“Youth is an original and exciting stage in life, that Christ himself went through, sanctifying it with his presence.” The working document of the Synod of Bishops on “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” begins the process of interpreting the situation of young people today with this observation.
The presynod gathering, of which I was blessed to be a part, was something I consider historic. Like the online questionnaire, it provided a platform for young people to be honest and hopeful about their needs and the ways the church can be their home.
When reading the working document, I had to pause to marvel at that sentence. What an awe-inspiring concept: that the almighty God chose to enter into our humanity as a young person, whose ministry culminated during what is now termed “young adulthood.”
In a chapter of life that is so tumultuous with growth and change, that sentence struck me as the ultimate comfort for a young person: Our Lord knows these challenges and joys as intimately as we do.
The truth is, those challenges are stronger than ever.
There are so many undercurrents of evil that reverberate in our world: war, violence, abuse, addiction, religious persecution, lack of respect for the sanctity of life, crises of leadership, illness, inequalities of gender, race, socioeconomic status and religion, and so much more that varies throughout the myriad of cultures and situations across the globe.
These tempests can rock the worlds of young people, fostering in them anxiety and uncertainty.
Thankfully, we have a Savior who walks on water and calms storms. This stage of life is the most crucial of times to come to know, love and serve him and his church. The church has a responsibility to serve as a refuge for young people in a world that presents so many disruptions to their peace.
For many young people, their experience in the church is one that fosters stability and peace; however, like anything living and breathing, the church must continue to grow in her mission of bringing Christ’s life and peace to the world.
It is my fervent prayer that the synod fathers will respond with openness and enthusiasm to the concerns of young people that were raised. However, the presynod document is simply one contribution of many (from Vatican documents to papal remarks to online questionnaire responses) that will foster the discussion at the synod. While the working document is informative and directional, it is the synod fathers who must forge the path forward for the church.
That path cannot be walked alone. Young people around the world have been clear that they are not content to be passive recipients of what the church offers, but rather protagonists of their own faith journeys and deeply invested in the life of the church.
What better opportunity to ensure future generations of committed young people giving of their gifts faithfully than to begin collaboratively empowering the laity to step up, not facing challenges outside of the church but alongside her?
In this moment, the church is at a crossroads: This synod has the opportunity to be more than a platitude — a deeply transformational moment for the church and the world in which she operates.
It is comforting to remember that the church has a rich and heroic history of being unafraid to go toe-to-toe with concerns that the people of God face. This knowledge is what girds us in hope that the church we love, by reaching out to young people through this process, will not only survive but thrive.
Young people know this crossroads well, as it is a hallmark of this moment in life. Once, while in a moment of great discernment so typical of young adulthood, I sought counsel from a beloved priest whose wisdom was simple: “The Holy Spirit would not take you this far to abandon you.” And so it is with the church we love.
Nicole Perone is director of adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. She is a guest columnist for the Catholic News Service series “In Light of Faith.”
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