It seems to me the problem isn't about listening at all, but a lack of courage to proclaim the Truth.
Synodality: walking together, accompaniment. I admit it sounds like a great idea. In fact, it is a great idea -- with this caveat: the people who are walking together must agree on the destination they are walking toward.
Honestly, there's enough tension when people aren't on the same page about how to get somewhere. When Andrew and I get in the car, it's hard for either one of us to keep quiet about the route we're taking. Still, we know where we'll be when we get there.
While many questioned its timing, the recent Synod on Young People and Vocational Discernment was a positive initiative. Reports coming out of the synod, however, were mixed and raised more than just a few concerns. Most of us would agree, though, that listening to young people is both appropriate and good. If you don't listen to someone, you can never understand him, appreciate him, or be helpful to him. That is why the church should always be listening -- not only to young people, but to everyone. The church, after all, is our Mother.
Still, all parents have heard their teenagers complain, "You never listen to me!" That's because kids often equate "listening" with getting what they want, when and how they want it. Most parents, by the way, have the very same complaint about their kids: "They don't listen." It's no different when it comes to faith. It's a fact that most young people aren't listening to the church. Some of them would say it's because the church isn't listening to them.
The church is listening and has been. It seems to me the problem isn't about listening at all, but a lack of courage to proclaim the truth. If young Catholics are looking for guidance and accompaniment on their journey to the kingdom of God, they need more than a silent partner. They need the witness of mature disciples who are able to share their experience and the clear teaching of the magisterium. A sense of belonging is important. But young people also need the long view and wide-angle lens that only faith can provide.
There are plenty of parents who make the mistake of trying to be their kids' best friends. It is usually motivated by the desire to be liked. In these days of scandal and derision, when the church is no longer trusted or respected, being liked could be very tempting indeed. Let's face it, affirming the church's teaching on humanity as God created it, and sexuality as God intended it, isn't exactly popular. Actually, it may no longer be culturally acceptable. But young people don't need our bishops, priests and other leaders to be their best buddies. They need them to be the adults in the sanctuary, and the rest of us to be the adults in the nave. Above everything else, that means handing on the faith we received to those who will inherit what we leave behind.
And yes, there is room for a dance party, and social media and other elements of youth culture. But I think that if we really listen to young Catholics, we may begin to realize that they don't necessarily want their church to look and feel like the rest of their world. Many, in fact, love chant, traditional devotions, eucharistic adoration, and Mass in the extraordinary form. They also reject anything that smacks of a culture of silence or avoidance or unaccountability when it comes to sexual abuse, harassment, or any other scandal. In this age of appearances, authenticity is everything.
The best thing we can do for Catholic youth is to love Jesus enough to embrace the fullness of his truth and keep his commandments, even when it is costly to us, even when we risk being rejected or disliked. Young Catholics who hope to discover the meaning of life and the direction of their lives need a church that will not only listen to them, but lead them to Jesus Christ. Synodality? Sure. But again, we can't walk together if we're headed in different directions.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.