With a world synod of bishops focusing on young people set for this fall, listening to the young and those involved in guiding them is important. So this week, as in recent weeks, I’m turning over my column to someone who can speak directly from the experience of a young adult.
Daniel Lindstrom, 21, is entering his senior year at the University of Notre Dame. A parishioner at St. Patrick’s Church in Malvern, he’s also a graduate of Bishop Shanahan High School. I’m very pleased to offer his reflections here:
There has always been friction between heaven and earth, and throughout history the heat has been felt most by the institution that inhabits both. October’s synod in Rome will look to see exactly what it is in the modern world upon which the faith of young people hinges as the attending bishops explore the topic, “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
Discernment occurs as a result of one’s ownership of the faith, and I believe that ownership comes from a personal encounter with God in the Church. I hope to explain here why the synod should consider looking for more concrete ways to give the Church’s youth increased personal responsibility in their individual journeys of faith.
On a Sunday night this past academic year, my friends and I filed into a dorm chapel for a 10 p.m. Mass in which another, recently graduated friend was playing guitar. There was an air of mourning on campus as one of Notre Dame’s residence hall directors, a religious Sister of the Incarnate Word, had unexpectedly passed away. The priest saying Mass was an older gentleman named Father Greg, and soon after he had begun Mass he walked in front of the altar and addressed the chapel with a soft, broken voice.
He said through wet eyes, “This past week has been … very difficult. Of course, you all know about Sister Mary, but a very dear friend from my home died as well, along with one of the members of my order. And so I just ask that you remember them in your prayers. These are the times when we have to remember how good God is, and how immense his love is for us, and so we entrust to his mercy those who have gone before us.”
The priest’s words and God’s grace caused me to switch perspective for a moment, and to imagine how I might rely on God’s embrace at my life’s end much differently from the way I do now, surrounded by fellowship at the Holy Sacrifice.
It’s a very exciting time to be a young American Catholic. With as much trouble as the Church faces today, much more hope is blooming (Rom 5:20). Organizations like FOCUS, the Culture Project, Lighthouse Catholic Media, and so many other works of discipleship have helped to establish and fortify pockets of young, faithful Catholic believers. Yet, Father Greg showed me that after all of the vitality of these young years, when we near the end of our journeys, our discipleship will depend on our own inner lives. There, we are vulnerable and exposed; there, we are in solitude, alone with Jesus.
Community is essential to the growth and establishment of a Christ-centered life, but we often overlook the fundamental connection between solitude and community. Theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes in his book The Threefold Garland, “When giving her assent Mary was alone, since at receiving one’s decisive mission for life, everyone must stand alone before God and say yes; only after this, is one again inserted into community in a new way.”
It’s in listening to God with the ears of our hearts that we’re given the opportunity to say yes to God’s call. It’s by our personal yes that we embark on our own “decisive missions” — our vocations — and it’s our mission that makes life with Christ such a wonderful pursuit to be shared with others. This is how authentic, nurturing Catholic community is built, and this is how, with renewed focus and zeal on the part of the Church, young people can claim their faith and set off on faith’s great adventure.
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