Is “Listening” Enough?

Leonard J. DeLorenzo of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life believes there is more to working with young people than meeting them as equals, or teachers.

The scriptural validation for the approach to “walking with” that the Synod has heralded is the action of Jesus in his encounter with the two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). As stated in the final document, “the Risen Lord wants to walk alongside all young people, hearing their expectations, even those that are unmet, and their hopes, even those that are paltry. Jesus walks, listens and shares” (§5). This is not wrong. What it is, though, is a partial reading of this narrative that functions more like eisegesis than as a faithful contemplation of Scripture.

Yes, Jesus draws near and, yes, he does ask the travelers what they are discussing (twice) and he does indeed listen to everything they have to say (through verse 24). But then Jesus takes control of the action. He starts off by calling those two chatty, downcast, disoriented travelers “foolish” (v. 25).

The impression that the final document gives—along with the preparatory document before it—is that this conversation on the road is an exercise in mutuality, in paired sharing, and in equality. Since Jesus drew near and listened to the travelers, the Church must do what Jesus did and listen to young people. But that leaves out the truly decisive thing: Jesus does not stop at listening to them; Jesus leads them because they really do not know where they are going. His business is to communicate a gift to them. After silencing and teaching them how to listen (not unlike Zechariah who had to learn how to listen at the beginning of this same Gospel), he reforms their imaginations according to the scriptures. He illuminates for them the meaning of his suffering, and then he feeds them with his sacrifice, filling them with a mission on the basis of this intentional formation. Hope hangs in the balance, and so does salvation.

Might this complete action of Jesus actually reveal what a true, genuine encounter with young people should be? Jesus forms them, educates them, preaches to them, nourishes them, and frees them so that they may become witnesses of his Gospel. The point was not in Jesus listening for its own sake; the point was listening to them in order to skillfully heal, liberate, and empower them. The Church should do what Jesus did—all of what he did. That is how we form mature disciples.

The guiding vision for this Synod could and should have been about what mature Christian discipleship looks like. The critical issue is not first of all that young people are lost but rather that the Church has become all too vague in what we hope for young people to become. And when I say “the Church,” I mean the gross majority of those of us called upon to form young people, including parents, ministers, mentors, teachers, religious, priests, and bishops. I also mean our institutions of formation in which young people—from their earliest years to their ripe old years—are supposed to be culturally formed: parishes, religious education programs, schools, lay associations, ecclesial movements, and the family home. Because we have lost touch with what mature discipleship looks like, what constitutes true life, and what holiness means, our ways of forming young people in the faith have become dysfunctional. This Synod should have asked and clearly answered the question “What are we forming young people for?” and considered everything else—including what young people themselves say—in view of that.

Much more here.