Here is a text of the Preparatory Document for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “Youth, faith and vocational discernment”, to be held in October 2018.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15.11). This is God’s plan for all people, including us in the third Millennium.
Our duty as Christians is to proclaim the joy of the gospel, as summoned by Jesus. The synod on the New Evangelization and the Evangelii Gaudium give some guidelines on how we can proclaim this gospel. The two synods on the Family and the Amoris Laetitia on the other hand insist on helping families to find this joy.
Through the Synod, with topic “Young people, the Faith and Vocational discernment”, the Church wishes to examine herself on how she has involved the Youths in this mission. By involving them, the Church will realize the Word of God, discern the signs of the times and be able to project her future role.
This vocation to love is realized in our different states of life and real life situations. The choices we make in this vocation are aimed at granting us the joy that comes from God.
The Church realizes that the Youths have many capabilities that help them to accept their call. It is therefore important to form the young people’s conscience and freedom to understand their vocation with facility.
This document which is addressed to the whole Church, wishes to make consultation on the Youth’s involvement in mission through a number of questions and youth engagement. Its outcome will be the basis for the drafting of the “work-document” or Instrumentum laboris, to be referred to in the Synod of the Fathers.
This preparatory document suggests a reflection in the following three steps:
Outlining some of the social and cultural dynamics of the world in which young people grow and make their decisions in light of faith.
Retracing the fundamental steps of the process of discernment.
Visualizing key points in pastoral vocational programs for youths.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE BELOVED DISCIPLE.
In trying to discover one’s vocation, young people have the Beloved disciple and the other disciples as a clear epitome. They searched for Jesus and sought to live with him. In response, Jesus calls them to an inner search so that they were able to resolve to follow him well. When they found the Messiah, Andrew invited his brother to the Lord.
With this the disciples developed an ardent friendship with Jesus. They listened to his words and John was particularly called to be his close witness to his passion and resurrection. At the foot of the cross, he was given the responsibility to take care of Mary before the resurrection of the Lord reignited his hope. John’s example may assist the Youths understand that vocation is a gradual process of inner discernment and growth in faith. This leads to a discovery of the joy of life and love that inspire us to take part in the mission of evangelization.
YOUNG PEOPLE IN TODAY’S WORLD.
Young people around the globe respond to vocational discernment differently. Their responses are based on three main issues. Vocational responses may be affected by demographic differences. They may also be affected by the Christian history of the people in that regions with long history of Christianity would respond positively to vocation than recent converts. Finally, differences arising from gender may also affect one’s response to vocations. Differences in gender bring forth issues of domination, exclusion and discrimination which negatively affect the Young people’s call to love.
Generally, the term youth may mean those that are between 16 and 29 years of age. The term however is understood differently in different contexts.
1. A rapidly-changing world.
A rapid change is the main mark of a contemporary world (Laudato si’ 18). This creates an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in society, in all angles of life. This insecure situation affects greatly the choices that people make. This therefore, calls for sound attention and long term planning, while being conscious of the effects of choices that we make today, either positively or negatively.
Today’s world has an extreme insistence on science. Generally however, science results in sadness and loneliness in the Young people (Misericordia et Misera 3). The search for short term profits benefits a few people, excluding many youths, degrades the environment and endangers the future generations (cf. 20-22).
Our societies are increasingly becoming heterogeneous in culture and religion. This may be an opportunity to practice listening, respect and dialogue. Negatively also, it may be a source of uncertainty and relativism.
2. New Generations.
Today young people live in a world that is different from that of their elders. Obligations, opportunities, aspirations and needs among others have evolved. Due to globalization, youths have become more homogenous. However, their local communities still have a superior bearing in the formation of their identity.
Some challenges bar young people from making free life choices. These include poverty, exclusion, illiteracy, neo slavery, crime, prostitution, forced marriages et cetera. Females are in this regard eventual victims.
Young people have the following characteristics.
Belonging and participation.
Youths usually do not feel to be a social group in need of protection by pastoral programs. Instead, they enjoy being active agents of change.
On one hand, youths have the energy to participate in various activities as a means to discover their identity. Conversely, they are intolerable when they feel they are denied participation in various activities. This discourages them and leads to a resigned attitude. The ability to be active or passive in youths comes from their elementary backgrounds and how they were handled at an early stage. Passivity in the Youths is seen in their excessive interest in self image and a short lived enthusiasm.
Personal and institutional points of reference.
To develop the ability to relate, the youth need some role models to look up to. These are reliable and credible people who can help them in defining themselves. They are those that can manage to feel with the Youths and instill in their life a sense of responsibility without judging them.
Parents therefore have a special role to play. The problem is that sometimes parents fail to understand the youths and concentrate on their weaknesses instead. This prevents them from seeing the potential in the young people. Some parents prefer to remain quite or at times impose their own choices on the children. Other parents become over-protective of their children. These just make the youths unprepared to face real life.
The Youths can also get role models from their peers. They should therefore be given a chance to socialize with each other to be able to express themselves and experiment on new abilities.
The Youths also want the church and other institutions to be closer to them. When the Church fails to they develop mistrust, indifference and anger towards her and other institutions. Moreover, they begin to learn and live without God and the church. They eventually take refuge in other groups that promote different values from those found in the gospel.
Towards a hyper connected generation.
Today the Youths are exposed to so much technology of communication which offers them several opportunities. It also, however, comes with many risks. This calls for the church to evaluate her pastoral role, to be able to monitor and guide the youths in technology well.
3. Young People and Choices.
In this ever changing world, growth requires a reflective course of action. With Westernization, Youths have a wrong concept of freedom and think that they always have access to new opportunities. The Youths therefore have to rethink their choices and priorities.
Faced with a mixed bag of opportunities and risks in decision making, the Youths need suitable cultural, social and spiritual means to decide well. In the Words of Pope Francis, let the Youths be courageous enough even take risks. Eventually, they will learn from their mistakes and grow.
Young people’s ability to decide is stalled by their various socio-economic challenges. This is heavy on young women.
To adequately educate the Youths, we need to respond very well to the social, economic and technological challenges of our time (Pope Benedict XVI). The Church also needs to analyze well how economic differences between nations, discrimination, gender inequalities affect young people’s decisions in life.
This urgently calls for practical platforms on which the Youths can work and gauge their abilities, while improving their communities and acquiring new skills.
Social innovations may improve the conditions of young people, helping those that had been passive regain confidence. The Church and the world may experience new things through the Youths if they are given a chance to take actions. This may be difficult to implement in institutions where elders still cling to decision making positions.
FAITH, DISCERNMENT, VOCATION.
Unlike the world, the Church wishes to use this synod to engage the Youths fully. She realizes that the faith of the young people is a great gift that should not be lost in violence and alienation.
The feeling of being accepted and cared for is the basis of one’s ability to express their individuality and assume the fullness of life.
The Eastern Church explains this confidence in the analogy of three births: natural birth in which one is born male or female and cared for by the society; birth of baptism in which one becomes the child of God and the third birth in which one passes from the physical to the spiritual life and finally exercise full freedom (Cf. Discourse of Philoxenusof Mabbug, a fifth Century Syrian Bishop, 9).
We can offer others the gifts that we have received by closely accompanying those that are being challenged and enable them develop and exercise their freedom. For this, the Church has to rediscover her call to care for others, with the virtue of tenderness just as St. Joseph did in the Gospels.
There should be clear ideas to accompany young people. They should listen to the tradition of the Church and support their vocational discernment. They should understand that other vocational choices are permanent.
1. Faith and Vocation.
Faith is seeing things as Jesus does (cf. Lumen fidei, 18). It is the source of vocational discernment. Accepting faith is fruitful when it inspires us to make consistent and real choices in life.
From the Gospel of John (Jn 15.16-17), faith is a gift from God and a response to a feeling of being loved that is infused in the heart of every young person.
Faith makes us discover our call to love. It also shows that this call is divine, stronger and trustworthy. It inspires our societal relationships and be able to build human unity (Lumen fidei, 53-54).
With faith, young people that make vocational decisions in the Bible realize God’s love for all. This has been the intention of God since creation.
To believe is to wholly listen to the Spirit, to engage and trust the Word and embody it in real life experiences both in joys and sorrows. This is a challenge for all Christians.
This dialogue takes place in the conscience, in which one is alone with God (Gaudium et spes 16). It is in the conscience where one is invited to discriminate the Spirit of God from other voices. Response to this invitation is strictly personal.
Experience teaches us that it is difficult to concretely discover the joy which this call of God has. We are often discouraged by the present world of change and our own physical needs just like the rich young fool who got sadness instead of joy from the call of God (Mk. 10.17-22). Potentially, human freedom enables us to choose what is good. It just has to be well guarded so that it is not corroded by mental and social conditioning (Laudato si’, 205).
2. The Gift of Discernment.
Discernment happens when faced with a variety of situations. It involves reading the signs of the times and recognizes the spirit of God among them. Spiritual discernment involves recognizing and rejecting temptations in decision making and take the path to fullness of life instead.
This synod’s focus is vocational discernment in which one is attentive to the Spirit of God to make fundamental choices about his state of life. The basis for vocational discernment like in real life is the desire to respond to the voice of God and live the Gospel whether through the ordained ministry, marriage or consecrated life. People always want to realize where they can serve God with their talents.
The voice of God is found in real life situations. It may be clear or not depending on our interpretations. For us to know its clear meaning, we need to discern. Evangelii Gaudium, 51 describes discernment with three verbs namely “to recognize”, “to interpret” and “to choose”. This is to highlight the need for discernment for the voice of the Spirit is not always clear.
Recognizing concerns how the external things affect our inner life (Amoris Laetitia, 143) and their consequent expressions like joy, sadness, peace et cetera. Faced with a challenge to decide amid conflicting interests, recognizing enables one be aware of various emotions arising while refraining from making a judgment. Recognizing also demands harmonizing their experiences and the hearty desires.
At this stage the basic tool is the Word of God. Meditating over it helps gather one’s passions and identify with them. This stage focuses on listening to our emotions in silence to achieve growth especially for the Youths that often make their choices under pressure.
The Interpreting step consists in understanding what the Spirit would like us to do. Its difficultness lies in discovering the origins and meaning of experiences of the Spirit and also their impact in our life. “Realities may look greater than ideas” (Evangelii gaudium, 231). This stage requires patience, alertness and knowledge. Through the use of the intellect an individual ought to be able to consider the effects of such experiences and come up with practical options. Interpretation requires an honest confrontation of oneself as a Christian in the light of the gospel. This helps one to discover the inspiring message hidden in the conflicting situations of our life. Though this work of interpretation is an immanent dialogue with the Lord, the assistance of the experienced person in listening to the spirit is of greater importance.
When all has been recognized and interpreted, one ought to freely and responsibly choose the course of action without being influenced by other external forces. There is a need to promote responsible choices in our pastoral vocational programs. Discernment is an effective tool in decision making. A real decision has to be practical and not remain in the mind as the modern world is proposing. One still has to make a practical decision even if it means making a mistake.
3. Paths Towards Vocation and Mission.
Vocational discernment is not a one day or one event show. It unfolds slowly through the signs given by the Lord (Gen12:1, Lk2:50-51). Time is of paramount importance for every vocation for it also entails mission. It helps verify the effectiveness of one’s decision.
Accepting the mission implies the willingness to risk one’s life, readiness to suffer for others just as Jesus (Lk9:51). It is only when we remove selfishness that we are able to do God’s will in the family life, ministry life, consecrated life or professional life. All egocentric desires need to be examined. Formators in the seminary should foster in seminarians a willingness to become others oriented and be filled with the ‘smell of the sheep’.
There are three basic beliefs that underlie the process of discernment. They include; the understanding that the spirit of God works in the heart of every person as revealed in our feelings and desires. Secondly, that the human heart is corrupted by sin and may be attracted to inordinate desires. The third belief is that every vocation imposes a choice. To recognize the Lord’s call a person needs to adopt the necessary instruments. One of these includes personal accompaniment. Discernment calls for the presence of a physical person who can journey together with the other person to constantly refine the voices of the Spirit.
Accompaniment is a process of fostering the relationship with God by removing all the barriers. It is different from psychological support. A psychologist journeys together with those in difficulties to realize their weaknesses and potentials. Spiritual guidance revives the person’s interest towards God and His acceptance (Jn 3:29-30).
Jesus’ encounter with the people of his time is atypical example of the need to accompany a young man in discernment (Jn1:35-51, Lk4:32, Lk10:25-37, Lk 24:13-35, Jn13:1-20).
In accompanying the young generation the church needs to consider the experiences of the youth and not to control their faith (2 Cor. 2:24). Prayer is the best tool as it calls for the Spirit who guides and enlightens us.
This chapter focuses on how the Church pastorally helps the youth to accept their call to the Joy of the Gospel presently. It will consider challenges encountered, human and material resource, and places for proper guidance of young people in discernment.
1. Walking with Young people
Accompanying the youth involves being able to understand them as in their world as the try to search for their life identity.
Attending mass every Sunday and also having others baptized does not imply making a concrete decision to live the faith. To help one to come to this decision entails a number of things. As Jesus used to do, it entails readiness to be with the people in their very life. In walking together with the young people we manage to build a Christian community.
To be able to attract young men to different vocations entails using means that can easily appeal to them. Ways that are friendly and accommodative. Three verbs form the Gospel that describe the way Jesus encountered people can also be of some help to our pastoral ministry. These are “going out”, “seeing” and “calling”.
The church ought to be flexible in its activities so as to be able to reach out to the youth. The church must refrain from rigid attitudes when approaching young people. The youth are always encouraged when their contribution is recognized.
This is being able to go out and be with the young and get to understand their every situation. This helps to insert the Gospel into the lives of young people and eventually they find their place and call in the Gospel.
The love of Jesus in the Gospel transforms into a call to newness of life. Calling means awakening the desire which had laid hidden, which leads to people’s contact with the joy of the Gospel.
All Young People, Without Exception
The church is to realize that the Youth are the agents in pastoral activities and thus are to be taken on board.
Every community is supposed to accommodate the young people in its activities. It is also to be close to the young that are meeting a lot of challenges in life like poverty, marginalization, violence, war, disease, disability and many others. The church too is to listen to the young people’s concerns.
A Responsible Community
Every Christian community is duty bound to educate the young people. It also has to involve them at every level of their structure. The Youths should be recognized in the community’s different meetings and groups so as to allow them use their talents.
Different groups found at the parish should come up with ways on how to help the young people to grow into responsible people based on their experiences.
People of Reference
Adults as role models. These are the people who are exemplary in life. These people require to be trained to be able to assist the young people to respond to their call to the ordained and consecrated life.
Parents and Family: Parents also play a great role in assisting the young people through their love which signifies the love of God for humanity. This leads the Youths respond well to God.
Shepherds and Souls: Pastors of the Church also have a special role in the creation of a new generation. Pastors of the church according to Pope Francis are principally responsible for Christian, priestly vocations and not to some particular office. This is so for they too have at some point been helped by some other pastors to answer their call.
Teachers and other persons in Education: Every Christian is called upon to bear witness to the Lord in their everyday activities and occupations. This helps others to discover their proper vocation.
Daily Life and Social Commitment
Becoming an adult connotes the ability to manage independently and correctly the vital aspects of life namely: resources and sexuality. For the youth, learning these things, instills in them order and helps them in discerning and reinforcing their life orientation and decision making. Authentic faith always meets challenges. The problems that we meet such as unemployment are an opportunity to help one to ponder on our vocation.
The poor cry out, and with them the earth. A listening ear and heart to these offer a chance to encounter Christ’s body (the church) and discover one’s vocation. Pope Francis says that in helping the poor one can also has a chance to encounter their vocation (Laudato si, 232).
Specific Places in pastoral activity
The church gives the youths chances to converge in a number of platforms. The challenge has always been to adapt the best applicable method that helps the Youths discover their call.
? World youth days, and local Youth events.
? Parish Youth events and activities try to help the youth be involved in the church’s undertakings. Youth centers also articulate the Church’s concern for young people.
? Catholic schools are an indication of the church’s accompaniment of the youths.
? Social activities and volunteer work provide opportunities for the Youths to practice selfless service, inspiring spiritual growth and vocational discernment in the process.
? Associations, ecclesial movements and centers of spirituality offer the youth specific programs for discernment.
? Seminaries and houses of formation are of vital importance for they offer youth who respond to God’s call the ability to accompany others.
The Digital world
New media deserves special attention because it is very attractive the lives of modern youth. New media has easy access to information and connects people globally. However it’s risks cannot be overlooked (gambling, pornography, ideological manipulation, etc.). Despite the differences in this field among various regions, the Christian community has something to learn from the youth if it is well guarded.
The Means of Expression in Pastoral Work.
The Church is the best place to encounter the Youths. She however sometimes lacks proper means to engage them fully. It would be good to have a church that engages the Youth through their own means of expression in which their abilities are appreciated. In this case, the use of music and art would be handy.
Educative care and the Path of Evangelization.
Pastorally, it is important to monitor the human growth of the Youths. This evangelization must be connected with the youth’s education, which leads to a mature freedom in young people.
Today, issues of faith are less standardized. This calls for the church to be attentive to individual persons. Others may encounter the Lord outside the traditional stages of Christian initiation. Just like Jesus, the Church is summoned to accept everyone.
Silence, Contemplation and Prayer.
Friendship with the Lord, especially in Lectio Divina is the basic means to discernment. In this noisy world, it would be important to help the youths find silence and contemplate in order to understand their experiences and discern well.
5. Mary of Nazareth.
The Church views Mary as a model and a perfect accompaniment in discernment. She was the first to accept God’s call to the joy of love and the fullness of life (cf. Lk.2. 19).
In Mary, the young people find the way to listen, the courage that faith gives, the depth of discernment and selfless service (cf. Lk 1.39-45). As every human being, she too felt weak to understand the will of God, but she learnt to trust Him more from the Angel. Eventually, Mary opened her heart and decided for the will of God.
With Mary then, every young person just as she was can discover the gift of discernment and assume the courage to mission and witness.
These questions are aimed at helping the Church view at the present world and record how she can accompany the young people in discernment. Their aim is to resource for the work-document (instrumentum laboris).
The questions are designed that the Synod may learn experiences of the youths from the whole world.
1. Gathering Statistics
Please indicate, where possible, the source of the statistics and make reference to the year. Other pertinent information can be attached to better understand the situation in various countries.
– Number of inhabitants in the country / countries and the birth rate.
– Number and percentage of young people (ages 16-29) in the country / countries.
– Number and percentage of Catholics in the country / countries.
– Average age (for the last 5 years) for marrying (distinguishing between men and women), for entering the seminary and the consecrated life (distinguishing between men and women).
– In the 16-29 age group, the percentage of students, workers (if possible specify the type of work), unemployed, NEET.
2. Evaluating the Situation
a) Young People, the Church and Society
These questions refer both to young people who take part in Church programmes, as well as those who do not take part or have no interest to participate.
1. In what manner does the Church listen to the lived situations of young people?
2. What are the main challenges and most significant opportunities for young people in your country / countries today?
3. What kinds and places of group gatherings of youth, institutionalized or otherwise, have a major success within the Church, and why?
4. What kinds and places of group gatherings of youth, institutionalized or otherwise, have a major success outside the Church, and why?
5. What do young people really ask of the Church in your country / countries today?
6. What possibilities for participation exist in your country / countries for young people to take part in the life of the ecclesial community?
7. How and in what manner is contact made with young people who do not frequent Church surroundings?
b) Pastoral Vocational Programs for Young People
8. How are families and communities involved in the vocational discernment of young people?
9. How do schools and universities or other educational institutions (civil or ecclesial) contribute to young people’s formation in vocational discernment?
10. In what manner are you taking into account the cultural changes resulting from the development of the digital world?
11. How can World Youth Days or other national or international events become a part of ordinary pastoral practice?
12. In what manner is your diocese planning experiences for the pastoral vocational programme for young people?
c) Pastoral Care Workers with Young People
13. How much time and in what manner do clergy and other formators provide for personal spiritual guidance?
14. What initiatives and opportunities for formation are in place for those who provide pastoral vocational guidance?
15. What personal guidance is offered in seminaries?
d) Specific Questions According to Geographic Areas
a. What plans and structures in pastoral vocational care for young people best respond to the needs of your continent?
b. What does “spiritual fatherhood” mean in places where a person grows without a father figure? What formation is offered?
c. How do you communicate to young people that they are needed to build the future of the Church?
a. How does your community care for young people who experience extreme violence (guerrilla warfare, gangs, prison, drug addiction, forced marriages) and accompany them in various ways in their life?
b. What formation is offered to support the engagement of young people in society and civil life, for the common good?
c. In a world which is greatly secularized, what pastoral activities are most effective for continuing the journey of faith after the Sacraments of Christian Initiation?
ASIA AND OCEANIA
a. Why and how do religious gatherings by those who are non-Catholic exercise an attraction on young people?
b. In what way can the values of a local culture be combined with Christian teaching, while also giving importance to popular piety?
c. How is the language used in a young people’s world incorporated in the pastoral care of young people, especially in the media, sports and music?
a. What assistance is offered to young people to look to the future with confidence and hope, beginning with the richness of Christian roots of Europe?
b. Young people often feel sidelined and excluded in the political, economic and social surroundings in which they live. In what way do you take into consideration the feeling to protest so that it can be transformed into participation and collaboration?
c. At what levels do relations between generations still work? If they do not function, how can they be renewed?
3. Sharing Activities
1. List the main types of pastoral activity in accompaniment and vocational discernment in your present situation.
2. Choose three activities you consider the most interesting and relevant to share with the universal Church, and present it according to the following format (no more than one page for each experience).
a) Description: In a few sentences, roughly describe the activity. Who are the leading characters? How does the activity take place? Where? Etc.
b) Analysis: Evaluate the activity, even in layman’s terms, for a better understanding of the important elements: what are the goals? What is the theoretical basis? What are the most interesting insights? How have they developed? Etc.
c) Evaluation: What are the goals? If not achieved, why? Strengths and weaknesses? What are the consequences on the social, cultural and ecclesial levels? Why and in what way is the activity important / formative? etc.