3 Ways To Prepare For The Synod
I will never forget that night. I was with Pope Francis and three million young people in Kraków, Poland, for World Youth Day. There was a moment during the vigil where Pope Francis placed the Eucharist on the altar for adoration. You could hear a pin drop. The world was silent before God.
Pope Francis later said, “Dear young people, we didn’t come into this world to ‘vegetate’, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark.”
Unfortunately, it seems like most of us are just living to vegetate. When I was 18, I remember having this internal battle between desiring to be great versus going with the flow. I was a normal college student in Kansas. I was dating a girl, making some new friends and mostly making good grades. Yet my life was empty, unfulfilled and lacking meaning.
My experience is not uncommon to today’s youth. But there is not the end of the story. My story was about to have a radical shift.
Over Christmas break, I started reading a book that opened my heart to the possibility that there is God who loves me, who guides my every step and who gives ultimate meaning to my life. During the next few months, I attended Mass more regularly, started reading the Bible and joined a men’s Bible study. I began to make friends who possessed a joy beyond this world. They were authentic guys who loved Jesus above all. These friends accompanied me through crucial moments of my journey. I started to place Jesus at the center of my life and found peace, joy and purpose.
My story is not unusual compared to other young people. With this reawakening of faith happening for so many of us, it is no wonder that Pope Francis has called for a Synod on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment that will begin on October 3.
It is easy to look at the statistics and be discouraged. More than 80% of young people stop practicing their Catholic faith by the time they are 25. This is not a recipe for hope.
However, the Church doesn’t want to get lost in the statistics, but to accompany young people on their journey toward the truth and peace that can only be found in Jesus Christ. In Instrumentum Laboris (the preparatory document for the Synod), it states, “By denying the forecasts made over the last two centuries, secularization does not seem to affirm itself as the ineluctable destiny of humanity. With different accents, scientific literature currently uses expressions such as ‘return of the sacred’ or similar” (63). This captures a great truth about the human heart. As St. Augustine once said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”
Young people desire authentic conversations about faith, science, sexuality and social issues. If the Church does not accompany the youth, young people will only hear the half-truths of our culture that lead to materialism, nihilism, individualism and, ultimately, isolation and unhappiness. Young people are starving for the truth, beauty and goodness that can only be found in Jesus Christ and His Church. We should not back down from sharing it bravely: “Taking care of young people is not an optional task for the Church, but an integral part of her vocation and mission in history” (Instrumentum Laboris 1).
As we approach October, I want to offer three ways all of us can prepare and take part in the upcoming Synod:
1. Pray. Synods are gatherings of bishops throughout the world to listen to the Holy Spirit on a particular topic. There have been Synods on the family, evangelization, the laity, the role of the bishop — and now, for the first time in history, on young people. This is the fifteenth Synod since Vatican II. This is a unique moment in the history of the Church, and we must pray for the pope and the bishops as they listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in leading the Church.
2. Listen to the stories. Instead of simply reading a long list of statistics, take some time to listen to authentic witnesses of young people. In the coming weeks, the FOCUS blog will share the stories of several young witnesses who express their encounter with Jesus Christ and the joy of the Gospel. These are meant to be a catalyst for others throughout the world to share their story.
3. Dig deeper. With the Synod, we are called to personal conversion and getting our hands dirty in the service of others. Pope Francis recently wrote, “Holiness is also parrhesia: it is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world … the Lord calls us to put out into the deep and let down our nets. He bids us to spend our lives in his service” (Gaudete et Exultate 129, 130). It is time for all of us to dig deeper and give our lives in the service of others through sharing our faith and serving those on the margins. Don’t wait for the Synod; act now by deepening your prayer and service to others. Angelus News just released many ideas on how to dig deeper from Catholic leaders across the country, including Curtis Martin.
In the young, the faith is not dying: It is a rising flame. The young Church is rising, and it is bringing with it a new ardor and love for Jesus that is central, authentic and faithful. The young do not desire a Church that retreats from the secularization but a Church that carries the enthusiasm of missionary disciples who will leave a mark in this moment of history. As Pope St. John Paul II once wrote, “I see the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians, and missionaries and young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time” (Redemptoris Missio 92).