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For Young People the Work Is Just Beginning

Fr. Matt Gworek

Monday, October 29, 2018

Young Catholic receiving communion
CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic
The Synod is done.
With the approval of the Final Document, Sunday’s Closing Mass, and the reading of the “Letter from the Synod Fathers to Young People,” the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has officially come to a close.
There’s no doubt that everything discussed or proposed over the past month will continue being considered and analyzed, and there’s no doubt that, as many have said, this needs to be more of a “beginning” than an end to the topic of young people in the Church. But there’s also no doubt that from a simple viewpoint, it’s done. The work that hundreds of bishops, young adults, experts, and guests went to Rome to do has been completed. They’ve given their speeches, had their conversations, and have written their words. So I guess the question now is: what comes next?
In many ways, that’s a question for the bishops, especially the ones who were there, listening and dialoguing with the young people around them. Those leaders are now tasked with taking all that arose in the synodal process and figuring out how to implement it in their dioceses. In different places and cultures, this is obviously going to look and feel very different, so it’s up to each bishop to work out how he can best shepherd his flock in response to what he’s learned.
Now, that’s all true. The bishops have an important responsibility to implement something, to better reach out to the young men and women that often times have not been served, nurtured, or sometimes even noticed by their parish or their Church. That’s very true. It is not by any means, however, the only thing that needs to take place, and those bishops are not the only ones who need to step up and do their part.
What exactly do I mean?
Well, as the Road to Emmaus became a favoured Biblical image of this Synod of Bishops, I think it might be a useful one to help me explain.
You see, that account from Chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel is a story that provides the perfect combination of listening and speaking, of accompanying and guiding. It’s a story of Jesus being willing to let the disciples take the lead for a time and then recognizing exactly when and how he should jump in to interpret, teach, and offer the truth. It’s a story that had such staying power this past month, I believe, because it just fit. It offered this blend of listening from both sides that the Synod was trying to accomplish. It provided the Church a model of taking the time to respect what others had to say without having to throw out our belief that there really is something special and important about our history and Tradition and the wisdom of the Fathers who have come before.
So yeah, it fit, and it became this standard everyone could point to, looking at Jesus and saying, “That’s what we’re trying to do here. That’s who we want to try and be as a Church.” And that really is a good way to approach things. It’s hard to go wrong when you’re looking at Jesus and trying to be like him. But we can’t forget, there are two parts to play in that story, and the truth is that it doesn’t work without both.
Certainly you need Jesus there to listen and teach and do everything that he does, everything that the Church now hopes to imitate as we move ahead, but you also need those two disciples. You need the two who are on that journey, who have plenty to say. Without them, there’s no discussion. Without them, there’s no one to be taught. Without them, Jesus is just there with no way to share himself with the world.
And that is why I think that the bishops aren’t the only ones with something to do now that the Synod is over. With the Church and its leaders representing Jesus in this story, it’s the young people who need to take on the role of the disciples. And if it was so important for those disciples to have something to say and to be active on this journey alongside Jesus, then it only makes sense that the same is true for us, for 31-year-olds like myself and all the young men and women of our Church.
It makes sense to me that we need to be active players in our story just like those disciples were in theirs. This isn’t exactly new. There have been plenty of reports this month of the Synod Fathers recognizing the need to see the young auditors and those they represent as real “actors” or “protagonists” within the Church. Which is good. It means that they seem to be taking seriously this possibility of getting the youth more involved. But as good as that is, it’s also a bit dangerous for us, the young people. Because it means we have to step up and truly fill those roles, to be energetic and adamant in our desire to be a part of this story and this Church.
That means we have to show up to Mass and probably go to Confession. It means that it’s necessary for us to be active in the programs and groups in our parishes. It means we should be learning about the saints and bishops and the many holy people who have preceded us. It means we should be putting in the effort to read about the history, theology, and tradition of our incredible Catholic institution. It means we need to pray, to chat with God. To have a real and hopefully meaningful relationship with Him.
Then, it also means we need to get out there and share that with other people. And not only other Catholics we know and see at Mass. If we really want to be “protagonists” in this mission of the Church, we need to reach out. Not just to that easy person next to us but maybe to that friend you have that would probably never think about stepping into a church. Or that cousin you’re close to who used to go to Mass but then stopped and now might go but just needs that little push back in the door. Or even that person you work with who you don’t know that well but just seems like someone who might be interested if you told him that you like being Catholic.
We, the young, need to be active in our parishes and active in spreading the Gospel. Yes, that’s a mission for every Catholic, but I think when you look at the pews on Sunday, it’s pretty clear that it’s most urgently a mission for us. We have this incredible Church, this incredible faith, and for many reasons lots and lots of young people don’t know anything about it. We need to show them that it really is a beautiful part of our lives, something we care about and that’s worth being a part of.
As the bishops head back to their dioceses, yes, it is definitely their job to try and let young people get more involved in the Church. But as they do that, it’s up to the young people to step in there and be a part of what’s going on. We need to be those “actors” or “protagonists” or just good Christians living out our faith every day, doing whatever we can to be dynamic in our parishes, witnesses to our peers, and worthy of the hope and confidence that Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers have placed in us.
The Synod is done.
I hope for young Catholics that means our work is just beginning.

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