What I remember from that night is that I didn’t really want to go that late evening meeting.I was tired and wished I could go home. Not knowing why, I sat down next to a student whom I had only seen in passing and, despite my reluctance to start a conversation, I chose to love that young woman and began to talk with her. To my surprise, I noticed that the conversation was flowing very easily. Before we parted we exchanged contact information. That same evening, Jennifer sent me an e-mail, asking if we could begin meeting regularly for a journey that soon would turn into vocational discernment, which eventually led her to join a religious community.
When I recall this event — one of the many daily events of my consecrated life — the words of Pope Francis come to mind: “Vocational pastoral ministry is learning the style of Jesus, who passes through the places of daily life, stops without being hurried and, by looking at our brothers with mercy, leads them to encounter God the Father.” (Address of Pope Francis to Participants in the International Conference on Pastoral Work for Vocations, October 21 2016)
I wonder if that night Jennifer saw in me something that resembled Jesus’ gaze in my desire “to stop without being hurried” to talk with her; and if this in turn encouraged her to take a look inside only to discover that the Lord had already been looking at her with love for a long time.
The Preparatory document for the Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment answers the question, “How can we accompany young adults to accept the call to the joy of the gospel?” It does so with 3 actions that are typical of Jesus’ pastoral activity: Go Out, See, and Call.
To “Go Out,”to go towards, to take the initiative: these are all indicators that there lies in the heart of those who do pastoral work a certainty that in the field of every young person’s existence there is hidden treasure, there is much to be found. It is certainly “worth it” to spend all you have to bring that treasure to light. To “Go Out” means to leave behind the losing mentality that there is a one-size-fits-all approach or that helping young people to discover their call is simply the fruit of a well thought out plan that you can predict and control.
The true educator is one who encourages the young person to step outside of fixed mental schemes and cast the nets in deep waters.
I once asked a young woman how she grew to trust the adults that were helping her in her vocational discernment. She said that she felt encouraged in her ability to discern what was truly going to fulfill her deepest desires; she grew in self-confidence and was very reassured by their openness to letting her explore the unique path of discernment.
To Go Out and To See have much in common; it is only when you go out, when you start walking towards the youth and towards the world they live in, that you can truly understand them and love them. The Gospels often underline the fact that Jesus’ gaze causes a rebirth, a change of heart, though at times it also challenges, like the young rich man who did not have the courage to follow Jesus completely, despite his being looked upon and loved by Him.
The ability to see with loving eyes responds to the deepest human desire of being appreciated in our uniqueness; it is the light that allows us to better see our gifts, and the push to courageously take on new challenges.
What I have often noticed in my experience is the great appreciation that young adults have when consecrated men and women make themselves available to spend time with them. The reality of consecrated life — and especially female consecrated life — is often perceived as distant and incapable of letting the gift of femininity express itself fully.
But when young women are invited “to peek into” the life of consecrated women, when they see what it means to give your life to the Lord and to others, then they understandthat a religious community is truly a family in whichyou can joyfully and enthusiastically express your gifts to make the world a better place.
When we as educators choose to “see” what’s inside a young person’s world, we in turn help them to see the beauty that resides in the consecrated life.
The transition to the third verb that Pope Francis points us to —To Call —flows from what we have said so far. If “seeing with love” opens one to hope, “calling” elicits faith. When a young person hears the Word of Truth spoken directly to them, they realize that there is a deeper love planted in their heart that is waiting to be nurtured and shared. This is the catalyst for running after Jesus and stepping out of one’s comfort zone.
A young woman shared how comforting it was to hear married people say that consecrated life is an actual possibility that young adults can be called to. How important it is that both the vocation to marriage and to celibacy be held in high esteem, so that their true beauty can be seen. There is something precious when consecrated people can speak highly about marriage, as well as when lay people share how the presence of celibates around them enrich their married life.
As we approach our conclusion, I’d like to offer one last thought. We often hear that today’s youth find it difficult to make long term commitments.
Yet we know that a person’s identity is rooted in their ability to make their emotional and affective relationships stable and long lasting. Every vocation is nestled between the need to be appreciated, loved and recognized in a mature relationship as adults, and the desire to beinvolved in a mission that asks for everything.
I cannot but think of the boy who gave his five loaves and two fish to the Master who needed to feed the five thousand. What is worth noticing is not so much that his contribution was absolutely insufficient, but rather that he was willing to give everything he had.
When a young person meets an adult who can reassure them: “The Lord desires to accomplish a miracle through your contribution! You can truly make a change in your life and in the lives of your brothers!”then I have no doubt that he or she will find the courage to answer the call and give everything.
I will ponder on ways I can “go out,” “see with love,” and “call” people to live out their vocation as I try to live more deeply the calling God has entrusted to me.