A Listening Church and Helping Young People in Vocational Discernment

Photo Credit: Leslie Kossoff for the Catholic Standard

The Church of Washington rejoices today with the ordination of four men as transitional deacons.  While they will now enter into their final year of seminary formation, their pathway to ordination did not begin with their entrance into the seminary.  Their spiritual journey began with their first personal contact with Christ through the sacraments of initiation and it proceeded further at every stage in their human and faith formation.  It is the same for every vocational decision.

Sometimes when we hear the word “discernment,” we think only of a priestly or religious vocation.  But good discernment should be a natural part of the life of every disciple – laity included – who yearns to continually say “yes” to God’s call.  In fact, discernment is such an important part of life that Pope Francis has decided the Synod of Bishops next year will be devoted to young people and vocational discernment.  One of the most important elements of the preparation for this gathering was the call for listening sessions with young people throughout the world.

“By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world,” explains the Preparatory Document for the Synod.  “As in the days of Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 3:1-21) and Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 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.”

In this archdiocese, this took the form of listening sessions and an online survey, as I discussed here a few weeks ago.  With this stage now completed, I want to express my gratitude for the more than 1,500 responses that were received in 40 parish listening sessions, with hundreds of young adults also participating online.

The responses show some common areas of concern among young people.  Many feel the pressures of a secularized world, particularly in the area of human sexuality, and a lack of community and authentic friendships in their lives.  Many young adults also feel the pressures of heavy debts and managing finances.  When asked to talk about where they find meaning in their lives, both Catholic and non-Catholics spoke of the importance of service experiences.  Among young people who make the Church a part of their life, they value the invitation and initiation into the experience of personal prayer and those adults who seem “authentic,” and also the opportunity they have for spiritual direction and help with discernment.

As we further study the results of our outreach, we do not want to stop listening to our young people simply because we have completed this initiative. They are our future in the Church and in society, and it is essential that we continue to actively engage with them, hearing what is important to them and sharing what we have learned about life.