Priests and bishops need to be credible messengers who can share the message of the gospel with personal integrity, Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh has told the Synod of Bishops.
“Young people often question trusted adults closely, and even assertively, to test if they really mean what they say, and also because Christianity is disparaged by the world, and the young are looking for answers to clarify their own minds and consciences,” Cushley told the synod hall on Oct. 9.
“Both the messenger and the message must be authentic and credible. We cannot simply exhort the young to love and follow Christ, we must live it ourselves first, then preach his Word and explain it to them.”
Archbishop Cushley spoke during the ongoing session of the synod, currently meeting in Rome to address the themes of young people, faith, and vocational discernment.
He told participants that bishops must bring young people to “the whole of the apostolic faith” not as a burden but as an essential part of bringing them to know Christ.
“This is not out of concern with laws and traditions for their own sake, but because this is what will communicate to them the fully divine personality of Jesus: he himself taught the apostles as a true friend with an authority that attracted them because it was not like the Scribes and Pharisees,” the archbishop said.
The fifteenth ordinary general session of the Synod of Bishops is being held Oct. 3-28. The gathering draws bishops and some laity from around the world, including bishops’ conference delegates and delegates selected by Pope Francis.
Archbishop Cushley went on to discuss how the message of Christ did not mean a rejection of modern scientific developments, but was essential to answering the fundamental questions mankind still faced.
“We must show young people the full majesty of the Wisdom of God which can embrace the genuine insights of human science and answer the questions and perplexities of the human mind,” Cushley said.
“We must present the full New Testament vision of Christ for whom the cosmos was created and in whom everything finds its definitive fulfilment.”
Citing the Second Vatican Council pastoral constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” he said Jesus Christ is “the key, the focal point and the goal of humankind, as well as of all human history.”
Cushley reflected on the personal responsibility of bishops and priests to accompany young people on their journey of faith.
“Let’s not send them to Christ, as if it were someone else’s responsibility: rather, as fathers, as brothers, let’s bring our young people to Christ, as fellow disciples,” he said.
While accompaniment is a function of the whole community, the archbishop emphasized that pastoral accompaniment is “particularly suited to priests in their care for souls” and could not simply be handed over to others, even if others appeared to be better suited.
“We bishops and priests cannot delegate away or dispense ourselves from this duty towards young people, no matter how unlikely or unworthy–or even old–we may think ourselves to be,” he said.
The temptation, Cushley said, was to think that younger priests or those who think of themselves as “good with youth” should be left to the task. But these are not necessarily the best apostles to the young, he continued.
To be an apostle, he said, is “not patronizing, or paternalism, or condescending” but “the act of a true father, a true brother.”
“Many can bring our young people to Christ by personal witness, it is true, including young people themselves, but I believe that bishops and priests, with the heart of true pastors, are among the best placed to bring them to the Lord, personally, as well as though their sacred ministry.”
For Cushley, an authentic ministry of accompaniment is on in which the priest recognizes himself to be “a fellow disciple” who can make other “fellow disciples for Christ.”
“The priest among the young must be a disciple who knows his own Master Jesus with a personal love that, in spite of his weaknesses and struggles, touches his spirit with deep fulfilment and joy.”
“Cor ad cor loquitur” he said, citing a Latin phrase meaning “heart speaks to heart.”