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Joy and Encouraging Vocations

I do a lot of outreach to the young on behalf of my religious congregation, so I try to be aware of trends in vocations work and the common traits of emerging generations.

Recently I took some time to review the latest Study on Religious Vocations, co-sponsored by the National Religious Vocation Conference and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. I was hoping that it would give me an “aha moment” on how to interest young women in our community of Little Sisters of the Poor.

I was struck by a section of the report entitled Intergenerational Living, which stated a mere 13% of perpetually professed members of religious communities are younger than 60, while the rest are at least 90 years of age. These are pretty sobering statistics.

I was consoled to read the following testimony from a young religious, who said, “It is beautiful to have all different generations and ethnicities in one community, in one house, if we allow ourselves to see that beauty.”

What a hope-filled attitude! It inspired me to stop bemoaning the aging of our communities and start seeing the beauty.

I would like to address a message of hope to my fellow women and men religious who, like me, are not so young anymore: May you too take heart in realizing that young people seeking religious life are not as deterred by the older demographics of most of our communities as we thought. They don’t seem to mind that many of us are older — but they do hope that we will live simply, in solidarity with the poor, and that we will live and pray together in a spirit of joy.

To connect with the young, we might begin by striving to become young again.

Pope Francis has suggested that we seek to renew our youthfulness at every stage of life.

“As we mature, grow older and structure our lives,” he wrote, “we should never lose that enthusiasm and openness to an ever greater reality.”

In Christus Vivit, the Holy Father encouraged us to let ourselves be loved by God, for he loves us just as we are.

This is the essential message we need to communicate to young people: they are loved as they are, and God wants to give them even more.

God “values and respects you,” borrowing from the pope’s words, “but he also keeps offering you more: more of his friendship, more fervor in prayer, more hunger for his word, more longing to receive Christ in the Eucharist, more desire to live his Gospel, more inner strength, more peace and spiritual joy.”

This joy is something that speaks deeply to young people in their vocational discernment. It is something they see in the quality of a gaze or a smile, in the serenity with which a consecrated person embraces trials or suffering, and in the generous gift of self to the poor day after day.

Again in Christus Vivit, Pope Francis reminded us that Christ is alive and he wants us to be fully alive.

“When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear,” he wrote, “he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.”

So, let’s ask Jesus, “himself eternally young,” to give us hearts that are ever young and capable of loving, ready to welcome the new generations who knock on our doors. Let’s witness to these young women and men the JOY that fills our hearts, and is eager to fill theirs as well, if only they give themselves to him!

Sister Constance Veit, LSP, is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.