The Real Work of the Synod of Bishops

The publisher of a couple of my books (1 and 2) — Ave Maria Press — interviewed me about the current meeting of the synod of bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Here are their questions and my answers:

What message do the bishops need to send to young people in the Church through this synod meeting?

The bishops must present a clear, compelling, and compassionate image of Christianity maturity, holiness, and a life of grace. Yes, the bishops must listen to young people, but at the same time the Church must proclaim the fullness of the Gospel to young people. We must show the beauty of the Gospel and challenge young people to bear the cost of love in their lives. If we do not invest in our young people then we, as the Church, are failing in our divine mission to be a sign and instrument of God’s communion with us in Christ and the hope of our unity with one another.

The messages that young people do not need to hear are messages born of or reinforcing factionalism in the Church, where some bishops or others try to advance their own preferred agendas over and against other factions’ agendas. Young people need a Eucharistic vision of unity, one that spills over into charitable works by which we make the sacramental grace of the Eucharist present in the world, in our communities, and in our lives.

And in terms of presenting a vision of Christian maturity—in answer to the really critical question of ‘What are we accompanying young people towards?’—I am of the firm conviction that the bishops of the synod must both present the Blessed Mother as the image of discipleship into which we are all called and entrust young people and the whole Church to her care. The Holy Father has dedicated this synodal process to Mary, and now it is time to made good on that pledge.

Do you think that the sex abuse crisis in the Church, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the split caused by the letter of Archbishop Viganó implicating Pope Francis will overshadow the meetings?

Absolutely. But has there ever been a more important time for the Church to dedicate herself to the health and wellbeing of young people? In that regard, the synod is an opportunity in an unspeakably painful time to begin to do something constructive, to exercise new forms of creativity, and to renew our mission to the Gospel.

We need new models of lay leadership in the Church, so let this synod be a beginning of the renewal. We need to drive out abuse, exploitation, irresponsibility, failed authority, and corrosive cultures within the Church, so let’s make this synod the beginning of something true and beautiful. Evil is only ever driven out by the good, darkness by light. Let’s face the evil and the darkness, let’s get the whole truth out there, and then let’s recommit ourselves to our dependence on the Lord, under the patronage of the Blessed Mother, to become worthy of the call we have received to evangelize and especially to pass on the pearl of great price—the Gospel—to our younger generations.

The scandals in the Church are the work of the devil and rooted in sin, but perhaps part of the Providence of God has to do with the timing of this synod, and the V Encuentro in the U.S., and World Youth Day upcoming in Panama. These show us the way forward, to commit every last resource and every drop of energy in the Church to nourishing our young people. Let’s build up “cultures of formation” where young people can thrive.

What else should people know about the work ahead of the bishops in the Synod? 

There is a temptation to think that the work of committing to young people is work done “way over there” by “those people” who are gathered together in some room the rest of us don’t enter at the synod meeting. That’s false. They have a responsibility, under the charge of the Holy Father, to represent their national conferences, to consult with each other, and to faithfully imagine how to serve young people across the world, today and for years to come.

The most important work, however, will be done much closer to home, for each of us. The work of parishes, of Catholic schools, and especially within families in the home is where the real renewal will take place. I can guarantee that during and right after the synod meeting, Twitter will be all aflutter with critiques and accusations and analyses and “so what this really means is” kinds of summaries. All of that is a distraction. That’s the stuff that paralyzes us. That’s where factionalism divides the unity of the Church.

We must, must, must commit ourselves personally, as disciples within our parishes, schools, and homes, to heed the mission of the Gospel and present its beauty to our young people in word and deed. We must become the witnesses who show them God’s love and testify to that love with our lives.

In my book What Matters Most, I tried to anticipate this for the sake of the synodal process. If by this time next year, we do not find ourselves involved in concrete activity, rededicated to the leadership each of us is called to by virtue of our baptism, and actually sacrificing in significant ways for the sake of the Gospel and out of love for young people, whom our Lord especially loves, then we should recognize that we—not they (who gathered in Rome)—are failing in our mission. What we really need to know is that this is our mission.

*In part for the occasion of the synod and this particular topic of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment", I wrote the book What Matters Most: Empowering Young Catholics for Life’s Big Decisions. I also created free discussions guides for Catholic high schools and parish or parents groups, respectively. Please contact me (below) if I can help you to make use of the book in your faith community, or to address any questions you might have.

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