The main task at this stage is for the young adult to graduate into an adult faith in which the relationship with Christ really makes a difference in his or her life. As this happens, the young adult also seeks God’s vocation for his or her life. One of the worst mistakes we make when dealing with young adults is to create unique expectations for them that we do not hold for adults. We want to see our young people engaged in community service, but we are not engaged in community service as adults. We want to see our youth actively engaged at Mass, but we adults coast through Mass and don’t even remember what the homily was about when it is over. We need to remember that young adults look to us adults to see what it means to be an adult in the faith. If we want young adults to be actively engaged in their faith, then we need to actively engaged in ours.
Welcome Your Child’s Questions and Point them to the Answers
Many parents are daunted when their young adult begins to ask penetrating questions about the faith, either because of a fear that the young adult is rejecting Christ or because the parents are not sure of the answers to those questions. Intellectually and spiritually, young adults are at the stage in their lives when they need to understand and own the faith for themselves. This time of natural skepticism leads to many questions that may be expressed as curiosity, doubt, or cynicism. Don’t panic if your child’s questions make it seem like he is rejecting the faith. If your child is disinterested and not asking questions, then you might want to take steps to regain interest. However, these questions are a normal part of entering into adulthood. Young adults need to intellectually consider the faith and make a free choice to adopt it in their adult lives. The good news is that these questions are not necessarily a sign of rejection. Most of the time, the young adult is honestly seeking understanding. The bad news is that if these questions are not answered the young adult may conclude that the faith is not valid. It is important for parents to prepare for these questions. Here are some points to help you.
- Encourage your young adult to continue seeking opportunities for religious education and formation beyond Confirmation, which is often wrongly seen as a “graduation” from religious instruction.
- Keep learning about the faith so that you will be better able to answer these questions, and so that you model continued faith development and education.
- Read about the faith and encourage your young adult to read about the faith.
- When you don’t know how to answer a question, model curiosity about the faith by exploring the answer with your child.
- Let your child know that not all questions can be fully answered. If it were possible to know everything about God, God would be too small to really be God. Our faith is full of Mystery, which means we can always learn more about God and our relationship with Him.
- Don’t use the “Mystery” of the faith as an excuse not to answer the questions. Mystery does not mean not knowable. It means truth that we could not know unless it was revealed to us, and it means truth that is inexhaustible.
Encourage Deepened Participation in Mass & the Sacraments
Too many times, young adults think that graduation means that they are done with the sacraments until they get married. In turn, parents too often think that this is the time to give their children freedom by not requiring that they go to Mass or to confession. If young adults are going to own the faith for themselves, they need to continue to strengthen the habit of receiving sacramental grace. But how do you overcome the “typical” resistance to going to Mass?
- Continue making it a priority to attend weekly Mass as a family (don’t let young adults “get it over with” by going by themselves Saturday night on a regular basis).
- Have adult conversations about the readings, Gospel and homily and invite the young adult into this conversation. Make sure this is an authentic adult conversation with both parents (and any other adults) sharing their honest ideas. Young adults can sense a forced attempt at getting them involved (“So, what did you think of the homily, son?”).
- Go to confession as a family once a month
- Continue to discuss how the graces of baptism and confirmation are revealed in the lives of every family member (“Jenny, I am so impressed by your Gift of Understanding. You have such great insight into the Gospel every week.”) Don’t forget to note how the Holy Spirit continues to work in your lives as you grow in holiness.
Help Your Child Discern His or Her Vocation
The question is not whether or not your young adult has a vocation. The question is what vocation your young adult has. The Second Vatican Council reminded us in Lumen Gentium that every human being is called to serve God through their specific state in life (married, ordained, consecrated, single) and through their specific task (career, family life, religious order, priestly office, etc.).
- Help your young adult recognize his or her specific Gifts of the Holy Spirit and charisms (God-given gifts) and to consider how to best serve God right now with those gifts.
- Instead of asking the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” try the question, “How do you think God is calling you to serve Him and others with the gifts He has given you?”
- Give your young adult many opportunities to see many different vocations in action – priests, religious, families, single people serving God in the world.
- Correctly define each vocation for your children
- The call to be married is the call to raise a family, not just a matter of “finding the right one” or of “falling in love.”
- The call to religious life is the call to live Christ’s teachings of poverty, chastity and obedience perfectly and to serve God in the context of a community that follows a specific charism
- The call to ordained life is the call to bring Christ to the people through the sacraments.
- The call to consecrated or dedicated single life is the call to serve people in society rather than serving the needs of a family, religious community or parish/diocese.
- Pray with and for your young adult’s discernment to a vocation
- Support your young adult’s choices – even when it means that you must share in sacrifices as a family (for example, if your child enters a religious community it may mean sacrificing grandchildren and not being able to see them very often).