A few years ago I sat with a group of young Catholics to reimagine the parish’s young-adult ministry. I invited each person to talk about their own needs and experiences in the Church. A college student spoke frankly about how she’d been made to feel that she didn’t belong in young Catholic communities because of her feminist values. She explained that young Church leaders tended to equate traditional gender roles with holiness, and she couldn’t imagine herself continuing to participate in young-adult meetings that, among other things, focused heavily on the expected roles of men and women in marriage. She wanted a young-adult ministry that would help her grow spiritually and that would focus on community, charity, and social justice. She felt isolated from her friends who didn’t understand how she could be a part of a misogynist, patriarchal institution, but also isolated from the young Catholics in her parish whose culture had become so rigid and clique-y that there was no room for different experiences and ideas.
It was evident that this young woman was speaking from a place of woundedness, and that this was the first time she had exposed those wounds publicly. The sharing of her experience was a grace that invited the group to think critically about how past ministerial practices marginalized young adults in their community and that offered an opportunity to find new ways of being. This woman was the voice crying out in the desert, inviting the group to prepare a new way, to make straight their paths so that all flesh may see the salvation of God (Luke 3:4, 6).
The second Sunday of Advent’s readings remind us of the power of the prophetic word. By now, communities around the nation have started to, or are preparing to, participate in the Synod on Synodality. The success of the synodal conversations will depend on the Church’s ability to listen to the word of God found in the deserts of our communities. Local communities are likely to face many challenges in the process, but I’d like to highlight two in particular.