Being silent in action
Stivel Toloza, SJ - Director, The Ignatian Youth Network, Province of
[From “Jesuits 2022 - The Society of Jesus in the world”]
Reviving youth ministry through an experience of silence, contemplation and action.
Missionary youth work today is no mere fad triggered by the explosion of social media. Nor does it exist because Pope Francis, by dint of decisiveness and creativity, has potentially inspired the whole Church to notice the young faces in our faith community and the whole world. Neither is it a trend because one of the Society of Jesus’s Universal Apostolic Preferences concerns young people. No! Of course not! This call from God for us to share our mission with young people is far from a passing trend likely to vanish at the first hurdle.
In this sense, the 2021-2022 Ignatian Year, seen
in the light of its motto “To see all things new in Christ” entails an
interesting challenge for the Ignatian Youth Network in Colombia. It’s a
challenge that links it to the group dynamics that may arise with young people
in numerous Provinces worldwide. Given this context, let us explore the
following question: how can the Ignatian Year and its invitation to see all
things new in Christ, shed light on youth ministry?
That question could be answered from many different perspectives. It could even bring us to a crossroads which requires a far broader kind of reflection. On behalf of the Ignatian Youth Network, however, we would like to share one response that relates to the place that experiences of silence occupy in the life of the young people who take part in our pastoral youth ministry.
Broadly speaking, many young people associate silence with boredom, monks and monasteries. You only have to look at how challenging it can be to suggest a time of silent prayer during the retreats we offer young people in our educational establishments. Increasingly, we have to turn to films, games, both educational and spiritual, etc., to ensure that the retreats are not “boring” and therefore lose any appeal for young people.
Of course I’m not for a moment questioning the
importance these more didactic strategies have in helping young people to
encounter their Creator, since all such methods can turn into useful resources
for this purpose. However, I think it is worth considering the use of silence
and its place today in young people’s spiritual journeys, and how such careful listening can end up being and
continue to be an element in young people’s lives that may galvanise their own
personal conversion and then trigger their firm and courageous commitment to
transforming the world.
I do not mean to say by using the expression “silent in action” that all future retreats or Spiritual Exercises held for young people should always be given in complete silence. That would be naïve. In fact, to be in silence, you don’t even need to be in a retreat house in order to hear the birds tweeting, or feel the breeze on your face. Young people can experience silence while travelling on a bus in the city, or while chatting, fraternal fashion, about life in a bar, during a long-awaited concert, or even - and why not - by taking a more contemplative, less superficial look at social media.
In the midst of all this, a pedagogy of contemplative silence invites young people to listen to their hearts and to recognise there the voice of God. He becomes incarnate in the most sublime of silences, but also in the hustle and bustle of the routines of daily life. Whether it is experienced in a chapel or in the hectic cities we live in, Ignatian spirituality can lead young people to listen to the deepest parts of themselves and become more open and receptive to serving others amid the challenges and suffering of the present day. That’s even more the case given all the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is new, therefore, about our approach here
at the Ignatian Youth Network is the call to embrace silence in order to see
all things new in Christ, within that silence where God is also revealed to us.
Silence, yes, but one that is far from being passive, and further still from
being complicit [with injustice]. This, rather, is a silence which becomes an
opportunity to authentically live out, to a far greater measure, the creation
of that future (and present) full of hope to which the Society of Jesus calls
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