Dear young people, help us adults whose hearts are often hardened. Help us to choose the path of dialogue and harmony. – Pope Francis
Some of you may remember the 2015 Synod of the Catholic Church, in which the Bishops and leaders of the Church met to discern the future of engaging families with our faith. One of the results of that meeting was an essential document for our Parish Family here at Saint John the Evangelist, AMORIS LAETITIA, or The Joy of Love. Our openness, our welcoming and loving environment here at St. John follows Pope Francis’ call to proclaim the love of our faith joyously, with our words and our actions as a parish, “the family of families” (AMORIS LAETITIA, 202). The next Synod will be occurring this coming October, and this time the focus will be on “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment”. As with the last Synod, major international sociological and theological issues will be discussed about how the church will grow (or contract) as young people, those between the youth and full adulthood in their societies are supported by the Church and integrated into our communities.
In preparation for this essential moment in our faith progress, the Catholic Church has publicly released the Pre-Synod Working Document (INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS) which lays out the planned discussion topics. It is astronomical just how similar this document is to Father John’s vision for our Parish Family, which bore the ideas of resurrecting Catholic Youth Organization and the newly formed Catholic Adult Organization. From reaching out to the Young Adult community, providing them artistic and sports opportunities to focusing their leadership and capability in service actions and mentoring youth, it reads like a manifesto of our Parish Family’s efforts. Young Adults need our experienced community to support, mentor, and accompany them when they are away from their own families. They need our ministries to give them opportunities to grow, lead, and expand our horizons, especially when it comes to finding their vocation, which does not mean only ordination as priests, brothers, or sisters.
Here are some key sections of the INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS that illustrate clearly we are on the right path:
26. As the Pre-synodal Meeting has effectively highlighted, young generations are the bearers of a particular approach to reality, that is an asset and a source of originality; however, it can also be disconcerting or perplexing to adults. We need to avoid hasty judgements, though. Their approach is based on the priority of concreteness and action over theoretical analysis. It is not blind activism and contempt for the intellectual dimension: in the way young people spontaneously act, things are understood by doing and problems are solved as they arise.
33. Young people noticeably like teamwork and are good at it, which is an asset in many situations. Sometimes this openness clashes with excessive authoritarianism on the part of adults and ministers: «On many occasions, young people have difficulty finding a space in the Church where they can actively participate and lead. Young people interpret their experience of the Church as one where they are considered too young and inexperienced to lead or make decisions as they would only make mistakes» (Pre-synodal Meeting 7). It is equally clear that, wherever young people are involved and appreciated, the style and dynamism of the Church acquire a powerful vitality that is able to draw people’s attention.
36. As a great many Bishop Conferences point out, music is a fundamental language for young people: it is the soundtrack of their lives, in which they are constantly plunged, and it contributes to the formation of their identity in a way that the Church seldom explores in depth, despite having a general awareness of its importance. Music elicits emotions, involving people also physically; it opens up spaces of interiority and favors their communication. It also conveys messages, as well as life styles and values that are consistent with or alternative to the ones promoted by other forms of education. In some youth cultures, the music world can become a kind of safe haven that is inaccessible to adults. Due to its power, the music world can easily be influenced and manipulated also by business, or even speculative, interests.
38. Albeit less pervasive than music, the enjoyment of many other forms of artistic expression plays a fundamental role in the formation of young people’s personal and social identity: painting, sculpture, film-making, the visual arts, dance, theater, photography, comics, graphic design, web art, writing, poetry, literature, etc. When they are actively practiced, they allow young people to exercise their personal creativity and participate in cultural expression, in particular through experimental initiatives which rely on the increasing use of new technology. Forms of artistic expression that are tied to folk and local traditions are very interesting, especially those associated with ethnic minorities, since they connect young people with the legacy of the past and provide opportunities for cultural activity, irrespective of education levels or the availability of technical or technological tools.
39. Sport is another significant area of growth and dialogue for young people, in which the Church is investing in many parts of the world. Pope Francis sees sport as being part of informal education, and calls for more action in this domain to offset the intellectual impoverishment of formal education (cf. Address to the participants in the World Congress on “Educating Today and Tomorrow. A Renewing Passion”, 21 November 2015). Experts believe our societies have become “sportivized”, and this applies to the world of young people in particular. However, we must question what values and models, beyond all the rhetoric, are promoted in our society through sports activity, which is so often focused on success at all costs, even through deceit, consigning to oblivion the hard work and commitment of defeated atheletes.
79. Developing the ability to love remains the beauty and risk of youth, because love, when it is pursued and lived in a chaotic way, can become an unruly passion and a destructive drive that brings only sadness. Evil and sin also dwell in the life of young people and their request to be welcomed and forgiven is a cry we must heed. One of the best-known parables in the Gospel, that tells the story of two sons and brothers, is the parable of the “merciful father”, but it could also be called the “parable of the father who goes out twice” (cf. Lk 15:11-32): the first time to welcome his younger son after the time of carelessness and unruliness, and the second time to ask the elder son, whose heart is hardened and numb, to come back inside the house to celebrate and share the joy of his brother’s return. The Father in this parable is the true “adult” figure many young people are looking for in their lives and, unfortunately, do not find. This parable refers to a courageous father, who allows his children to experience the risk of freedom, without imposing constraints that mortify their choices. He is a father whose heart is so big he does not exclude anyone and he wants to reintegrate everyone in his household at the same time. The Church is called to make sure that all the young people she encounters in her path can experience the same fatherly and motherly attitudes.
85. Young people, in the final document of the PM, state: «We seek a Church that helps us find our vocation, in all of its senses» (Pre-synodal Meeting 3). To do so, the meaning of the term “vocation” needs to be clarified. Caring about all young people, without exception, the Synod is asked to shed light in a convincing way on the vocational horizon of human existence as such. The young themselves are asking the Church to help them «find a simple and clear understanding of vocation» (Pre-synodal Meeting 8). From the responses of various BC, and also from many comments made by the young themselves, we understand that the term vocation is generally used to indicate vocations to the ordained ministry and special consecration. One BC argues that «a weak point of pastoral care, in discerning young people’s vocations, is that it limits the notion of vocation only to the choice of the ministerial priesthood or consecrated life».
86. If we just compare this “narrow” vision to the journey of the two past Synods, where it was said that «marriage is a vocation» and that «the decision to marry and to have a family ought to be the fruit of a process of vocational discernment» (AL 72), it is not difficult to realize that a reductive view of the term “vocation” generates a strong bias amongst young people, who see vocational pastoral care only as an activity whose sole purpose is to “recruit” priests and men and women religious. Starting from this shared ecclesial imagery, there is the need to lay the foundation for a broad “vocational youth pastoral care” that can be meaningful to all young people.
90. The notion of life as a vocation invites human beings to give up the lie of self-creation and the illusion of narcissistic self-realization, to let themselves be involved through history in the plan with which God destines us to one another’s good. Hence, we must promote a renewed vocational culture, that is still linked to the joy of the communion of love that generates life and hope. Indeed, the fullness of joy can only be experienced when we discover we are loved and, consequently, when we are personally called to love others in turn, in the concrete circumstances in which we live (family, work, social and civil engagement).
138. Pope Francis, as he met with young people at the beginning of the PM, declared that the Synod is «also a call to the Church, to rediscover a renewed youthful dynamism. […] In the Church too we must learn new forms of presence and closeness» (Address to the Pre-synodal Meeting, 3). Very clearly, one BC argued that «young people are asking the Church for a monumental change of attitude, direction and practice». Another BC, considering the paths of renewal that are at work in its own territory, wrote: «The true question behind these attempts relates more in general to the shape of the Church that we are seeking and want to present: the expression “outgoing Church” appropriately identifies the general problem, but we are still looking for useful operational indications on how to do this». This requires «a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform» (EG 30) and to honestly and deeply listen to young people who are fully entitled to participate in the sensus fidei fidelium.
141. This dynamism, whereby we go out of ourselves to give our life and work unsparingly so that everyone, individually and collectively, may encounter the joy of love, also characterizes the way the Church exercises the authority entrusted to her, in a way that is truly generative and therefore creates communion. According to some analyses, etymologically speaking, authoritativeness is the capacity to make all creatures grow (augeo, in Latin, hence auctor and auctoritas) in the originality that the Creator conceived and wished for them. Exercising authority means taking on the responsibility to foster development and set freedom free, rather than exercising control that holds people down and keeps them captive.
162. Of all artistic languages, music is particularly connected to the dimension of listening and interiority. Its impact on the emotional sphere can provide an opportunity for the formation in discernment. Furthermore, the choice of genres and musicians is one of the elements that define young people’s identity, especially their social identity. A space is opened for musical production that can help develop spirituality. Also, we need to cherish singing and music in our communities’ lives and journeys of faith. Some young people are attracted by the quality of music of different Christian traditions (such as Gregorian and Orthodox monastic chant, or gospel choirs). Sometimes, though, productions that emulate more commercial contemporary musical languages do not favor recollection and inner listening. Some BC argue that the offerings of other denominations and religions seem to be more attractive to young people, even Catholics, because of their simpler and more immediate language, thanks to «lively and high-quality music».
164. Considering how influential sports are, several BC suggest the need to enhance them for educational and pastoral care purposes. The care and discipline of our body, team dynamics that highlight cooperation, the value of fairplay and respecting rules, the importance of a spirit of sacrifice, generosity, sense of belonging, passion, creativity, make sports a promising educational opportunity to walk along a path of personal unification. Success and failure trigger emotional dynamics that can become a training ground for discernment. In order for this to happen, young people must be offered experiences of healthy competition, that sidestep the desire for success at all costs, and that allow for the effort of training to turn into an occasion for inner growth. Therefore, we need sports clubs – in particular those associated with the Church – that aim to be true all-around educating communities, and not mere facilities that provide services. This is why it is so important to foster the awareness of the educational role of coaches, technical staff and managers, by taking care of their lifelong formation. Beyond the purely competitive realm, it would be good to think about new configurations of educational places that might contribute to strengthening mutual recognition, our social fabric and communal bonds, especially in intercultural contexts.