Young People, Faith and Vocation Discernment
In spite of the great and numerous advancements we have seen in all spheres of life today, the restlessness in the human heart has also increased proportionately. This growing sense of hopelessness and void is also felt among church goers and particularly among young people. The development of faith in young people, needs careful discernment and guidance in the area of life’s vocation. Over the centuries the Church has been entrusted with a sacred deposit of faith, whereby it has never lost its vision of hope and joy even in the most difficult of times. This deposit of faith passed down through Scripture and Tradition, is surprisingly even more relevant today, as it issues a clarion call to young people in this very challenging and urgent period of history.
Handing on the torch of faith, St. Paul writing to Timothy recalls,
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now I am sure dwells in you. (2 Timothy 1: 5)
Timothy or any Christian child, with proper faith nurturing, possesses in their growing years one of the greatest blessings in life. Godly Christian parents produce godly children in faith. This is achieved by transmitting a strong knowledge of faith. Timothy’s grandmother and mother were staunch believers who were faithful and devout. Sometimes one parent may not even be a believer like Timothy’s dad (cf. Acts 16:1). Yet Timothy received ample faith, primarily through the study of scriptures from his earliest days. “…and how from infancy you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ”(2 Tim 3: 15).
In this article, we wish to offer some suggestions which parents and teachers on the one hand, and young people on the other, can take note of in the application of Scripture to the faith development of young people. It is hoped that these reflections will assist young people as they discern how God is leading them to a vocation as disciples who seek to follow Jesus more faithfully in their way of life.
Two areas where parents and teachers can apply scripture in the development of faith and discernment to their children.
1. Starting them young for their ultimate future.
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn away from it (Proverbs 22:6).
Any training is difficult at that time but later it will produce fruit. “Now discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). This faith training which leads to growth in discernment is crucial for developing the young person. It exposes the modern counterculture of death which is hardly any improvement for life and its future. The young people are faced with a superficial lifestyle without dealing seriously with the root problems of a narcissistic society. A culture where faith is not at its centre degenerates inevitably into chaos and crisis. Without a positive environment of faith and the teaching of scripture instilled upon the young, the backlash of a culture of death, will keep the young in a state of stupor and uncertainty.
Donald C. Coggan sums up the human condition that needs teaching and guidance; “I go through life as a transient on his way to eternity, made up in the image of God but with the image debased, needing to be taught how to meditate, to worship, to think.” The training of faith teaches the young how to endure difficulties and pain. This is especially rewarding when the crisis of life hits them. Faith that comes from suffering helps them to recognize the strength they need to endure the trials of life that must come. We rejoice greatly in our suffering because it produces endurance, and endurance produces character (Romans 5:3).
2. Rooting their children in faith
The first seven chapters of the book of Proverbs exhorts children to listen to their father. Listen my children to your father’s instruction (Proverbs 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1; 6:1; 7:1). There is a godly wisdom that is handed down to a child by parents and by no other means. The child can never acquire this on its own. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5) Submission to an elder and to a life of faith is the foundation of all learning. (cf. Ephesians 6:1)Creating a teachable spirit upon the young is the quintessence of a successful parent. And how from infancy you have known the sacred scriptures that are able to instruct you and save you through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15)
Teaching faith is crucial because the so called “logical world” cannot provide adequate answers about the true purpose of life. This aspect of faith comes from a proper explanation of the scriptures (cf. Romans 10:17).To inspire and reinforce faith, repetition and focus are needed because of the godless existence of an environment of faithlessness. We live in a state that does not value prayer, faith and reflection. Distraction is the order of the day. As the human mind receives thousands of stimuli, both positive and negative, the natural ability of the brain is enhanced when, with singleness of purpose, young people centre their attention upon a desired object of study. (Dr. Richard J. Forster, Celebration of Discipline. The discipline of study.)The task is to root the child with constant links to a life and teaching of faith.
Much of today’s culture is a mirror of the worst features of an older, sick society. The pseudo-liberation eroticism, elements of sadomasochism and sexist advertisement in much of the underground press is part of the perversion of the old order and an expression of death. (Arthur G. Gish, Beyond the Rat Race, New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1973).Consequently, negative elements watched through the internet and media repeatedly trains the inner mind in destructive thought patterns.
A life which is rooted in faith, explains that it is that very sense of faith that stirs the conscience that has been sullied and shamed by the sinful deed (Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, A Religious and Political Analysis, Tradition Magazine, Vol 27. No. 3, Spring 1993, p. 31) “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”(Deuteronomy 6:7).
Two areas young people can apply scripture to their development of faith and discernment of vocation.
Paul begins a series of strong charges directed to Timothy and all young people. He reminds the young person of the aspects of developing the gift of faith that he or she receives.
1. Rekindle the gift of God
For this reason, I remind you to rekindle, (fan into flame) the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
What is this gift of God? It refers to the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit to equip a young person in faith to be of service. Some may have the gift to teach catechism, another to be part of a choir and yet another to work among the poor. Pope Benedict reminds us that even these noble talents are nothing without the gift of faith which enables us to experience the risen Christ. It is not enough to be a good person, even to the point of working for the eradication of evil and injustice. In the words of Pope Benedict, “indeed many Christians dedicate their lives to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded…but it’s through faith that we recognize the risen Christ in those who ask for our love”. (Article No.14 Motu Proprio Data- Porta Fidei, Apostolic letter of Pope Benedict XVI for the indiction of the year of faith)Hence, faith expresses itself through love, not just by a show of activity (cf. Gal 5:6).
St. Paul uses the word “stir up” or “fan into flame” (Greek: anazopureo), it means to keep blazing and to keep the flame of the fire burning. It could also mean to rekindle or to re-stir the flame, indicating that the flame could be dying out. Sometimes a young person needs to be re-stirred and rekindled. “Zeal is required to stir up the gift of God for it lies within our power to kindle or to quench grace. By laziness and carelessness, it is extinguished, and by attentiveness and diligence it is kept aflame”(St. John Chrysostom, homilies on 2 Timothy 1).
Pope St. John Paul II, speaking on reaching out to fellow Catholics as a means to a “New Evangelization,” calls young people not to be afraid to use new methods of witnessing to the unchanging truth of the gospel. Timothy may have been a good fellow, even a kind and loyal Christian, but Paul is reminding him to keep his spiritual gifts blazing and burning to the hottest degree possible. It echoes the apocalyptic reprimand, “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
The idea of “stirring up” (Greek: anazopureo)is in the present tense, which means it is progressive and a continuous action. The young person is to keep stirring up his gifts, never letting its flame lose its intensity. Never slacking or losing zeal. Every young person anointed with the Holy Spirit at Confirmation possesses a very special grace. God has gifted him or her with a special vocation in faith. The young person must therefore do exactly what God has gifted them to do.
2. In the spirit of power, love and self-control
“God has not given us a spirit of timidity but rather a spirit of power and of love and self-control.” (2 Tim 1:7)
Too often young people fear standing up for Jesus and his Church not because they do not love God but because they fear ridicule. One may feel the embarrassment of being called “holy”. Mockery and criticism follow if a mistake occurs. Opposition from elders that “You are not mature enough” or being abused for standing up for justice reinforces these fears. Every young person at one time or another will experience such an obstacle when witnessing to their faith. (cf. 1 Tim 4:12) It is precisely for this reason the Holy Spirit infuses power into the heart of the young person to face the strain of difficulties and trials. Power to take on a job and do it well. Power to be confident in proclaiming Jesus both in deed and word. Power to withstand the temptations of darkness and sin (cf. Micah 3:8).I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16; Acts 1:8: 4:33)
Paul is quick to add love into any gift of the Holy Spirit so that it will be well executed in a wise and mature manner. “Follow the manner of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1). The kind of love that Paul speaks about is “agape”love. (Greek: unconditional sacrificial love) Agape love is God’s love. God alone possesses it therefore only God alone can infuse it through the Holy Spirit, “…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).
To make it complete, the Holy Spirit infuses self-discipline (Greek: sophronismou))meaning, a disciplined character (1 Tim 1::7) with self-control which is the final fruit of the spirit (cf. Gal 5:22)Self-control is the mastery over one’s mind, heart and actions despite the opposition.(cf. Rom 8:5-7; cf. 1 Thess 5:6-7 cf. Hebrews 12:7; cf. 1 Pet 1:13)Self-control makes a mockery of the superficiality of our age. It bares opens the immaturity and the curse of instant satisfaction which results in a vicious cycle of a hangover, shame and destruction. It calls young people to move beyond surface living into what is genuine and meaningful. For the many young people who are in bondage caused by pornography, fornication, drugs and drinking; scripture has strong warnings on the condition of their soul. “They are blots and blemishes, reveling in the pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable, they are experts of greed- an accursed brood” (2 Peter 2: 13b- 14).Even for the lukewarm and self-confident, St. Augustine cautions, “we are lost when we are satisfied with our condition.”
Self-control and spiritual disciplines are not simply for saints or sinners but rather are the ordinary means of seeking liberation. The church calls this abstinence or penance. Dr. Richard J. Forster in his work ‘Celebration of Discipline’ emphasizes: “Self-control is not some means to terminate liberation but rather on the contrary it results in dancing, singing even shouting a ‘Yes’ with fists in the air as a result of triumphant victory. It is not some dull drudgery aimed at exterminating laughter from the face of the earth. It is certainly not for the coward and the weak but for the humble and the honest”. Thomas Merton encourages the young when he says, “But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners all our life!” (Merton, Contemplative Prayer)
Therefore, if any young person like Timothy be guided by faith and is willing to respond to the stirring of the gifts, inevitably the young person will develop and progress in his capacity to discern what is true “agape” love and the mastery of self-control.
The testimony of hundreds of case studies have proven that the young can be victorious in their struggle against the dark world of sin and shame. (Rabbi Basil F. Herring, “Choice Diminished Behaviour and Religious and Communal Policy,” in Yitzchok Berger and David Shatz (edts), Judaism, Science and Moral Responsibility: Orthodox Forum, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield (2006),pp. 162, 168 )It is to these young ones who are willing to plunge into sacred scriptures, whom none else can instruct better but one willing to keep the word of God in his heart. (cf. Psalm 119:9-11)
Ultimately it is the young people that Pope Francis sees as the future of our humanity with the vision of faith enkindled in their hearts.Pope Francis, in his message for World Mission Day 2017 states, that young people are the hope of mission.
The person of Jesus Christ and the Good News he proclaims continue to attract many young people to a vocation as disciples, following in the footsteps of their Divine Master.With courage and enthusiasm, they seek ways to put themselves at the service of humanity. “There are many young people who offer their solidarity in the face of the evils of the world and engage in various forms of militancy and volunteering … How beautiful it is to see that young people are street preachers, joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth!” (Message of Pope Francis, for World Mission Day 2017- Mission at the heart of the Christian Faith-106)
Questions for reflection
- Who are the elders, mentors and heroes in your life that have shown you the beauty of faith and scripture?
- What is the primary requirement for a young person embarking on the faith journey?
- Do you agree that the discipline of self- control is essential to counter a culture of death? Why?
- How can I pursue a life of joy, strength and purpose as a young person?
Suggested books for further reading
- Loyola, St. Ignatius. The Spiritual Exercises, Robert Backhouse, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989 (May). A programme of spiritual exercises, including examination of conscience, meditation, and other methods of prayer with guidance on adaption to individual needs and difficulties.
- Sales, St. Francis de, An Introduction to the Devout life, London: Hodder and Stoughton,
- Much of this material is the result of counsel Francis grace to a single individual. Mdm. Louise Charmoisy, in the early seventeen century. It covers a wide variety of spiritual matters for those seeking to deepen their devotional life.
- Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Life Together. Translated by John W. Doberstein. London. SCM Press. 1954. Powerful insights into the life of service, solitude and confession.