Young Adults Ask Christ, “What Would You Have Me Do With My Life?”

Young Adults Find a Quiet Place for Spiritual Formation and Discernment in Busy Manhattan

The 2017-18 NYC Samuel Group core team, including Sister Clare (back row, fourth from left) and Edna Augusta (front row, second from left).
The 2017-18 NYC Samuel Group core team, including Sister Clare (back row, fourth from left) and Edna Augusta (front row, second from left). (photo: Courtesy of the Samuel Group)

One Sunday each month, 60 young Catholic professionals pass the popular shops, restaurants and galleries of New York’s Little Italy, and enter an old cathedral where they spend the afternoon immersed in a very different culture of prayer and discernment.

From September to April, participants in the Samuel Group gain tools they need to learn God’s will in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in their daily life and finding their vocation, according to Franciscan Sister of the Renewal Clare Matthiass, who brought the program of meditation, instruction and spiritual direction to New York City last year.

The 20- to 40-something young adults from various locations and professional backgrounds who meet at the Basilica of Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral in lower Manhattan are “eager to grow in their faith, eager to gain some tools to live a holy life, an intentional life of prayer according to God’s will and not just according to their own whims, and that’s what sets them apart,” said Edna Augusta, 34, who has found clarity in her own vocational discernment during her two years in the program.

Sister Clare brought the Italian program she saw offered on a U.S. college campus to Manhattan after she realized, while doing vocation work for her community, that young adults need more general discernment for living their faith and more guidance to discern their vocations.

At the monthly sessions, participants meditate on scripture, listen to talks on spiritual topics including Ignatian spirituality, and learn about priestly and religious vocations from diocesan priests and members of religious orders. They also commit to meeting regularly with a spiritual director.

Sister Clare discovered the Samuel Group at one of the five college campuses where it has been offered by the Rome-based religious community, the Apostles of the Interior Life (AVI). It was developed and first used in Milan, Italy, in 1987 by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J. who permitted AVI to bring the program to the United States. The community first introduced the Samuel Group at the University of Illinois in 2001. Sister Clare’s group is the first U.S. diocesan-based group for young adult professionals.

According to AVI, the threefold goal of the Samuel Group is for participants, through prayer and discernment, to know Christ, themselves, and the direction of action they must then take to love and serve in the Church and in the world.

While developing their relationship with the Lord through prayer, participants focus on the sacraments, discernment, connection with a spiritual director and St. Ignatius’ examen, prayer and rules of discernment for ongoing conversion, according to AVI. Talks focus spiritual formation topics and on marriage, religious life and priesthood.

The Samuel Group isn’t for spiritual beginners, Sister Clare notes. “This is for people who’ve had an encounter [with Christ] and want to go deeper,” she said. “This is already important to them, but they want spiritual formation.”

In each of the two years the program has been offered in New York it has filled by word of mouth, Sister Clare said. Members must commit to attending for the entire program.

There are few opportunities like the Samuel Group in New York to meet and go deeper in discernment and faith instruction, outside of discerning priesthood or religious life, said Augusta, a college admissions director from the Bronx who is considering consecrated virginity.

 “Especially for our group of young adults there is a vacuum.,” she said. “We don’t necessarily have something like this readily available everywhere so when it does come up people are really jumping in.”

Augusta added: “Sometimes as Catholic young adults we get isolated in our parishes where we may be the only 20-something or 30-something. Being in a space with other young adults where everyone is excited about their faith is wonderful.”

When they understand general discernment and holiness, young adults can take the second step toward a vocation, said Sister Clare, author of the guide for women, Discerning Religious Life.

Young adults interested in discernment who don’t have a Samuel Group in their area should focus on staying close to the sacraments, prayer and finding a spiritual director, Sister Clare said. She recommends articulating hopes and fears to someone and taking some action to find clarity.

The success of the Samuel Group in New York shows a desire among young adults to go deeper in their faith—and the need for a true discernment culture, Sister Clare said.

“The need for it is so great and I would love to see it spring up in every diocese in the country,” she said. “I just think this is what young adults want and need.”