Conscience and Vocational Discernment Figure in Latest Small Group Reports

But some key topics continue to be omitted as we obtain some of the names of those in the small groups who have so far remained secret.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, flanked by two bishops, arrives at the Vatican’s Synod Hall for a session of the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 4, 2018.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, flanked by two bishops, arrives at the Vatican’s Synod Hall for a session of the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 4, 2018. (photo: Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

The small groups’ reports on part two of the instrumentum laboris, or working document, of the Youth Synod, were released today and primarily covered various aspects of vocational discernment.

Many of the language groups had similar reflections on the topic which included accompaniment of young people and the place of conscience.

English Group A recommended that the final document present a “clear definition of vocation, rooted in a theology, anthropology and ecclesiology which reflect the signs of the times.”

The group, moderated by Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, said that the given the synod “might be addressing not only Catholics but ‘all people of good will’” and they considered that the “fundamental human vocation” is a “vocation to love, which for Christians bears a name, and that name is Jesus.”

“We see vocation as a voyage of search and discovery,” they said, a “fundamental call to align one’s mind and life to that of Christ, and to the will of God.”

But the group also noted that young people are “still attracted by the radical call to make a real, heroic and prophetic difference to the world,” and that the Church, in her “pastoral accompaniment,” is “Mater et Magistra,” (Mother and Teacher).

This should be given “much greater prominence” in the relevant chapter of the instrumentum laboris, said the group’s Synod fathers, who include Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England; Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; and Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya.

English Group B, whose moderator is Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, proposed that the first chapter be “rewritten to focus on appreciating the particular and abiding grace of being young.” They stressed the importance of connecting with Jesus, adding that he also “personally experienced many of the struggles faced by young people in our world today,” including being refugees and growing up in a “possibly underprivileged household.”

Significantly, they had a “substantial discussion” about the “definition of, role of and formation of conscience” — a noteworthy inclusion given Cardinal Cupich’s controversial emphasis on the primacy of conscience which came to the fore at the last synod and which he has since repeated.

The group, whose members include Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, Australia (and one of 12 members of the committee to draft the final document), and Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for the Vatican’s office on Migrants and Refugees, said they had tabled a paragraph (modi) to “capture this” and would like a “clearly Christian explanation” of conscience in the final document that is anchored in the Catechism and “accessible to young people.”

Conscience also came up in English Group C, moderated by Cardinal Joseph Coutts of Karachi, Pakistan. “Manipulation can never be part of a true accompaniment,” they said, adding that they “appreciated” the emphasis in the document on respect for “freedom and conscience of the person being accompanied” and adding they would like these concepts “more fully developed.”

They also reflected that a vocation might not be a call to action, “but to a more passive reception of the love of others.” And they held up Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, whom they describe as a “modern prophet” for showing that those with “intellectual handicaps” are not to be thought of as failures but gifts that call us to a love “greater than efficiency.”

The group reflected on what the call to holiness means, saying it can sound like a “mere ‘call to piety’ or worse, a call to mere pious practices.” But for them, the call to holiness is ultimately a “call to happiness and joy, not an external imposition,” and means becoming “the best possible version of oneself” and to find “one’s best possible path to life.”

The group, whose members include Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri, Kenya, warned that following “emotions seems too superficial” when searching for a vocation, and the group wanted to highlight the “centrality of the Eucharist in the process of discernment.”

English Group D, moderated by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, warned against a post-modern culture where individuals are encouraged to “invent themselves” and define their own values “through an exercise of their freedom” — something, they said, which is “repugnant to a biblical understanding of the human being” whom God calls to go beyond their “own projects and plans.”

Conscience also came up in that group but was arguably given more robust treatment than the other groups. The members, who include Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles (the group’s relator), said they were concerned that language used in the document “might give the impression that conscience is an individualistic affair” based on “feelings and will.” Instead, they argued that the simple phrase “a well formed conscience” might serve to ward off subjectivism and added that the YouCat and DoCat texts are “particularly helpful” in forming conscience.

Some other points of interest in the other language groups: The French groups stressed the importance of Confirmation, with Group C asking whether it should be placed “in the heart” of vocation. The group, whose members include Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and Father Bruno Cadore, master general of the Dominican Order, said they would propose modi on “youth as a blessing for the Church, vocational accompaniment in a multicultural and multiconfessional context, the role of communities and youth groups in accompanying individuals.”

Italian Group B, whose relator is Archbishop Bruno Forte, probably the principal drafter of the final document, said “all of us, even those who accompany young people on their way to human and spiritual maturity, are forgiven sinners, and true freedom is always a given freedom, connected to the help of divine Grace.”

“In every journey of accompaniment,” they write, “listening to reality and respect for it must be linked to the primacy of divine action, offered in the sacraments and in the experience of adequate spiritual direction. If we neglect this fundamental aspect, we risk leaving young people alone with themselves, especially when faced with radical questions such as those relating to pain and death.” Youth is “not only a blessing,” they wrote, “it is also a challenge, which has to deal with our fragility.” The group includes Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish bishops, and Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Italian bishops’ conference.

As with all the other groups, analysis was made of discernment, vocational pastoral care and accompaniment. But Spanish Group A, moderated by Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras and coordinator of the C9 Group of Cardinals, drew attention to gangs and noted how difficult it is for young people to get out of them once they are in them.

Despite the subject not being mentioned in the second part of the Instrumentum laboris (it’s mentioned only in the first and third parts), the group also asked how the Church should “act with homosexuals,” adding they “cannot be left out of our pastoral care.” Also not to be left out, they said, are “other realities such as homosexual marriages, surrogate wombs, adoption by same-sex couples, all of which are topical and promoted and sponsored by international governmental institutions.”

The group, whose members include Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City and Cardinal José Maestrojuán of Panama, also spoke about celibacy and those who are single. “A word of encouragement” should be said “to those who have chosen this option, many of whom are close to the Church,” the group said in its report.

Some have criticized the Synod for topics it has omitted. As mentioned in the Register last week, there is still no mention of Humanae Vitae and issues related to contraception, nor is there much on young persecuted Christians, or how the Church could help the young to combat the “culture of death.”

The full texts of the small groups reports on Part II of the Instrumentum laboris can be read here.