Furthermore, sharing our own faith stories of personal encounters with Christ helps us to accompany others on their faith journeys as well. We must show others that we love them through our actions rather than our words. Christ enlists us as his witnesses. This Catechetical Sunday, how can you respond to his call?
Questions for Reflection: Are we open to questions about our Catholic faith in helping ourselves and others come to know God? Are we preparing ourselves to be able to answer questions from others about the faith in a rational manner? What are some ways you can begin to build authentic relationships with others in your community or parish? How are you building personal relationships with others in context of your faith journey?
To learn more about living as missionary disciples, click here.
Editor's Note: In honor of the second anniversary of WYD Krakow (2016) and in anticipation of WYD Panama (2019), we are reposting this wonderful reflection from WYD 2016 on the role of young people in the Church.
Who was it that claimed the Church is irrelevant to young people? Who was it that claimed young people did not seek or yearn for Christ? My experience of World Youth Day (WYD) has shown me otherwise. WYD is the largest gathering of Catholic young adults in a series of events sponsored by the Church. First initiated by St. John Paul II in 1985, WYD is celebrated at the diocesan level annually and at the international level every two to three years at different locations around the world. People do not attend as tourists, but rather as pilgrims, since the nature of the composite events are religious in character. Typically, pilgrims will arrange lodging in the host city before participating in the opening ceremonies, catechesis, and cultural exhibitions. Taking advantage of all the host city has to offer, pilgrims will usually also spend time exploring the region (especially churches), shopping for religious souvenirs, and tasting the local cuisine… and very rarely alone! As the locals are quick to notice, the host city will be absolutely inundated with pilgrim groups, each identified by various flags, shirts, and chants. In spite of the inconveniences experienced (such as crowds, traffic, and long lines), for the most part, the locals are excited to greet so many peoples; local businesses are especially happy to cater to the pilgrims’ needs.
The focus of WYD events centers around the arrival of the pope: everyone wants to hear what the Holy Father has to say to the young pilgrims at various sites and events. Traditionally, the Holy Father will address crowds from his residence, during Masses, Stations of the Cross, and the overnight vigil during which millions camp out together in prayer. The conclusion of the Vigil Mass the following day signals the end of the official WYD program, though at that time the next host city is formally announced.
I’ve been blessed to have been able to attend two World Youth Days, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013 and in Kraków, Poland this year. So much more than a sightseeing trip, WYD for me has been all about seeing how God’s love for us manifests itself in each culture. Encountering millions of young believers (in addition to curious observers) who are inherently joyful in their witnesses to the Lord, I am especially delighted to see them interact with each other through songs, chants, prayers, and games during scheduled events or out in the streets. For me, some of the most powerful witnesses given happened outside of the official program (though seeing millions kneel before the Blessed Sacrament with lit candles during the vigil was indescribably moving). I remember seeing a group of Italian pilgrims run over to help a local disabled man carry groceries up a number of street stairs; another group immediately rushed to comfort a female pilgrim who had broken down during our 12 kilometer (about 7.5 miles) hike from the site of the overnight vigil. Simple acts of love like that really touched me as being authentically Christian: to love in even the smallest matters and, by doing so, answering the call given at the end of Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Pope Francis gave many beautiful and encouraging addresses to those assembled in Poland, but I was most impacted by an action of his. At the beginning of Mass at the great Shrine of Czestochowa, Pope Francis missed a stair step and fell, thankfully uninjured. He later explained that, "I was watching (an image of) the Madonna, and I forgot the step." He literally fell for Our Lady. When I heard the news, I remembered a similar experience of my tripping on the stairs upon seeing a lovely peer of mine go by. To have that ineffably tender and peaceful focus on the Blessed Mother, to be in awe of the Virgin, reflects the perfect love God has for her and for each of us.
WYD may have ended, but the mission entrusted to the young pilgrims by Pope Francis still burns in our hearts:
Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us, like Mary of Bethany, to listen attentively to those we do not understand, those of other cultures and peoples, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. Make us attentive to our elders, as Mary of Nazareth was to Elizabeth, in order to learn from their wisdom.
May each of us always endeavor to accomplish it!
To learn more about the October 2018 Synod on Young People, visit our Synod Portal.
To learn more about WYD 2019 visit our WYD Panama Portal.
“The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” is the theme that Pope Francis chose for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland. One aspect that will be explored is how “the Christian family, by its witness to the life and love of Jesus, is a principal agent of evangelization to the world.” Catholic teaching calls the family, the “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11) and parents are told in the Rite of Baptism that they are “the first teachers of their child in the ways of the faith.”
Others in the Church, clergy, those in consecrated life, and lay people, are supposed to be co-responsible with parents not only for teaching children and young people, but most especially, nurturing them, protecting them, and witnessing to them holiness of life. When this fails to happen whether in the past or in the present, as is once again showing itself in various parts of the world, then repentance, reform and renewal are not only needed, they are necessary. Repentance, reform, renewal, and greater holiness are not possible without co-responsibility among all the faithful in deeper conversion of life in Christ as our patron, St. Vincent Pallotti, envisioned over 183 years ago in Rome. We cannot do this on our own as Pope Francis reminded all in his apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate:
“Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth” (GE, 50).
Since we are limited, we are challenged to do, with God’s grace, as St. Vincent Pallotti exhorts us to do: "We must begin to reform our lives by putting all our confidence in God."
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In Christ, Apostle of the Eternal Father,
“Everything is well when it is done as God wishes.” – St. Vincent Pallotti
In October, there will be a Synod of Bishops devoted to the interconnection between faith and vocational discernment in the lives of young people. When a person in Catholic circles, especially a young person, says that she or he is “discerning a vocation,” usually this means consecrated life or priesthood. More often today, though, it also includes discernment of whether one is called to the vocation of marriage. Over the last two decades, I have had the privilege of accompanying numerous young adults who are discerning their vocation. As they have come to a decision about a life vocation, I have witnessed their marriages, consecrations, and ordinations. During this year alone, many months have been filled with the joy of such events which will continue into the foreseeable future. Such moments bring me great joy as they should for the Church.
More so, though, we are called to discern the ways in which we can live our primary vocation, the call to holiness. This call, as the Second Vatican Council taught, is “universal” (Lumen Gentium, c. V) It is what God desires of all human beings, to live in a loving union with God and neighbor that leads to salvation. Pope Francis teaches us in Gaudete et Exsultate that
“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures” (GE, 16).
Small gestures lead to larger action through discernment. Is such discernment easy? No. In fact, it is challenging and difficult and can be a cross. But, we are called to take up our cross and follow (Mk 8:34) since no one is called to be a professional discerner. We are called to make choices that are for Christ and witnessed through our love and care for our neighbor. Simply praying, thinking, or talking is not enough. We are challenged to move forward. “It involves striving untrammeled for all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day’s responsibilities and commitments” (GE, 169).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
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?
What is the best method of evangelization? In an era when 35% of young adults (ages 18-29) identify as having no religion at all, we as Christians ought to consider whether our approach to evangelization is working. Too often we think that if those outside the fold just heard the right arguments, if they just read--really read--the right things, they would see the capital “T” Truth. We press onto our non-religious friends blogs and books, podcasts and pamphlets, all with answers to the usual questions skeptics raise (What about evolution? What about violent extremism? Etc.) and we assume that they’ll suddenly just see the light and believe.
It should be apparent by now that this approach doesn’t work.
Imagine doing this in any other context. Paraphrasing an analogy from Bishop Robert Barron, let’s imagine that you are taking a group of seven-year-old boys out onto a baseball field for the first time. You say as the coach, “Now boys, today I’m going to teach you about the incredible game of baseball. It’s a game that you’ll love your whole life. It’s a beautiful game of strategy and strength, precision and unpredictability. Ready to get started? Good. For your first lesson in this game, I’m going to teach you the infield pop-fly rule. Now, yes, it’s a ticky-tacky rule, but it’s actually crucial and can make the difference in a big play. Now let’s go sit on that bench in the dugout and take a look at this little diagram I have here about what to do when you encounter this tricky little hit.”
What seven-year-old walks away from that with a love for baseball?
Rather, says Bishop Barron, you ought to introduce the little guy to the beauty of the game. Take him to the stadium and let him see the best of the best playing. Let him watch as the batter slams one to left field only to have the ball caught in a running dive by the outfielder—his whole body outstretched from head to toe, muscles straining in his neck, eyes up, glove out, lunging across the green as he just barely catches the ball with an audible thunk!
Let the boy see the magic of the game unfold before him.
When we allow a beautiful thing to be beautiful, it speaks for itself. There’s no need to come armed with arguments. The beautiful thing itself lays hold of our soul and draws us in. For the seven-year-old baseball player, he sees the beauty of the game, he desires to participate, and then once he himself is playing, he starts to learn the nuances of the rules and how the rules themselves are part of what makes the game beautiful. In time, the boy is so in love with the game and its rules that he is moved to share that love with others, to get them to see what he sees. Citing the 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology of aesthetics, Barron says that beauty claims the viewer, changes him, and then sends him on mission.
Theologically, beauty is one aspect of the three properties of being called the Transcendentals – the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, all of which together lead us to God, who is Being itself. The trick, of course, is determining the order of our approach. When we start our mission of evangelization with truth we too often shut down dialogue with non-believers, who often find themselves enmeshed in a culture of moral relativism and self-made meaning – who are you to tell me what’s true?
I agree, with Balthasar, Bishop Barron, and others, that we ought to flip the order around. Let the beauty of our Christian faith–whether it is displayed through our liturgy, our sacred art and music, our actions toward one another, or the radiant light of Christ shining through us–draw people in. Let them experience the beauty of the Faith so that they desire to participate in it, in however small a way at first. Consider this hypothetical scenario: A non-believer friend sees you act charitably toward someone who has made you suffer. He sees you forgive and put the wrong behind you. He is taken aback by your generosity. He thinks that he would like to be like that too. In time, he finds himself emulating you. In time, he begins to see that Christians as a people are not all hypocritical. In time, he begins to think that Church teaching might actually engender goodness in human beings in general, not just you. In time, he finds himself agreeing with the basic moral vision of Christianity, even if he rejects the faith itself. In time, he happens to hear Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and begins to wonder what it all means. In time, your beautiful action leads him home.
As Christians, our love for Christ and our love for the Church sometimes make us blind to the sincerity of many skeptics. We dismiss their often earnest desire to do and be good merely because we’ve determined that they can’t do it without God. We feel like it’s our duty as Christians to steer them straight, bring them to the fold. Yet, the next time we consider jumping into the Facebook fray of endless arguments about religion and morals, let us instead refresh our screens, share something beautiful, and move on. Let us allow beauty to soften our hearts of stone and turn them to the sacred heart of Jesus.
Question for reflection: Which of your interests and passions in life started with an experience of beauty? Who among us seems to need an experience of the beautiful and how can you be the one to give it to them?
“But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The Lord’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness!”
Reflecting on the theme for this year’s Mid-Atlantic Congress—"Hope”—I feel as though the idea of hope seems a radical one to even consider today. Every morning, we’re confronted with more bad news: refugees, war, political espionage, starvation, violent crime, and even mass shootings in our own communities. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and cry out, “Just make it stop!” And that’s exactly why we need hope. With the current state of the world, focusing on the theme of hope is one of the most important things we can do as a community of faith.
We often hear that things are in crisis: the family, the Church, our nation, our whole world. But what we encountered at MAC this year looked nothing like crisis. In fact, it looked very much like hope. In our conversations with participants, the Catholic Apostolate Center staff witnessed a fire that, in charity and love, seeks to transform the world with the good news of the Gospel. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of being surrounded by passionate and hard-working people, there are ways we can carry that hope and momentum forward into our parishes and communities.
The Catholic Apostolate Center participated in four presentations this year at the Mid-Atlantic Congress. In our presentation discussing Living as Missionary Disciples, the U.S. Bishops’ guide for pastoral planning, we were able to provide basic principles of missionary discipleship and evangelization. We talked about where the Church in the United States is heading with its evangelization and pastoral planning efforts and together brainstormed practical ways to implement these ideas in our own parishes and dioceses. By collaborating with other members of the Church, and helping to form missionary disciples, our work can change the narrative of hopelessness we often see in the world.
The Center also engaged in fruitful conversation about how to equip young adults to enter into the mission the Church calls us to: becoming missionary disciples, or everyday evangelizers. The session highlighted work being done in several archdiocesan and post-collegiate formation programs, such as Apostles on Mission. We also reflected on the importance of fostering a greater sense of vocational discernment among young adults—a theme on which the Church will continue to reflect in the upcoming Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.
Regarding our schools, the Center had the opportunity to reflect on the complexities of the role of principals as Lay Ecclesial Ministers. Acting as part-administrator, teacher, janitor, crying shoulder, cheerleader, and lunch monitor, a principal is also a school’s connection to the local parish and diocese. They take on a complex role in today’s world and, from the discussion in our session, are eager to renew their commitment to helping form the next generation of missionary disciples.
Finally, the Center unpacked the idea of collaboration from the beginning as it can apply to pastoral planning. With so many new (rather, renewed) ideas being proposed by Pope Francis and the bishops, wrapping one’s head around the various buzz words, new terminology, or different pastoral methodologies can seem overwhelming. Our conversation touched on co-responsibility, missionary discipleship, and entering into pastoral planning with a spirit of discernment and collaboration. It was encouraging to see pastoral leaders rising to the challenge of being co-responsible missionary disciples ready to share the hope of Jesus Christ.
At MAC this year, we experienced hope: hope in the Lord, hope that will not disappoint, and hope that sends us forth. We saw the excitement and fire that comes from hope, which will be taken home to our parishes, schools, and dioceses to transform the world. We thank all who engaged in conversation with us at MAC and challenge you to proclaim the hope of the Gospel to the world.
To listen to our presentations from this year’s Mid-Atlantic Congress, please click here.
This past September, a colleague and I traveled to three cities in the U.S. to discuss with local ministry leaders ways in which Catholic Relief Services (CRS) could engage young adults. Our basic question was this: How can CRS contribute to the conversations folks in their 20s and 30s are already having around issues of peace, justice, and global solidarity?
Two very clear, and slightly discordant, ideas emerged. The first: folks in their 20s and 30s want to offer their time to serve those in need. The second: we as Church might do better to shift from doing good for a world in need to being good for our world.
What do I mean by this? The instinct to do good—to be a service to others, to give of ourselves, to respond in charity to the Gospel invitation to love our neighbor—is something to be applauded. In fact, integrating service into young adult ministry was a priority we heard time and again during our conversations.
But not all world-changing, do-good ideas are created equal. In fact, some can be quite harmful. (For one example from some of CRS’ work that illustrates this general point, check out our Changing the Way We Care initiative on orphanages.)
I’m not saying we shouldn’t dedicate time, talent, and treasure to helping those in need—both in our own communities and around the world. But we should challenge ourselves to be intentional about our initiatives, to investigate the real impact of our efforts—both intended and unintended. We should also ask ourselves who we are really serving: our own sense of self-worth or the real common good.
I write all this by way of reflection on Pope Francis’ calling for a World Day of the Poor, the first of an annually recurring day that begins November 19, 2017. (Click here to read about it in the pope’s own words.) When we think of poverty, our knee-jerk reaction may be to rush to the nearest shelter with old clothes in hand. It may be to donate to a worthy cause. It may be to jump on a plane and fly across the world ready and able to build a house for a family without one.
None of those things are bad, right? People need and deserve clothing and shelter, and charitable donations fuel so many organizations like my own. But intentionality demands that we challenge our own assumptions. Is the local shelter looking for the kinds of clothing I’d like to give, and do they have capacity to sort through them? Does that distant country need me to build a house, or is there a local engineer who is better able to accomplish the job? Do I know what percentage of donations an organization puts toward actually helping those in need?
These are questions I myself have had to wrestle with, and the answers are different in every situation. But they must be asked. Why? Because they help me remove my own ego from the situation and instead make room for the true needs—and solutions—of others.
Pope Francis challenges us to go beyond the doing—which is unmistakably important—to inhabit a new way of living: “We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”
So, then, as we reflect on this first World Day of the Poor, I challenge all of us to not simply do good, but to be good—to integrate God’s vision for humanity not simply into our acts of charity but into our daily choices, our lifestyles, and our long-term goals.
Question for Reflection: How can you follow Eric's advice and not only do good, but be good?
Interested in joining CRS in conversation around these issues? Join our new initiative for folks in their 20s & 30s CROSSROADS en el camino.
To learn more about Catholic Social Teaching, please click here.
Being comfortable with dependence is a struggle for me. I absolutely hate to be a burden on anyone. In fact, my family constantly reminds me that it’s OK to ask for assistance and guidance. Several years ago in college, for example, I began to have car troubles that created a need for help with transportation. My parents reminded me that my friends would be there for me to lean on, reassuring me that they would in fact be glad to help. I was pleasantly surprised when each friend I asked for help gave a resounding, “Of course!”
Self-reliance seems to be a virtue valued by society because we are taught that it is better to give to others than to take. But when taken too far, the negatives of this quality actually erode our trust and relationships with other people, as well as our desire for God. In the Acts of the Apostles, we learn how the members of the early church relied upon one another and became stronger because of this support. We are humbled when we rely on others and on God, but we are also brought closer together as a result.
Recently, I read about Jabez’s prayer in the Bible. Jabez calls out to God asking, “Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! May your hand be with me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!” Jabez turns to God in prayer, showing strength in dependence on God.
Dependence is synonymous with prayer. It requires humility, an acknowledgement that we need God to help us grow and become more like him. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.” God wants us to ask for his blessings in prayer, to strive for big goals and dreams, not settle for mediocrity. But in all we do, we are called to glorify the Father, just as Christ did on earth.
Although not every one of our prayers is answered in the way we ask, God does hear each one and answers them in some way. Sometimes, an answer may come in the form of hardship or suffering. Conversely, an answer may come in the form of silence. Other times, an answer may come as blessings, an “extension of boundaries.” Regardless of the outcome of our prayer, God invites us to depend on him in the midst of any situation we may find ourselves in – whether we are in a position of strength or weakness.
With time, experience, and prayer, God continues to show me how to reach out to others as resources and guides. Over the summer, I began to pray something like Jabez’s prayer. I had asked God for ways to help me become more connected to my parish, and he responded by having a pastoral associate invite me to help form a young adult ministry in the parish.
I reached out to other young adult ministry leaders who offered their suggestions and advice, and they put me in contact with other diocesan leaders who were wonderful resources as well. Several friends also offered their support for the ministry and have helped to form a core planning team. Since the ministry had its first event in September, I encounter someone new looking to join or share the ministry with someone else several times a week. We’ve even had other parish ministries ask how the young adults can help be part of their evangelization missions. Our territory is enlarging, as Jabez would say. God, and other people, want to help us and be a part of our lives – we just have to ask.
Questions for Reflection: Can you think of a time when you had to rely on the generosity or goodwill of others? How did it make you feel?
“…the Church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany, and care for every young person, without exception.” -Pope Francis
What is the role of youth and young adults within our Church? How can the Church better listen to their desires, dreams, and needs, and empower them as contributing members of the Body of Christ? What are young people seeking and how can the Church better minister to them during this transformative time in their lives?
These are a few of the types of questions asked and discussed at the National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults in Chicago from September 17-19. With representatives from almost fifty Catholic organizations, apostolates, and diocese around the United States, the National Dialogue brought pastoral leaders working with youth and young adults together in order to discuss the future of pastoral ministry to the young church. This dialogue was called for by the United States bishops and co-hosted with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) and the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (LaRed).
The National Dialogue was organized to unify, engage, and mobilize church leaders working with youth and young adults in preparation for the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” called for by Pope Francis in Rome in October of 2018, as well as the V Encuentro called for by organizations advocating for Hispanic Ministry. According to their website, “The vision of this initiative is an energized and unified Church committed to forming and engaging youth and young adults as missionary disciples.”
The Catholic Apostolate Center was honored to be invited to participate in the National Dialogue this year. As a ministry of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines) - Immaculate Conception Province founded in 2011 to respond to the needs of the church, the Center has worked with and for active young adult Catholics in a variety of ways. Most notably, the Center has developed the ten-week formation program Apostles on Mission in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Washington to help young adults become active evangelizers. As our patron, St. Vincent Pallotti, believed, we are all called to be apostles—what Pope Francis calls missionary disciples.
Through efforts such as Apostles on Mission, as well as our online Catholic resources, webinars, podcasts, social media presence and blog, the Catholic Apostolate Center works to revive faith, rekindle charity, and form apostles across all ages and experiences within our Catholic faith.
As Pope Francis wrote in the Preparatory Document for the 2018 synod, “Proclaiming the joy of the Gospel is the mission entrusted by the Lord to His Church.” We are excited to see how the collaborative fruits of the National Dialogue help us to fulfill that mission and continue to work to spread the joy of the Gospel each day.