“This App is an invitation to engage with a process of generating hope, solidarity and healing in a society that is fractured and hurting in many ways.” – Bishop McKeown
I feel a little out of my depth today being asked to launch an App. I may be on Facebook – but I’m a Blackberry man myself and yesterday I had to ask a nephew – who’s a quarter of my age – what an App is. But I suppose it is a bit like baptising a child – you can do something for it even if you haven’t been part of its creation!
Some will caricature this as just a churchy gimmick that will try to give the impression of modernity to something that is passé, a vain attempt to market something that belongs to yesterday. I know that, for very many young people in modern Ireland, the word ‘vocation’ is not a meaningful term and they have little idea what clergy do, other than for an hour or two on Sundays. But the social media is where young people are. From my own little venture onto Facebook, I am very aware that this is how news travels. This is the market place, this is the public square. Like Jesus, who hung around where people were, and who thus met Matthew the tax collector, the Samaritan woman and the lepers, if we claim to speak in his name, we have to be in the public forum, like St Paul on the Areopagus, ready to engage with people where they are.
But, like all vocations promotion, this App is not primarily a recruitment exercise. It seeks to engage with people on their journey and helping them to engage with their own story. Vocations work never seeks just to get people to sign up, to sign their life away. It can only be there to help people get into conversation with themselves, with their own life story – and thus help them to discern where call in calling them, what truth that lies in the depths of their hearts, how they can be truest top themselves.
But the call to discern vocation is taking place in a very different context from the one in which I grew up. And I am not just referring to modern Ireland. As Pope Benedict pointed out very clearly at World Youth Day and in Germany last month, this is a time of crisis, not just for Church but also for Western society.
It is certainly a time of crisis for Church. I like the phrase that I heard recently which talked of Europe going through a period of the deforestation of Christian memory. The language of God is a foreign tongue to very many people in countries where the Christian vocabulary was highly developed in its speech about life and reality. Pope Benedict also spoke about some people in Church who see the Church merely as an institution, without letting it touch their hearts, or letting the faith touch their hearts. And, if they see Church merely as being one among many competing organisations in a popularity poll in civil society, then they will reject the Church when their dream for church fails to materialise.
But the Pope is also aware of the crisis in civil society. And this is not just an economic or fiscal crisis. He speaks of the inconstancy and fragmentation of many people’s lives and exaggerated individualism. Even some decades ago Viktor Frankl was aware that Western society gives people the means by which to live but not a meaning for which to live. The absence of any reason for meaningfulness in an individual’s life is not unconnected with the plague of suicide and self-harm – and the apparent inability of our culture to produce anything of much beauty or grace. That was why Pope John Paul II’s letter of 2003 to the Church in Europe focussed specifically on the Church as called to generate hope in a society that had lost its sense of direction and seemed unable to create a reason for hope.
So what is Vocations work calling people to in this cultural and ecclesiastical crisis? Pope Benedict told the Germans that the Church will need again and again to set herself apart from her surroundings, to become in a certain sense “unworldly”. After all, Jesus came because God so loved the world – but he came among us not merely to confirm the world and to be its companion but in order to change it. The world certainly needs affirmation – but it also needs salvation.
And I was very struck during the summer at WYD. I spent about 10 says with a group of remarkably clued-in young people. None was cynical about Church. Their only complaint seemed to be that Church was not asking enough from them. I saw people who were seeking something great in three areas:
- They wanted to do something great and beautiful with their lives, they were committed to generosity and service and wanted to break the claustrophobic mould that is self-indulgence.
- They showed a remarkable interest in Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body. And seemed very dissatisfied with the current preoccupation with superficial physical appearance and with sex.
- They had a hunger for spirituality and for prayer. And silent adoration was one of their great sources of nourishment.
That is the broad environment into which this App is being launched. It is a call to all young people to consider how they want to spend their lives and what they want to leave as their contribution to the welfare of society. Next year we celebrate the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin and very shortly after that we have the European Vocations Service conference in Maynooth – all followed by World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013. I believe that this is a time of grace for this society to stop moaning and start moving. This is a critical time in which the future of this society is being cast. This App is an invitation to engage with a process of generating hope, solidarity and healing in a society that is fractured and hurting in many ways. It is about freeing people from being prisoners of the past and helping them to be architects rather than victims of the future. I hope that it will help some little groups of rebellious believers to exercise a prophetic role in the footsteps of Jesus who walked in the market place.
And if Blackberry breaks down again, I might even think of converting to an iPhone!!!
Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444