Calling young people to the challenge of discipleship

Calling young people to the challenge of discipleship

Next month’s Synod of Bishops in Rome will focus on the issue of youth and vocational discernment. Often when we speak of ‘vocation’ in the Church we mean the specific and unique call to priesthood and religious life. This is hugely important and as recent research in this newspaper showed, the situation in terms of priestly vocations in Ireland is dire.

We must never lose sight of the fact that within the life of the Church, God always calls people to take on the extraordinary vocation to serve him in consecrated life. At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that it is a basic tenet of our Faith that God has a unique plan for each and every individual.

The task of the Christian is to discern where God is calling them and what he is asking of them in the concrete situations in which they find themselves. For most people, this will be marriage, but that is only part of the picture. God is constantly promoting us to be more fully the people we are supposed to be.

Cardinal Newman captured it well when he wrote that “God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for his purposes”.

The role of parents, educators and the wider Christian community is to help people to discern what God’s will is for their lives.

It is to help them penetrate the depth of their consciences to understand what it is they ought to do in life. In contemporary culture, where faith in God is often seen as something to ridicule, the Truth of the Gospel is often portrayed as something external or imposed on individual freedom.

Whereas the reality is that the Catholic tradition holds that the truth of who we are is written on our hearts – discipleship rests in finding this truth and coming to terms with it.

As Benedict XVI said when he became Pope in 2005 addressing young Catholics: “Today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

The Church in Ireland needs to hear these words – and this call needs to be at the heart of our ministry and outreach to young people. In a world often indifferent to the supernatural or where young people are encouraged to live their lives as if God doesn’t exist, the Church has to remind them that they are made for more.


Abuse of alcohol, drugs and superficial pleasure-seeking often seem the only goal of many young people. The question for our contemporary culture is why are levels of anxiety and a lack of feeling of belonging so high amongst young people who – on the surface of it – have never had it so good?

The synod in Rome and the discussion around young people and vocational discernment can hopefully offer the Church in Ireland a useful template with which to try and engage more and more young people with the exhilarating and challenging life that is discipleship.