HENRITZE: The pathways of Christus Vivit

February 25, 2020

There is an old saying that states, “a watched pot never boils.” 

It has been almost a year since Pope Francis promulgated Christus Vivit, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation on young people, vocation and discernment. Since its release, I’ve been involved in several initiatives, both locally and nationally, involving the application of the document to ministry in the Church. At many times it has indeed felt like Christus Vivit is the watched pot that refuses to boil.

There was a perfect storm in the U.S. surrounding the release of Christus Vivit. The Church was in the wake of the most recent wave of sex abuse scandals, and many people chose not to read and reflect on the fruits of the October 2018 synod on youth, vocation and discernment. In truth, I’m glad that Christus Vivit has had a slow boil in the life of the Church. I prefer a gradual discovery of its depths and riches over a quick flurry of excitement before moving onto something new.

One of the themes which runs throughout the document is the focus on particular pathways of ministry with young people.

One such road is a pastoral pathway. Here, Pope Francis indicates that the two main areas are outreach and growth. The first of which is a distinct way of evangelizing by which you become present in the lives of young people. Pope Francis is adamant that “young people themselves know how best to find appealing ways to come together” (CV, 210).

What this implies for us as a Church is a need to stop trying to shoehorn young people into ministry experiences that worked for us. Young people have a wisdom of their own which we as a Church need to lean into if we want to authentically share the Gospel with them.

The second pathway laid out by Christus Vivit is being termed the synodal pathway.

This particular pathway indicates a journey in time which the young and the old take together, the basis of which are shared encounters.

Here again, Pope Francis insists that “ministry needs to be more flexible...” This leads to shared experiences and conversations that go beyond learning (CV, 204). When was the last time you had a shared experience with a young person at your parish? Was it a transaction-based encounter where either you did something for them, or they did something for you? Was it a teaching encounter found typically in a catechetical setting? Or was it a true encounter where you shared in a meaningful conversation with each other and with the living God?

As a Church, we need to ask which of these occur most often and why.

The third pathway proposed by the Holy Father is the popular pathway. By this, he does not mean a pathway that is trendy, superficial or modern.

In the context, he uses popular to describe a pathway of ministry that is different to the point of being enormously attractive. He advocates for a form of ministry that is different in style, schedule, pace and method (CV, 230).

Here, the question we must ask ourselves is one of comfort. Does ministry to young people at your parish look relatively unchanged from the way it was done 20 years ago? If it does, why? My experience says that we as adults keep ministry the same because we’re comfortable with what worked for us in the past.

The problem is that many of those methods are not working today. If youth ministry has become disconnected from the lives of young people and their families, then it needs to change.

The final pathway proposed is a missionary pathway. Young people have an unparalleled willingness to embrace mission (CV, 138), yet frequently remain unchallenged in the arena.

All ministry is meant to be a missionary; that is it is meant to go outside of itself. Youth ministry is no exception. To fully walk this pathway, we must be willing to “make contact with people’s lives” (CV, 240), which implies that we must be vulnerable enough to allow others to enter into our lives.

I challenge you to examine the state of ministry with young people at your parish. If you’re not familiar with that area, get familiar with it. God is calling the Church to a renewed dedication to young people, and perhaps He has a plan for you there which until now you were unaware of.

Brian Henritze is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.