A Dialog with our future. So many questions that impact our futures!

[Given the stake we all have in our future as Church and Vincentian Family, this is the first of a series of posts devoted to the three week long Synod of Bishops.]

More than we may realize, our future is the hands of some 50 cardinals, 145 bishops and archbishops, 37 auxiliary bishops, and ten priests and brothers from religious orders. Thirty-four young people will be present as auditors, able to take part in all the discussions but unable to vote on the meeting’s expected final document. The issues of renewal of solidarity between the generations will be front and center.

This week begins a three-week long dialogue with the future of our Church – youth. From October 3-28th Bishops of the world will engage with each other, young people and a variety of experts. Their focus will be “‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment’

Don’t let the word vocational discernment lull you into thinking it is just about the future of priesthood or religious life. It is, in fact, about everyone’s future, yours and mine – whether and how the Gospel of Christ will be present in all walks of life in every corner of the world. The overarching question is “What will our church look like in 10-20 years from now” The answer lies to a great degree with the youth of today and the dialogue that begins this week.

The issues discussed will impact the Vincentian Family. Vincent said some 400 years ago “the community is not now what it once was nor is it what it will be.” Let’s just look at some the questions affecting visitors to Vincentian Family sites.

  • What will the Vincentian Family look like?
  • What will the worldwide Congregation of the Mission look like?
  • Will the Eastern Province look the same as it does today.
  • And bottom line…Who will announce the message of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor?.

The future will be the same and yet quite different.

Of one thing I am certain. On one level, the future will look much different than today. But I will be very surprised if, at its core, our church will look much different than the lay-centered church of the New Testament. It is not always easy for us to appreciate the importance of the role of lay people in the early Church, even though we have read about it in the New Testament again and again.

When you find anyone wavering about the importance of the laity in the life of the Church, encourage them to read the Pauline letters and the Book of the Acts carefully. Based on his reading former Superior General Robert Maloney suggests five facets or characteristics that would express his hopes of the profile for lay women and men in the Church of the future.

  • They will be profoundly lay
  • They will be well-educated, well-formed, and knowledgeable about the social teaching of the Church
  • They will be electronically connected
  • They will be team players on a multi-racial squad
  • They will be truly missionary.

Youth today seem to fit well most of these categories.

Issues faced by the Synod

The run-up to the Synod has already garnered its share of controversy with even Cardinals offering quite contrasting views. Fr Giacomo Costa SJ, Special Secretary for the Synod of Bishops, says that the renewal of solidarity between the generations must be a priority for the Church and the whole of society (Rediscovering dialogue between the generations: Synod 2018)

He unpacks those problems.

  • Young people in particular point out the difficulty in feeling truly welcomed and listened to within the Church, in being trusted and finding spaces where they can take the initiative. They are kept away not only by a general lack of interest but also by the ‘poor preparation’ of priests, compounded by financial and sexual scandals.
  • Several Bishops’ Conferences say that there is not so much a generational conflict between young people and adults nowadays, but rather a ‘mutual alienness’:
  • The result of this strained communication is the estrangement of many young people from the Church, even though they have authentically spiritual questions and sensitivities.
  • They tend to shy away when they perceive that the interest in them is not genuine but motivated by institutional self-preservation. This connection makes young people suspicious that the real objective is not to recognise the meaning of one’s own life and to identify the concrete steps (in terms of family, relationships, work commitment, organisation of free time) that lead to the fullness of personal life (to the ‘joy of love’, in ecclesial terms), but rather to recruit more aspirants into the seminary.
  • Young people want help to grow to maturity, but it must not be tinged with paternalism or attempts at manipulation and control.
  • Lack of trust in institutions is undoubtedly one of the characteristics of contemporary culture, particularly for young people.
  • Being concrete or practical counts more towards credibility than any theoretical argument in the minds of young people.

The results of the Synod will determine if and to what extent this challenge is met, not so much in terms of documents – important as they are – but by processes of renewal and experimentation which will commence in local Churches and, ultimately, by the real conversion of ecclesial communities, which must be considered one of the objectives of the synodal process.

Taking young people seriously, with their culture, their needs, their resources, and their weaknesses, places the need for change squarely before us!

Taking young people seriously

  • How well do we really understand those who belong to a generation different than our own?
  • What can we learn from generations whose life experience is different than our own?
  • How can we come to grips with the underlying differences in modes of communication and culture?

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