How do millennials pursue the vocation of religious service?

Art by Ina Jacobe

Let’s begin in familiar territory: of the various descriptives used on Generation Y, we’ve been called the most secular generation. It’s an easy and fair claim to make, what with the secular mindset characterized by a distrust for big religious institutions and hard dogma, and the tendency for teenagers and young adults to question higher powers. On the other hand, one would be hard-pressed to say that an interest in the divine, the spiritual, has been altogether lost (just ask today’s champions of contemporary hip-hop).

Still, the image of a millennial joining a religious order was a laughable thing, one that conjured images of men unironically doing Drake prayer hands in cassocks labeled Supreme. And yet, even before TIME released their take on Generation Y’s relationship with God and the church, before Kinfolk-style Bibles, stories upon stories have surfaced to show that people in their 20s and early 30s actually give a damn about the divine, and even consider it their calling to don the cloth unfamiliar territory for most. So what motivates millennials to follow God in ways that aren’t typical of the average person? What makes them different?

“But then, at a certain point, it’s not about me choosing anymore, but about being called by God. This call is not easy to explain but a good analogy is: it’s​ like being called by someone you love, and it makes your heart full.”

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Bro. Marvin Sipin, a lay brother for the Fratres Scholarum Christianarum congregation (FSC) who graduated from the College of Saint Benilde, began his spiritual journey asking himself questions familiar to any millennial: “What is my life’s purpose?” And perhaps a little more specific to him, “How does God want me to spend my life?”

Both Bro. Jules and Bro. Marvin also say that discernment is an ongoing process, in which one’s understanding of oneself deepens as life takes its course. That’s certainly evident in the spiritual journey of Fr. JP Echevarria, S.J., who studied physics and computer engineering in Ateneo De Manila University, and cites his Jesuit professors as influences. “Six years after college, after much discernment, I realized that I didn’t need to be a priest to be happy and to be of service to others,” he says. “But then, at a certain point, it’s not about me choosing anymore, but about being called by God. This call is not easy to explain but a good analogy is: it’s​ like being called by someone you love, and it makes your heart full.” To distill the motivations running through these narratives I want others to feel the same fullness of the heart as I do.

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It might not seem like much, but there’s a certain comfort that comes with the thought that across generations, all young people who want to serve God are motivated in this way. How this love manifests in service, that’s one way the uniqueness of being young comes in.

One can’t help but imagine though that a tense exists generation gap between millennials and their curmudgeonly senior superiors. Bro. Marvin admits that disagreement is a reality, but something easily resolved when both sides come home to the same concern: “What can really help the children entrusted to our care?’”

“Since we are in the world of the young people we make use of their language as a means to connect to them,” says Bro. Jules says, a 27-year-old Salesian of Don Bosco. “Before you would not see priests dancing or singing… but now we do different things just be able to be at par with their level, but with the end of bringing them closer to God and not just swaying with the wave of their lives.”

Accessibility is a major thing then, not just Bro. Jules but also for Bro. Marvin. “I believe what the Young Brothers can offer is a different perspective and energy that can revitalize our ministry to make it relevant today,” the latter says, sharing that most young Brothers are assigned to ministries that engage directly with the youth and relating to them. “I believe the Young Brothers [have] an edge on this one,” he says, I imagine with a little pride.

Another thing that helps is the youth itself, that millennials priests or priests-in-training aren’t so far from the age of those they look after. Fr. JP proves that one doesn’t have to be well, old, to draw wisdom from experience. “Power, riches, fame, instant gratification, accolades, busy-ness too much and too long wallowing in these: it can devour us and leave us empty. I went through it several times when I was younger, and it’s not worth it. It was never worth it.”

One can’t help but imagine though that a tense exists generation gap between millennials and their curmudgeonly senior superiors. Bro. Marvin admits that disagreement is a reality, but something easily resolved when both sides come home to the same concern: “What can really help the children entrusted to our care?’”

As Bro. Marvin offers, “I believe that we need to remind the youth of their goodness and their capabilities, of their connection to this world. I do not need to direct them to God, it is their goodness that will lead them to Him. I see this everyday in our schools, we just need to nurture it.”

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The idea of a millennial in a the clergy or a congregation may strike some as weirdly radical, an anomaly in a world in which religion has been dethroned as the dominant value system, and the youth ride alone with the secular perspectives that world produces. As Bro. Jules said, “It is a continuous journey… and history has repeated itself many times.” You could even say this article barely scratches the surface and that would be fair — the Catholic church as a whole doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to tackling issues of, say, misogyny and homophobia.

But there is also the thought that perhaps there is nothing revolutionary about this, that in light of each generation’s peculiarities, there will always be those who are drawn to commit themselves to God, to the church, to the gospel. Maybe we’ll have to wait a little bit longer until millennials of the cloth ascend to higher positions and enact the kind of social changes they currently can’t yet make, but then, getting there together is an option. As Bro. Marvin offers, “I believe that we need to remind the youth of their goodness and their capabilities, of their connection to this world. I do not need to direct them to God, it is their goodness that will lead them to Him. I see this everyday in our schools, we just need to nurture it.”

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