So, what now? The synod on young people has finished in Rome, the final document is being translated, the bishops, auditors, experts, observers and reporters have all returned home and gone back to their usual routines, the hashtag Synod2018 has fallen out of daily use on Twitter, so let’s just call this synod over and done. What a nice little month where the church showed she cares about youth and young adults, now let’s get back to business as normal.
There’s a strong temptation to think all of that: to think that the synod on “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” was a “one and done” meeting with a few hundred bishops and a handful of young people resulting in a document that most people won’t read and an apostolic exhortation that’s still a few months away.
There’s commentary circulating that says this synod was a ruse, a mere political ploy to push through prearranged agendas and that young people were the “cover” for more nefarious ideas. There are some who wish this synod had never even happened, claiming the current scandals and struggles the church faces made the synod unnecessary at this particular moment.
Now that the synod is over, it would be very easy to let it simply fade into the past — another meeting at the Vatican resulting in a lot of idealistic concepts and long documents and endless commentary.
But, if we do let this synod simply “fade away” and write off the good work done, the wise things said or the innovative ideas formulated, then we are writing off young people of the world who desperately need holy mother church.
At the presynod meeting in March (a gathering of 300 young adults from around the world who wrote a letter to the bishops to help them prepare for this synod), Pope Francis came to address us on the first morning. After listening to a few questions and testimonies from young adults, he spoke to us, inviting us to be bold, honest, unafraid to share our thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams, worries and desires for the church. And then, speaking as a shepherd to his sheep, he very passionately told us, “If you are not present, then a part of the access to God is missing!”
The pope invited us to be present — in the life of the church, in the conversations happening, in the decisions being made. The Holy Father challenged us to use our gifts and talents for the good of the church, our home, and wanted us to know that he was glad we were there.
The line has stuck with me for months, a rallying cry for my year both in my personal journey of faith and something I’ve shared with people I’ve spoken to at the youth and young adult events I’ve keynoted this year — that your presence as a young person is critical to the life of the church because young people matter. Their voices matter. Their ideas matter. Their gifts matter. Their presence matters.
But the line can be flipped. If a young person is not present, then part of the access to God is missing, sure, but so too if a young person is not present, they are missing God in their life. And that — that is a tragedy.
For a young person to wander through life aimlessly, without a relationship with the Lord, without answers rooted in life-giving truth, without an authentic encounter with Christ is a tragedy. The church wants young people present because it is good for the church and it is good for the young person.
It seems that, at the end of the day, the synod on “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” was focused on just that: ensuring young people are here — for the sake of the church and for the sake of their own souls.
This gives me hope. This gives me joy. This keeps me rooted in the knowledge that the work I get to do in ministry is important, and that we can never say enough to any young person that “if you are not present, then a part of the access to God is missing!”
McGrady is an international speaker and author of Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist and Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus. She was one of three delegates sent by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Vatican’s presynod gathering of young people in March 2018. She lives with her husband and daughter in Louisiana.