Address to Third Level Chaplains

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Speaking notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin,  Archbishop of Dublin

Holy Cross Pastoral Centre, Clonliffe, 29th November 2017


“The Church worldwide is beginning to look towards the next Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will address the theme “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. As you know, Pope Francis places great stress on the Synod of Bishops and how it can lead to renewed focus on aspects of the pastoral life of the Church. We saw that in the Synodal process on the theme of the family which led to the publication of the document Amoris Laetitia.

As Third Level Chaplains, you possess a unique insight into the mind of an important cohort of young people in Irish society.  You see first hand their hopes and aspirations, their troubles, their anxieties and their apprehensions, their faith and understanding of religion.

It is interesting that in the process of reflection carried out in this diocese in preparation for the Synod, university chaplaincies were indicated as one of the most effective and respected ministries in the Church’s outreach to young people.

How do we prepare for the Synod? Does the Synod matter to young people here in Ireland and to your ministry?    You prepare for the Synod not just as though preparing for an event.  You do so through the way you work.  You do so through reflecting on how you can make your ministry of faith formation more effective.

What does vocational discernment mean? Who is called to discernment?  That term is perhaps the key term in understanding Pope Francis’ ideas about the Synod.  He sees ministry to young people especially as ministry with young people.  It is young people who are called to discern.  You can act as a stimulus to help young people reflect on the meaning of their lives.  You do not impose. Neither are you indifferent to the faith dimension of you ministry.

In a message announcing the theme of the Synod, Pope Francis took up three key phrases that could serve as an introduction to faith discernment for young people and as an appeal to them.

The first phrase the Pope chose was the words spoken by God to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen 12.1). Pope Francis sees the same words applying to young people today.  He says: “They are invited to ‘go’, to set out towards a future”.  That future is full of unknowns but it is one that will lead to fulfilment, because it is “a future towards which God Himself accompanies you”.

Youth ministry in the Church in the years to come will have to focus especially on faith education. Young Christians must acquire the ability to go out into an unknown.  Your ministry will be about accompanying young men and women to attain the ability to speak the language of faith authentically in a world where that language may be alien. Young people are called to develop their faith in a culture where the analysis of faith matters is carried out in a language that hardly understands faith. Young people need to acquire the ability to discern.

The second phrase of Pope Francis is the dialogue between Jesus and those disciples who asked him:  “Teacher… where do you live?” Again the Pope sees the answer of Jesus being addressed to young people today: “Come and see” (Jn 1:38).  Jesus issues an invitation.  Young people are called to look, to discern, to search, to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life.  The Pope notes: “Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him… Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up”

Faith in Jesus is no ideology.  Faith cannot be imposed.  Faith cannot be measured simply by the criteria of surveys.  Faith is not just intellectual ability to parse the details of the Church’s teaching.   Faith education is a process that enables each individual to attain gospel wisdom.  Gospel wisdom offers a freedom to rise above the confusion in contemporary values.   Your ministry is to help young people to renounce prosperity and security and celebrity for themselves in order to live for others as Jesus did and then finding joy and fulfilment in living the Gospel.

Discernment is a path.  This is not saying that anything goes.  Your ministry must always place faith as an essential dimension of that path. I have been quoting in these days a comment of Archbishop Rowan Williams where he notes how working for community and justice and deepening our faith in God belong together.  Where one is missing, an integrated faith is missing.    He writes: “we should not be surprised if we become hazy about our doctrine… when we are less clear about our priorities as a community, or if we become less passionate about service, forgiveness and peace when we have stopped thinking clearly about God”.

The third question Pope Francis asked was one that he had asked at World Youth Day in Krakow: “Can we change things?”   The Pope asks young people to listen to the cry arising from their inner selves! “Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: “Do not be afraid, […], because I am with you”.

Culture is changing.  It is changing also for the good.  Young people are challenged and inspired by values like honesty, freedom, integrity, tolerance. One of the problems is that the more Irish society loses its direct rootedness in Christianity, the more these terms can become used in differing ways.

Faith is lived within culture.  However, faith involves a different way of living within any culture.  What is involved is not a negative reaction or simple rejection of a changing world.  What is involved is forming a believing community that welcomes young people and helps them to move beyond superficial confines to recognize God’s presence and purpose in all persons and things.

Can we change things?  Many young people who speak about faith feel marginalized.  Marginalization should not lead however to flight from reality into a comfort zone and to the felt safety of the likeminded.  The message of Jesus Christ is relevant in today’s society even in those societies where people are less and less attracted to the demanding teaching of Christ.

The answer is not in giving in but in reinforcing the place of faith in our own lives and in living a faith which has a real sense of reaching out and having an impact in society. It is not enough to analyse how the place of God has been reduced in Irish society.  We need to stress how we can restore the place of God in society and in the hearts of our young people.” ENDS