There are great examples of women serving in consecrated religious communities and in lay leadership roles. However, for some young women, these examples are not always visible. One key question arises from these reflections; what are the places where women can flourish within the Church and society? The Church can approach these problems with real discussion and open-mindedness to different ideas and experiences.
There is often great disagreement among young people, both within the Church and in the wider world, about some of her teachings which are especially controversial today.
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Examples of these include: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church. What is important to note is that irrespective of their level of understanding of Church teaching, there is still disagreement and ongoing discussion among young people on these polemical issues. As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching or at least to have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions. Even though there is internal debate, young Catholics whose convictions are in conflict with official teaching still desire to be part of the Church.
Many young Catholics accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but to also proclaim them with greater depth of teaching. Throughout the world, the relationship to the sacred is complicated.
Christianity is often seen as something which belonged to the past and its value or relevance to our lives is no longer understood. Meanwhile, in certain communities, priority is given to the sacred since daily life is structured around religion. In some Asian contexts, the meaning of life can be associated with Eastern philosophies. Ultimately, many of us strongly want to know Jesus, yet often struggle to realize that He alone is the source of true self-discovery, for it is in a relationship with Him that the human person ultimately comes to discover him or herself.
Thus, we have found that young people want authentic witnesses — men and women who vibrantly express their faith and relationship with Jesus while encouraging others to approach, meet, and fall in love with Jesus themselves. It is both a joy and a sacred responsibility to accompany young people on their journey of faith and discernment. To that end, it is important to understand how young people perceive faith and vocation, and the challenges facing their discernment. Young People and Jesus. The relationship of young people with Jesus is as varied as the number of young people on this earth.
There are many young people who know and have a relationship with Jesus as their Savior and the Son of God. In addition, young people often find closeness to Jesus through His Mother, Mary. Others may not have such a relationship with Jesus but see Him as a moral leader and a good man. Many young people perceive Jesus as a historical figure, one of a certain time and culture, who is not relevant to their lives. Still others perceive Him as distant from the human experience, which for them is a distance perpetuated by the Church.
False images of Jesus that some young people possess often lead them to be unattracted to Him. Erroneous ideals of model Christians feel out of reach to the average person and thus so do the rules set by the Church. Therefore, for some, Christianity is perceived as an unreachable standard. One way to reconcile the confusions that young people have regarding who Jesus is involves a return to Scripture to understand more deeply the person of Christ, His life, and His humanity. Young people need to encounter the mission of Christ, not what they may perceive as an impossible moral expectation.
However, they feel uncertain about how to do so. This encounter needs to be fostered in young people, which needs to be addressed by the Church. For many young people, faith has become private rather than communal, and the negative experiences that some young people have had with the Church have contributed to this. For some young people, the Church has developed a culture which focuses heavily on members engaging with the institutional aspect of herself, not the person of Christ.
Other young people view religious leaders as disconnected and more focused on administration than community-building, and still others see the Church as irrelevant. It can seem that the Church forgets that the people are the Church, not the building. For other young people, they experience the Church as very close to them, in places such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as in different global movements; even some young people who do not live the Gospel feel connected to the Church.
This sense of belonging and family sustains these young people on their journey. Without this anchor of community support and belonging, young people can feel isolated in the face of challenges.
There are many young people who do not feel the need to be part of the Church community and who find meaning to their life outside of the Church. Unfortunately, there is a phenomenon in some areas of the world where young people are leaving the Church in large quantities. Understanding why is crucial in moving forward. Young people who are disconnected from or who leave the Church do so after experiencing indifference, judgment and rejection. One could attend, participate in, and leave Mass without experiencing a sense of community or family as the Body of Christ.
Christians profess a living God, but some attend Masses or belong to communities which seem dead. Young people are attracted to the joy which should be a hallmark of our faith. Young people express a desire to see a Church that is a living testimony to what it teaches and witnesses to authenticity on the path to holiness, which includes acknowledging mistakes and asking for forgiveness.
Young people expect leaders of the Church — ordained, religious, and lay — to be the strongest example of this. Knowing that models of faith are authentic and vulnerable allows young people to freely be authentic and vulnerable themselves. It is not to destroy the sacredness of their ministry, but so that young people might be inspired by them on the path to holiness. On many occasions, young people have difficulty finding a space in the Church where they can actively participate and lead.
Young people interpret their experience of the Church as one where they are considered too young and inexperienced to lead or make decisions as they would only make mistakes. There is a need for trust in young people to lead and to be protagonists of their own spiritual journey. This is not just to imitate their elders, but to really take ownership of their mission and responsibility, lived out well.
Movements and new communities in the Church have developed fruitful ways to not only evangelize young people, but also to empower them to be the primary ambassadors of the faith to their peers.
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Another common perception that many young people have is an unclear role of women in the Church. If it is difficult for young people to feel a sense of belonging and leadership in the Church, it is much more so for young women. To that end, it would be helpful for young people if the Church not only clearly stated the role of women, but also helped young people to explore and understand it more clearly. The Vocational Sense of Life.
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There is a need for a simple and clear understanding of vocation to highlight the sense of call and mission, desire and aspiration, which makes it a concept more relatable to young people at this stage of their lives. Young people understand the general sense of bringing meaning to life and being alive for a purpose, but many do not know how to connect that to vocation as a gift and call from God.
While these are sacred calls that should be celebrated, it is important for young people to know that their vocation is by virtue of their life, and that each person has a responsibility to discern what it is that God calls them to be and to do.
There is a fullness to each vocation which must be highlighted in order to open the hearts of young people to their possibilities. Young people of various beliefs see vocation as inclusive of life, love, aspiration, place in and contribution to the world, and way to make an impact. The term vocation is not very clear to many young people; hence there is need for greater understanding of the Christian vocation the priesthood and religious life, lay ministry, marriage and family, role in society, etc.
Vocational Discernment. However, young people will rise to the challenge.
Bridging the Generation Gap
That being said, many young people do not know how to intentionally go about the process of discernment; this is an opportunity for the Church to accompany them. Many factors influence the ability of young people to discern their vocations, such as: the Church, cultural differences, demands of work, digital media, family expectations, mental health and state of mind, noise, peer pressures, political scenarios, society, technology, etc.
Spending time in silence, introspection and prayer, as well as reading the Scriptures and deepening self-knowledge are opportunities very few young people exercise. There is a need for a better introduction to these areas. Engaging with faith-based groups, movements, and like-minded communities can also assist young people in their discernment.
We recognize in particular the unique challenges faced by young women as they discern their vocation and place in the Church. Young people are looking for companions on the journey, to be embraced by faithful men and women who express the truth and allow young people to articulate their understanding of faith and their vocation. Such people do not need to be models of faith to imitate, but instead living testimonies to witness. Such a person should evangelize by their life. Whether they are familiar faces in the comfort of home, colleagues in the local community, or martyrs testifying to their faith with their very lives, there are many who could meet this expectation.
Qualities of such a mentor include: a faithful Christian who engages with the Church and the world; someone who constantly seeks holiness; is a confidant without judgement; actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind; is deeply loving and self-aware; acknowledges their limits and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey. An especially important quality in a mentor is acknowledgement of their humanity — that they are human beings who make mistakes: not perfect people but forgiven sinners.