A Church that ‘spends time with the future’: The Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment

Antonio Spadaro, SJ

 Antonio Spadaro, SJ / Church Thought / 14 January 2019

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A rainy day in Krakow…

On July 30, 2016, rain was falling in Krakow as the World Youth Day was taking place. The pope, as he often does on his travels, met with a group of 28 Jesuits at the archbishop’s residence. He concluded the conversation, saying: “Today the Church needs to grow in its ability to discern spiritually.”[1] Two months later, on October 6, 2016, he announced that in Rome, October 3-28, 2018, the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops would be held on the theme “young people, faith and vocational discernment.”

It is important to note that the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) opens by speaking of discernment. This document, on which the synod discussions were based, states: “We recognize a way of life, a style, a fundamental attitude and also a working method; it is a path to walk together, whereby we look at the social and cultural dynamics we are steeped in, through the eyes of the disciple.” Discernment “provides guidance and suggestions for the mission that are not ready-made, but are the fruit of a journey that enables us to follow the Spirit” (IL 2). For Francis, these two themes of young people and discernment always come together: the one illuminates the other. We need to know this in order to understand the significance of the choice of theme for the meeting of bishops.

Who are the young people?

In a book-length interview called God is Young,[2] Francis was keen to note that “youth does not exist. When we speak of youth, we often refer unwittingly to the myths of youth. I like to think that youth does not exist, and instead we should talk in its place of the young people.”[3] The young people cannot be categorized as a separate caste.

Certainly, we can say with St. Paul VI that the age of youth “should not be considered the age of free passions, unavoidable failure, insuperable crises, decadent pessimism, harmful egoism; being young is a grace, it is a blessing.”[4] And it is a grace and a blessing given to all, for all of us are or have been young. Speaking of young people, then, means speaking of being human.

Beyond all other considerations, the Church sees in them the instincts for happiness and fullness of those who are open to life. In their Letter to Young People consigned at the concluding Mass, the synod fathers recognize the concerns of young people, but they also know that the world and the Church “urgently need [their] enthusiasm.” St. Paul VI had said it: “In the dissatisfaction that torments you, in your criticism of society… a ray of light shines” (December 2, 1970).[5] The Church needs this intuition and all its repercussions.

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