I have spent the last ten years of my life working and ministering with young people . This is a ministry that I enjoy immensely, although the older I get the harder it seems to be. As a friend of mine once commented ‘do you still speak youth?’ Sometimes I wonder. Many of the young people I have met through this ministry are bright, vital and seeking. They want to live in a way that serves others and brings life. However, they feel on the edges of society and of the Church. This is not a place they choose, but it is their experience. They want to be in the Church. They want to be part of a community that appreciates them, that teaches them truth in response to their questions. A Church that doesn’t just speak, but following the example of Jesus, listens, a listens deeply.
Over the last couple of weeks I have attended a couple of festivals for young people. Both festivals aimed to gather young catholic Christians together, to inform their faith, to inspire them and bring them to a deeper sense of God’s love for them and of the gift that is themselves. However there was a distinct difference in approach and in the demography of the festivals.
The first festival was Brightlights. This was hosted for the second year by the Carmelite community at Aylesford Priory. The Brightlights festival is in its 17th year and combines liturgy, speakers, workshops, drama and live music. The theme of this year’s came from Proverbs 20:12 ‘eyes that see and ears that hear.’ The invitation of the theme was to look at witness and discipleship. Speakers included Fr. Tim Menzies of Birmingham Archdiocese, Dr. Antony Towey, and others. Liturgies were led by various communities including the Carmelite friars and Archbishop Peter Smith. There was a life and joy that seemed to envelop Aylesford. Conversations were marked with laughter, people were accepted and new friendships formed. Silence was embraced and made welcome and our Saviour was adored and praised. As a member of the organising committee, I feel that we achieved what we set out to do, that is, to invite young people to see themselves as valued and loved people of faith. Also, to challenge them to be witnesses to this faith in whatever place they find themselves to be. The atmosphere was one of ‘chilled out’ joy.
The second festival was Invocation held at St. Mary’s College, Oscott. Invocation is a festival for those discerning their vocation The aim of the festival is to promote a culture of vocation within the Church and to help young people discern what their particular vocation might be. The venue was beautiful. The Pugin chapel at Oscott is a delight to the eyes. A huge amount of money had been spent on the marquees and tents used for the festival. At first I thought I was at a garden party and not a youth festival. Speakers included Sr. Catherine Holum, CFR. Canon Luis Ruscillo, and Bishop Mark Davies. I really enjoyed the talk by SR. Catherine who told of her journey into an awareness of her vocation as a religious. She spoke of vocation as a gift, which indeed it is. The line I most enjoyed from her talk was ‘We do not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.’ The liturgy and times of prayer were very structured and traditional. Maybe we were dealing with a different set of young people, used to a more formal liturgical style, but joy seemed lacking. In terms of input, diocesan priesthood seemed to be the focus. It seemed more about recruitment than discernment. If we are going to have a culture of vocation then we have to look at issues of baptism, discipleship, dedication and commitment and how these can be lived out within the Church as married, single, consecrated and ordained people. Focusing on just one vocation, important as it is, and not offering information and teaching on the others was an omission, especially as at least half of those present were not eligible for Holy Orders.
Vocation is primarily a gift from God. A unique gift for unique people. If we believe that God loves us and wants the best for us, we need to trust that God will lead us to that holy place of fulfilment. Whatever our vocation is, it is not a threat, or some divine trick being played on us. It is an invitation to live our lives to the full. It is the way we are being invited to love and serve one another. Our personal vocation supports the gifts and vocations of others. Each one is cherished, each important, each valued.