Yesterday the Vatican convened its first session of the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. But judging from the working document that will guide the month-long meeting, seven key things essential for its success are lacking.
Instead of guiding young people along the narrow but rewarding path of Christianity, the Synod working document seems to favor “accompanying” young Catholics on the wide, treacherous pathways of secular culture.
Below are seven essentials that appear to be lacking at the outset of the Synod. Faithful Catholics will be praying that the bishops can steer the Synod back to the Church’s familiar and sure pathways that lead young people to Christ.
Under the circumstances, there is something simply offensive about Catholic bishops gathering to discuss how they can appeal to young people to stay in the Church. Meanwhile, the crisis of clergy sex abuse and poor judgment and corruption among certain bishops remains unresolved.
Restoring credibility among Catholic families and young people will require years of effort. But transparency from the Vatican regarding Archbishop Viganò’s claims would be a good start, instead of the Synod’s apparent approach of befriending young people by softening moral judgment.
Astonishingly, the Synod’s working document places little emphasis on teaching young people the Truth of Christ—the liturgy, traditions, and doctrines that are the great treasures of the Church. Instead, it focuses on guiding them by personal example and nonjudgmental companionship.
Pope Benedict rightly lamented the “educational crisis” among young people who despair because they do not know Christ and His teachings. We cannot soft-pedal the Truth of the Gospel and leave young people drowning in the relativism of “liquid modernity.”
First and foremost, youth need Truth!
The Synod organizers seem to lack confidence in young people today, doubting that they would respond positively to appeals to reason. Instead of teaching Truth and moral precepts, the Synod document promotes the subjective experience of a mentor to attract youth.
We need to be bold in calling on young people to study the Faith and make it their own. Many will respond to this call. To be advocates of beauty, seekers of truth, and architects of freedom is a task and adventure worthy of their youthful restlessness and idealism. They are looking for answers.
The simple fact is, our Catholic Faith is not subjective. We can’t abandon young people to the influence and temptation of relativism. Without binding truth claims, our teaching is not Catholic.
The Synod document encourages frank discussions with young people about sexuality, but it lacks a sense of alarm about the moral crisis among our youth and avoids confrontation with the popular culture. The Synod organizers seem comfortable with accommodating the culture’s erroneous assumptions about sexuality and has adopted the culture’s language of identity, instead of reminding young people that we all have one orientation as children of God, to and through Him Who is the Way and the Truth and the Life.
The lives of many young Catholics have become fragmented, incoherent, and indifferent to truth and meaning. The Church needs to stand strong against today’s culture of dissent and radical autonomy, which corrupts the souls of our youth. That includes rooting out scandal in Catholic universities and removing the “Catholic” label from the worst offenders!
The Synod document uses the term “formation,” but it rarely speaks of morality, God’s commandments, and the development of virtues and moral discipline in young people. It warns against appearing “authoritative” or “hyperprotective” but not against permissiveness, which is the real problem today in many of the Church’s schools, colleges, and youth programs.
Young people today need formation—which is harder but much more rewarding than simple companionship—to develop into saints and even martyrs. We encourage the bishops to observe the students at America’s most faithful Catholic colleges (which are recommended in our Newman Guide) or talk to the growing numbers of Catholic families who have deliberately chosen schools and homeschool programs that offer serious formation in mind, body, and spirit.
The Synod working document acknowledges the importance of families in faith formation, but parents and families have had a minor role in the Synod’s deliberations, despite the fact that they are the key to reaching young people. Good parents have unique insight as to what young people need to stay strong in the Faith.
Despite the alarming fact that the Church is losing young people, there are places where the Faith is being handed down successfully, and where young people are on fire for Christ and the Church’s timeless mission of saving souls. These families aren’t hiding! They are readily found in parishes with traditional devotions, in families who pray the Rosary together, in homeschools and lay-run Catholic classical schools, and in families who sacrifice everything to send their children to Newman Guide colleges. The Synod could learn much from the very people who are doing it well today.
7. Catholic Education
All this points to a key solution for the bishops: the renewal of an authentic Catholic education, genuinely forming youth and upholding the Faith of good Catholic families. Catholic education is critical to the Church’s evangelization of young people and deserves to be the primary emphasis of the Youth Synod.
Instead, Catholic education gets weak attention in the Synod working document, which overly focuses on it as a means for addressing the world’s problems from a humanistic standpoint. The document places too little emphasis on Catholic education’s role in evangelizing young people and leading them to Heaven.
The working document’s brief section on catechesis is helpful, but this too falls short of embracing the full promise of Catholic education: the formation of the human person, the development of a Christian worldview, an experience of Christian community, and a daily encounter with Christ in prayer and Sacrament.
The Synod fathers would be wise to renew the Church’s commitment to authentic, faithful Catholic education. For decades, weak Catholic schools, colleges, and youth programs have failed to deeply form young people in knowledge of the Faith, tradition, moral discipline, virtue, and wisdom. Such formation should be a top priority for the Synod.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that the Church has every tool it needs to reach young people, and it has two thousand years of experience leading people, young and old, to Christ in very different cultures and historical realities. Catholicism works. We don’t need “new” and softer approaches; to the contrary, we need greater commitment to educating and forming young people well. We hope and pray that the Synod fathers will take heed and avoid the easy temptation to simply flow with the times.