This article summarizes points made in the Preparatory Document for the 2018 Synod: “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment”. You can see a list of all of the questions posed to the faithful here. We welcome responses.
The Synod: Faith, Discernment, and Vocation
The synod preparatory document says that we must encounter, accompany, and care for every young person, without exception. This is the first step in not leaving them to feel abandoned, or isolated. Thus being born must include the hope of being able to express one’s individuality in a journey toward the fullness of life.
Faith is “seeing things as Jesus does” (cf. Lumen Fidei, 18). It is then the source of vocational discernment because it provides it with its fundamental contents, development, personal style and pedagogy. The vocation to the joy of love is the fundamental call that God has placed in the heart of every person. We know this through faith.
The conscience plays a critical role in vocational discernment. It is “the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et spes, 16).
Evangelii Gaudium 51 offers three words to describe discernment: to recognize, to interpret, and to choose.
Three Steps in Vocational Discernment
Recognition concerns all of life’s happenings. We must learn to recognize the people we meet and the words we hear. Most importantly, we must learn to recognize how the events of our life affect our interiority.
We must be able to recognize emotions. A person often feels attracted or pushed in a variety of directions, without enough clarity to take action. “Recognizing” means making this emotional richness emerge and understanding these feelings without making a judgment. It also requires capturing a “flavor” that remains. That is, the consonance or dissonance between what is experienced and what is in the depths of the heart.
Now, in the stage of recognition, meditating on the Word of God is of critical importance. It can help emotions, thoughts, and feelings emerge. The Word of God can be identified in the events of our life that it narrates.
Interpreting is the reflective state of action. It is not enough to say that an action or experience left a “deep impression”. Rather, we must help young people to truly understand the origin and meaning of the desires and emotions stirred up in their hearts. In discernment, “realities are greater than ideas” (Evangelii Gaudium, 231).
Interpreting our desires means an honest confrontation with them, in light of God’s Word, with the moral demands of the Christian life. The effort of interpreting leads the one engaged in it not to settle for the legalistic logic of the bare minimum, but instead to seek a way to make the most of one’s gift and possibilities. And this is an attractive and inspiring message for young people.
The final step is making a decision based on authentic freedom and personal responsibility. It is always connected to a concretes situation. A person must be freed from subjection to forces outside of oneself, namely heteronomy. All of this requires a coherency with one’s life. In other words, personal vocation is what lends coherence to our choices. In all of this, we cannot forget the inviolable place of conscience.
Decisions can not remained imprisoned in interiority which keeps them virtual or unrealistic. They must come into contact with reality through concrete actions. We must accept the risk of confrontation with the reality which caused the desires and emotions in the first place.
At this stage, the cycle involves “recognizing” and “interpreting” again as we see whether the decision is good or whether it is advisable to re-evaluate.
This is why “going out” is so important. It helps us overcoming the crippling fear of making a mistake. There is a philosophy of hermeneutic which can free us from this crippling fear. Instead, we should learn to move out, we act, and we evaluate.
Three Basic Beliefs Underlying Discernment
The first belief is that the Spirit of God works in the heart of every man and woman through feelings and desires that are bound to ideas, images, and plans. Listening carefully, we have the possibility to interpret these signals.
The second belief is that the human heart, because of its weakness and sin, is normally divided because it is attracted to different and even contrary feelings.
The third belief is that every way of life imposes a choice because a person cannot remain indefinitely in an undetermined state. And so a person needs to adopt the instruments needed to recognize the Lord’s call to the joy of love and choose to respond to it.
Among all of these, the Church’s spiritual tradition emphasizes the importance of personal accompaniment.
The voice of the Spirit speaks to the uniqueness of each individual. Personal accompaniment demands the constant refinement of one’s sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit and leads to discovering a resource and richness in a person’s individual character.
The document refers to the Gospel in highlighting the importance of certain elements of accompaniment, namely: a loving look (Jn 1:35-51), an authoritative word (Lk 4:32), an ability to become a neighbor (Good Samaritan parable), a choice to walk beside (the disciples of Emmaus), and an authentic witness, fearlessly going against preconceived ideas (the washing of the feet at the Last Supper).
The Church accepts her call to collaborate in the joy of young people. It doesn’t wish to take control of their faith (cf. 2 Cor 1:24).