In the coming year, Pope Francis is inviting the Church to chart a course that will invite young people to be front and center at the upcoming Synod in the fall of 2018. The theme of the Synod is, Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. It will offer the universal Church, and the Diocese of Calgary, the opportunity to examine how she might lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love which can be experienced when we encounter Christ. In preparation for this Synod, young people will be asked to help identify how the Gospel touches their lives and how they might desire to participate in proclaiming this mission. Surveys are being circulated electronically so that the perspectives of young people can become the guiding input for the Synod.
The preparatory document for the Synod, released in January of 2017, begins as follows: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” [Jn 15:11]. This is God’s plan for all men and women in every age, including all the young men and women of the Third Millennium, without exception.”
Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment is divided into three parts. The first urges listening to reality. The second highlights the importance of discernment in the light of faith in order to make life choices that truly correspond to the will of God and to the good of the person. The third focuses on the pastoral action of the ecclesial community. Each of these three aspects is rooted in joy recognizing it as an affirming sign of confirmation that God’s Will is being followed.
The preparatory document goes on to say, “Proclaiming the joy of the Gospel is the mission entrusted by the Lord to his Church. The Synod on the New Evangelization and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium treated how to accomplish this mission in today’s world. The two synods on the family and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia were, instead, dedicated to helping families find this joy.
In keeping with this mission and introducing a new approach through a Synod with the topic, Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, the Church has decided to examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love, and to ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today. By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. As in the days of Samuel [cf. 1 Sam 3:1-21] and Jeremiah [cf. Jer 1:4-10], young people know how to discern the signs of our times, indicated by the Spirit. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”
A vocation is all about love. It is a life of love in a concrete, particular form that comes from God. Each vocation begins with God’s love for us. In that love, He is calling us to a particular form of life. This love involves first God’s total gift of Himself to us, and then in response our total gift of self to Him.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to St. John, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” [Jn 15:16]. Sometimes we ask ourselves, “What do I want to do in the future” or “What life will I choose?” Discerning a vocation invites us to ask: “What does Jesus want for us?”; “What life will bring Jesus the greatest glory?” and ultimately to say, “I want what Jesus wants.” A vocation is the particular life God has chosen for us, and for which He has specifically created us. A vocation means to be sent by Jesus on a mission to help Him bring God’s Kingdom to the world, and it calls for much love, courage and sacrifice on our part, made possible by the love and grace of God. The key to discovering our vocation is first to welcome Jesus’ great love for us into our hearts.
This vision of discerning a vocation, living Christ’s love fully and accomplishing a unique mission that furthers the Kingdom of God on earth inspires the 2018 Synod and its preparatory document. Importantly, the path to this Synod during the papacy of Pope Francis has laid the foundational cornerstones which support vocational discernment – the vital role of families, the desire to pray and the call to mission.
These three areas of family, prayer and mission rooted in joy are foundational to the healthy discernment of a vocation.
In the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) on love in the family, Pope Francis affirmed the importance of family life and the ways in which pastoral ministry is extended to support families. He further describes families as the place where love and faith are shared and lived saying, “Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to grow in faith.” In so many ways, parents introduce their children to the faith and model for them a love relationship which mirrors the love of the Father.
This yearning for the love of God first experienced in the home leads us to seek a relationship with Him through prayer and sacrament. Indeed, this time of prayer can lead us to the “new creation in Christ” of which St. Paul speaks in his letters. Prayer is transformative. Pope Francis highlights this transformational impact of prayer when he says, “Read a passage from the Gospel every day. It is the power that changes us, transforms us; it changes lives and hearts.” Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) emphasizes two points among several others – the primacy of prayer in a faith-filled life and the call to live out that prayer life in faithful mission.
A religious mission is prompted by a realization that a positive change needs to happen and a commitment to work towards the realization of that change. The call to build a better world is one that young people today can grasp in many ways. A world where violence is lessened and eliminated; a world where tolerance and love replace hatred and fear; a world where justice and peace replace enslavement and human trafficking; a world where the gifts of creation are respected by responsible stewardship and the environmental abuses cease; and a world where the sanctity of life from conception to natural death is honoured. Pope Francis describes the mission saying, “A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master.” It is this call or charism which inspired the foundation of religious orders in the past to begin hospitals, schools, and social services. That call is no less present today. It just takes different forms.
Every young person is called to discover their unique vocation to love. This takes concrete form in life through a series of choices that find their expression in marriage, single life, ordained ministry, consecrated life, etc., in social and civil commitments, professions and work, sustainable lifestyles, and ultimately the commitment to the dignity of life from conception to natural death for each human person in the world. The goal of a young person’s vocational discernment is to discover how they are being called by God to embrace their future lives, in the light of faith, and to know the fullness of joy to which everyone is called.
In Fr. Cristino’s article on page 11 (Carillon), he outlines how the Synod’s phase of consultation will unfold in our diocese through the Catholic schools and parishes. In addition to this, a group of young people from Calgary have been invited to participate in a country-wide consultation on October 10 through Salt & Light TV with Cardinal Farrell. The questions and interventions posed by young people in this cross-country encounter will be based on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment which will serve as the reference point for the discussion at the Synod.
With the recent pastoral assignments taking affect in the diocese as of August 2017, I have appointed as Vocations Director, Fr. Cristino Bouvette and a Vicar for Catholic Education, Fr. Jerome Lavigne. Collaborating with me and their brother priests, they will be able to further this pastoral engagement with our young people through families, parishes, the Catholic schools, universities, and parishes. The teamwork with our Youth Ministry Office, the Catholic teachers in our schools and the many lay volunteers is necessary if this engagement of our youth is to bear fruit. To outreach to their parents and to strengthen the relationship between the parish, school and family, we are beginning to pilot a new parish based sacramental preparation program in five of our parishes. The engagement of the parents is key dimension of this program and it is a recognition that we can’t keep doing things “the same old way” if we hope for different results. The new evangelization calls for a new ardor and new methods in proclaiming the Gospel.
Finally, on October 19, the importance of our youth and young people will be the focus of the annual Bishop’s Dinner highlighting the future of our local Church. It will be a celebration that brings together our parishes, lay associations and local community service groups that are essential in promoting such a diocesan vision in addition to the sponsors and benefactors who generously support such initiatives. I acknowledge and thank Henry and Sharon van der Sloot for their leadership of this event. The young people who will be in attendance and those directly involved in the presentations are the next generation that the Church and society will look to for the “future sustainability of the human family” as Pope Francis is indicating through this Synod. I invite you to come and enjoy a wonderful evening as we prepare for the Synod and celebrate Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment in our diocese.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary