Synod 2018: Family and Peer Support

This article is a summary of one segment of the preparatory document for the 2018 Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” which focuses on family, peers, and community support in vocational discernment. A full list of synod questions posed to the faithful can be found here. We invite your comments and discussion on them.

The Role of Educators, Mentors, and Families

The synod document clearly states the importance of personal and institutional points of references for young people. In says:

“….young people have a need for persons of reference, who are close-by, credible, consistent and honest, in addition to places and occasions for testing their ability to relate to others (both adults and peers) and dealing with their feelings and emotions. Young people look for persons of reference who are able to express empathy and offer them support…”

So the interaction and support from peers is particularly important. Young persons need an opportunity free interaction with them, to be able to express feelings and emotions among them, and to learn in an informal manner from them and with them.

The synod document recognizes the danger of a general lack of trust of institutions and even the Church among young people. There is a general “Anti-Institutional” attitude prevalent. In place of the Church, many find their home in sects, groups, or other substitutes for belonging to the Body of Christ. But their lives are too often characterized by fluidity and insecurity.

A Reflective Course of Action

The synod document calls for an increasingly “reflective course of action” for young people. It points to the increasing fluidity of choices as a source of concern. For many young people, the horizon consists of options which can always be reversed rather than definitive choices. “Today I choose this, tomorrow we’ll see,” is the attitude. In general, there is a lack of bold commitment.

Pope Francis has spoken often on the importance of taking risks, and making bold choices. At the Discourse at Villa Nazareth, he said:

The synod document declares a crisis of education. It references the educational emergency highlighted by Pope Benedict in 2008 in his Letter to the City and the Diocese of Rome on the Urgency of Educating Young People.


Synod 2018: Pastoral Activity for Young People

Pastoral Activity for Youth Discernment

The pastoral and vocational care of young people, though overlapping, have distinct differences.

Walking with Young People

We must encounter young people where they are, going beyond any preconceived framework. We must adapt to their times and pace of life and take them seriously. Pope Francis says that some people walk very unpredictable paths which can take them far away form ecclesial communities.

“Vocational ministry is learning the style of Jesus, who passes through the places of daily life, stops without being hurried and, by looking at our brothers with mercy, leads them to encounter God the Father.”

The message of the synod directly involves the freedom of young people, thus it is important that local communities find creative ways of addressing young people in a personal way that supports personal development. We must be “bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in our respective communities” (Evangelii gaudium, 33).

Three verbs from the Gospel can be helpful to us in this regard: going outseeing, and calling.

We must set aside our preconditioned “mental framework” in encountering people anew. Instead, we must listen to the story of young peoples’ lives. We must therefore be attentive to their joys, hopes, sadness and anxieties, all in an effort to share them.

Seeing means spending time with them, and exchanging glances as the Lord did. Indeed, the true shepherd is able to “peer into the depths of the heart without being intrusive or threatening.”

In the Gospel accounts, Jesus transformed his look of love into a word, that is, a call to newness of life.

Young People as Agents of Action

In pastoral activity, young people are not objects but agents. Thus they are primary actors in this effort. The Church herself is called to learn from young people.

But young people, as agents, still need credible adults in their lives. These adults must have:

  • Credible faith
  • Clear identity
  • Strong sense of belonging to the Church
  • Visible spiritual character
  • Strong passion for education
  • A great capacity for discernment

Unprepared and immature adults can act in a possessive and manipulative manner pose a serious threat to young people. In doing this, they have the potential to create negative dependencies, and more.

The Church needs to get accustomed to the fact that the ways of approaching the faith are less standardized, and therefore she must become more attentive to the individuality of each person.

Synod 2018: Three Steps to Discernment

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 encounteraccompany, 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

To Recognize

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.

To Interpret

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.

To Choose

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).

Synod 2018: The Joy and Challenge of Vocation

The Synod Preparatory Document

The Vatican has released the preparatory document for the Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment”. In this post, we cover some of its highlights as it relates to personal vocation.

You can read all of the questions that the Synod committee posed to the faithful here. We welcome your answers and comments.

The Primacy of Joy

The thread that runs through the pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (the joy of the Gospel), the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (helping families find that joy), and now the synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment (Synod 2018) is joy. Indeed, the preparatory document itself states that. In fact, it opens with a line from John’s gospel that we could consider the guiding scripture passage for the entire document:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (Jn 15:11)

Apostle John on breast of Jesus

The apostle St. John on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper

Challenges: Degrees of Freedom

Young people face different circumstances depending on which part of the world they live in. Still globalization has led to young people being more alike today than at many other periods. For example, they show a readiness to to commit themselves to concrete activities in which the personal contribution of each might be an occasion for recognizing one’s personal identity.

There has been a diffusion of the phenomenon of NEET, which means “not in education, employment, or training”. And this means many young people not engaged in an activity of study or work or vocational training at all. Sadly, women are disproportionately affected by this.

The synod preparatory document differentiates between passive and active young:

“The discrepancy between young people who are passive and discouraged and those enterprising and energetic comes from the concrete opportunities offered to each one in society and the family in which one develops, in addition to the experiences of a sense of meaning, relationships and values which are formed even before the onset of youth.”

Let’s help our youth be receptive listeners to Holy Spirit, and active in charity!