“I know my sheep and my sheep know me”
A Pastoral Letter about our Young People , their Discernment, Vocation and Life Choices, together with Our Diocesan Renewal of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2018
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday together at Mass, I would like to link this important Feast day with some thoughts about our Young People, especially in the light of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis this year, and the new arrangements for the Sacrament of Confirmation in our Diocese beginning this Autumn. By kind Providence, these two initiatives are closely linked together and help give focus and direction to our current pastoral needs and mission over the coming months and years.
One of the Bible stories we have listened to over the Easter Season was about the Lakeside Breakfast where Peter encounters the Risen Christ. The disciples had been fishing without catching anything all night and were somewhat discouraged and exhausted. A figure, unrecognised at first on the shore, tells them to cast their nets elsewhere – and behold — they landed an enormous catch of fish. As happens so often in the course of living out our faith, it is the fruits of our labour that help us to recognise the presence of the Risen Lord. Peter suddenly recognises Jesus and makes haste to meet him, followed closely by the other disciples.
It was only after having accepted the Lord’s guidance and advice and having shared a meal together to regain their strength, that the Lord took Peter aside. The presence of the charcoal fire suddenly reminded Peter of another conversation beside a fire where he had denied Jesus. It was in this context that Peter is commissioned by the Good Shepherd to “Feed my sheep” and “Feed my lambs”. Despite Peter’s discouragement, difficulty, shame and disappointment in himself, he is still chosen by the Lord.
Like Peter, we here and now are given a similar hope, a similar mission. We are to labour with the Lord; feed from him most especially in the Eucharist, and to go forth strengthened and heartened to minister to His flock, as Priests and People within the Diocese of Dunkeld and beyond.
Any visitor to our parishes cannot fail to notice the absence of whole generations now of young people, with a few notable and courageous exceptions. In a time of rapid social and technological change, with growing economic insecurity and anxiety, with constantly changing fashions, trends, habits and ways of living, our confused youth and young adults are conspicuous by their absence at Church. But positively, there is a growing realization that the young are disillusioned by consumerism and big business. There is among them a great quest for spirituality and meaning and living justly and uprightly. We can see the obvious thirst for community, friendship, identity and belonging among them, witnessed to by the amount of time the young spend on social media — longing for connection, affirmation and conversation. Yet none of these things ultimately satisfy them. The hunger and the thirst for even better things remains.
The challenge to all of us in the Church is that if we are to have a vibrant future we need to engage with the lives of our children and young people. The conversation of faith needs to meet people where they are and present a welcoming and attractive approach to the life of faith. In spite of the common belief that youth and the more mature and even elderly are poles apart in the way they think and act, the connections and the fears and the values are not as far apart as we might think. So what connects us now? What brings together parents, children, young people, mature people and the elderly into a dialogue where they can learn from each other?
Pope Francis recognises this as a world-wide need and is part of the inspiration in calling a Synod on Youth, Discernment and Vocation in Rome later this year. In fact, some of our youth have already contributed to the preparations for this event in our Diocese.
Perhaps what is needed most today is conversation with our young people about how to live well, as boys and girls, men and women, made in the image and likeness of God. Parents especially by example can convince their children who they are in God’s eyes and how they can “choose life wisely”.
It seems to me that our new arrangements for the Sacrament of Confirmation beginning in 2018-2019 are a great opportunity to embrace, encourage and invite our young people and their families to a new conversation of renewal and faith. From now on, beginning this Autumn, our young people will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation at a more mature age, about the age of 12, when usually they are in Primary Seven, an age when they may be able better to appreciate the gift of Faith in their lives.
Dear parents, priests and teachers please seize this opportunity to ‘kindle into a flame’ the gift of faith that sadly, even now, our young people are in danger of losing. Help them prepare for the Sacrament of Confirmation; help them celebrate the sacrament of Confession regularly, attend Mass every week and to begin to appreciate how the Holy Spirit is choosing to ‘fill them with his sevenfold gifts’ and the ‘fruits of that same Holy Spirit’. What a powerful combination this would be for young hearts to realise how precious in God’s eyes they are!
We recognise that faith is a gift of God, not a membership card for an exclusive club, and we must be sincere and unabashed in seeking out the lost, bewildered, or disenchanted members of our flock to encounter the Lord in the life of faith, community and Sacraments. The task of our Holy Mother the Church is always to faithfully hand on our great treasury of faith to the young, who will also need the Barque of Peter, the Church, to provide both sail and anchor as they embark on their life’s journey into the future.
+ Stephen Robson
Bishop of Dunkeld