I do a lot of outreach to young people on behalf of my religious congregation, so I try to be aware of trends in vocation work and common traits of emerging generations.
Recently, I took the time to review the latest Study on religious vocations, co-sponsored by the National Conference of Religious Vocations and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, hoping this would give me an “aha moment” on how to interest young women in our community of Little Sisters of the Poor.
As we age, we should never lose this enthusiasm and openness to an ever greater reality.
I was struck by a section of the report titled Intergenerational life. According to the 2020 NRVC / CARA study, just 13% of members of religious communities in perpetual profession are under the age of 60, while the same proportion are at least 90 years old.
These are quite disturbing statistics!
I was consoled by reading the following testimony from a young religious: “It is beautiful to have all the different generations and ethnicities in a community, in a house, if we allow ourselves to see this beauty.
What an attitude full of hope on the part of a young religious! It really inspired me to stop bemoaning the aging of our religious communities and start seeing the beauty.
So, on the occasion of the National Vocation Awareness Week, I would like to send a message of hope to my religious colleagues who, like me, are no longer so young!
May you too take courage in realizing that young people seeking religious life are not as discouraged by the older demographics of most of our communities as we thought. They don’t seem to care that many of us are older – but they hope that we will live simply, in solidarity with the poor, and that we will live and pray together in a spirit of joy.
So how do we connect with young people? Let us be inspired by Pope Francis!
We could start by striving to become young again. The Pope suggested that we seek to renew our youth at every stage of life.
“As we mature, age and structure our lives,” he wrote, “we should never lose this enthusiasm and openness to an ever greater reality”.
In Christus Vivit, our Holy Father encouraged us to let ourselves be loved by God, for he loves us as we are.
A young friend and former FOCUS missionary told me that this is the essential message we need to communicate to young people. They need to know that they are loved as they are, even though God wants to give them more.
God “appreciates and respects you”, we could say to them, borrowing the words of the Pope, “but he also continues to offer you more: more of his friendship, more fervor in prayer, more hunger for his word, more of desire to receive Christ in the Eucharist, more desire to live his Gospel, more interior strength, more peace and spiritual joy. “
This joy is something that the Pope talks about very often, and it is something that speaks deeply to young people in their vocational discernment.
It is something they see in the quality of a look or a smile, in the serenity with which a consecrated person embraces trials or suffering, and in the generous giving of oneself to the poor day after day.
Pope Francis insisted on joy in a recent address to the Discalced Carmelites,
“It’s ugly to see consecrated men and women with long faces. It’s ugly, it’s ugly. Joy must come from within: that joy that is peace, an expression of friendship . ”
God forbid that none of us get ugly as we get older!
In Christus Vivit, the exhortation he wrote following the Synod on young people in the life of the Church, Pope Francis reminded us that Christ is alive and that he wants us to be fully alive.
“When you feel like you are getting old because of grief, resentment or fear,” he wrote, “he will always be there to give you back strength and hope.”
Let us therefore ask Jesus, “himself eternally young”, to give us hearts that are always young and capable of loving, ready to welcome the new generations who knock on our doors as Elisabeth welcomed the Virgin Mary in her house of the Visitation. .
Let us witness to these young women and men the JOY that fills our hearts, and is eager to fill theirs too, if only they give themselves to Him!
Sr. Veit is the communications director of the Little Sisters of the Poor.