Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: Synod on Youth Blog Day 9

Pope Francis greets the crowd during the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

I was asked by one reporter what I meant in my intervention when I said that there was a contraceptive mentality in some places with respect to vocations.

I said I thought soon-to-be Saint Paul VI prophetically foresaw that contraception would not only be a threat to individual souls and individual families, but a mentality that would corrupt whole communities. I suggest that this mentality – at its heart, a fear of children and their demands – has infected some dioceses, parishes, religious congregations and Church bureaucracies too. Some in these places are not open to a new generation, not willing generously to nurture them. They fear them as too young, energetic, demanding, conservative, different – whatever. So faith is not transmitted and vocations not nurtured.

I recall a priest media personality once telling me in the radio studio that he would close the seminaries and allow none of ‘this generation’ into the priesthood or religious life because he regarded them as too ‘traditionalist’. I suspect he was not a very effective vocations promoter!

I do not think it is an accident that those corners of the Church that have embraced the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, family and ‘birth control’, are the same corners in which vocations to the priesthood and religious life are still commonplace. This is true even in the Western world where secularisation and low birth rates might seem to have brought the ‘baby boom’ and ‘vocations glut’ of previous times to an end. We might consider some of the new movements, for example.

Why?

  • Because the same supernatural attitude sustains a trust in providence and a willingness to commit to and sacrifice for a higher good
  • Because the same attitudes, principles and virtues sustain a family culture and a vocational culture
  • Because healthy families have sufficient children both to continue the family line and to be consecrated for the Church; an Australian leader once called on couples to have at least three children “one for Mum, one for Dad, and one for the country.” I would suggest four children – adding one for the Church!
  • Because healthy families, priests and religious value and support each other in various ways; every successful celibate will tell you that faithful spouses and families have carried them through
  • Because an implicit (or sometimes explicit) fear of young people informs both a reluctance to have (large) families and a reluctance to promote vocations among the young; whereas a delight in the young will motivate both family life, priesthood, consecrated life, family ministry and vocations ministry
  • and so on…

This morning there was further discussion of what it means to ‘accompany’ young people. Points made included:

  • Those accompanying must have a deep faith, love and joy in Christ; they must have great hope, love and joy for young people
  • Formation in mentoring is required
  • Clergy and others must be more radically available to young people
  • Qualified young people might be ordained deacons to engage in youth ministry
  • The Church as Mater et Magistra must exercise a clear magisterium; accompaniment is not the same as affirming everything the one accompanied asserts
  • ‘Listening’ or ‘seeing’ does not mean accepting any old opinion; it properly sees through lenses of faith and reason; the Church must listen most to those who love Christ and want to build it up

There was also further discussion of ‘vocational discernment’:

  • There is no such thing as ‘single vocations’ or other novelties: there is only the common vocation to holiness and joy in the Lord imposed on every Christian! Particular ‘vocations’ are more or less successful choices in pursuit of that common vocation
  • We need a positive vocational culture that shapes positive vocational attitudes: we must articulate God’s dream for young people, foster their involvement, recognise within them the seed of vocation, develop synergies with them through youth ministry
  • Ignatian discernment (some felt) is too individualistic!
  • Families, schools and universities etc. should assist in discerning vocations

Other issues raised included:

  • We need to articulate a clear preferential option for the young
  • The tragedy of young people from places such as war-torn countries in northern Africa abandoning their homeland in search of a better life, only to die in the Mediterranean
  • Young people demoralised by long-term unemployment
  • The need to form young consciences better: young people stand before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with many voices whispering, urging them to take and eat. They must be helped to learn to ask God daily to inform their choices; a sincere examination of conscience and discernment of spirits requires recognition that there IS a devil, evil, sin
  • Secularisation is not all bad; the Spirit speaks to us through the secular world too and, although it risks indifference it also frees us from some dangers to faith
  • No one can match the magnetism of the real Jesus; we must begin anew each day the path with him
  • The scandal of the child sexual abuse crisis; bishops must be subjected to scrutiny and processes as searching as we’ve applied to clergy and others. Women can help us get this right
  • Young people must be introduced to the sacrament of  liberation, growth and new beginnings that is Penance / Reconciliation

 

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