Goal One: Connecting Young Adults with Jesus Christ

Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults
November 12, 1996, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

To foster the personal and communal growth and education of young adults toward a relationship with Jesus Christ leading to Christian maturity.


  1. Spiritual Formation and Direction: To help young adults develop their spiritual life rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their redeemer and savior.

  2. Religious Education/Formation: To help young adults appreciate the teachings and traditions of the Church through catechesis, religious education, and pastoral care.

  3. Vocation Discernment: To help young adults understand vocation as primarily a call to holiness and Christian maturity lived through single or married life, the priesthood, the diac-onate, or religious life.

Strategies to Implement Goal One

1.  Spiritual Formation and Direction

As mentioned earlier in this plan, young adults want to develop their spiritual life. They speak of this as being the foundation—the rootedness—of their lives. It is through this spiritual life that young adults grow in appreciation for the way God works in their lives. Some suggestions for helping young adults develop their spiritual life include the following:

  • Provide opportunities for participation in the sacraments, especially the sacraments of reconciliation, eucharist, confirmation, and anointing of the sick. Identify times that are convenient for young adult attendance.

  • Provide opportunities for young adults to learn and experience different forms of personal and group prayer.

  • Invite young adults from other faiths to gather together for ecumenical prayer.

  • Form bible study and reflection groups that are both peer and intergenerational.

  • Provide spiritual direction resources such as prayer and meditation books and audiotapes.

  • Make available opportunities for personal spiritual direction/formation, and provide the necessary training of spiritual directors/facilitators.

  • List in the parish or campus bulletin the name(s) of spiritual directors and/or confessors who are comfortable with young adults.

  • Sponsor a variety of retreat opportunities for young adults to deepen their spirituality. These can be both group and/or individual experiences.

In the next ten years, I will be making some of the biggest transitions of my life. I am not looking for a singles group to meet that special someone. I am searching for community.I am searching for people to share my journey. . . . I believe that the Church needs to actively reach out to young adults and give us the opportunity to find God at work in our lives.Our lives have become incredibly busy as we try to start careers, find jobs, and find ourselves. . . . My hope is that the Church would reach out to us—seek us out and open the door to participation. I am very aware of my need for God's forgiving love in my life. Yet it is so easy to put those needs on hold and focus on expectations that society has put on me. Having a community to share these struggles with would be a tremendous blessing. 
Christopher J. Hood, New York, N.Y.

2.  Religious Education and Formation

During the listening process, many young adults spoke of their desire for effective adult religious education to help them make good moral decisions. They said that they need a forum not only where misgivings and doubts can be expressed freely but also where the teachings of the Church can be clearly articulated in response. While some alienation stems from disagreement over church teachings, much of what young adults feel regarding the institutional Church arises from a misunderstanding of what the Church actually teaches. Many young adults told us that what is most convincing is an open but well-reasoned discussion, informed and fortified by the minister's confidence in the wisdom of the Church. Some suggestions for developing adult catechesis include the following:

  • Offer a variety of both topical and programmatic formats such as a series of evening classes, special one-evening presentations, days of recollection/retreat, discussion groups, mentoring relationships, and missions.

  • Develop catechetical options that best respond to the needs of the community such as scripture study groups or RENEW-type formats.

  • Use adult-centered methods that are compatible with the culture of the participants.

  • Make available print resources, audio and videocassettes, and computer resources such as  CD-ROM and the Internet. Audiotapes can be used while traveling, exercising, or at home in the evening.

  • Choose themes for catechesis and faith formation that include church teaching or church life, such as church tradition, theology, theology of the sacraments, scripture studies, the role of women in the Church, and Catholic identity. Also, consider issues that include relationships, intimacy, sexuality, family life, culture, workplace ethics, morality, personal faith, and dealing with life's pain.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is an excellent occasion to minister with young adults. The RCIA provides the opportunity for young adults to enter our faith and for those already baptized and in communion with the Church to be sponsors for other young adults. Parishes should continue to nourish the faith of these newly baptized. They also need to prepare young adults who have not received their first communion or been confirmed.

Marriage Preparation
For many young adults, marriage can be a key moment for evangelization. The engagement period itself is "set within the context of a rich evangelization process."35 The Church connects with more young adults here than at any other time outside of Sunday Mass. They bring with them their past experiences of the Church. Some come with positive memories of parish youth ministry programs or Catholic schools. Others have been involved with the university or college campus ministry, but have limited connections to the parish. For some, this may be their first step back into church life.

Young adults approach the Church to be married for a number of reasons, including parental pressure, the desire to have a church wedding, or to reunite themselves with the Church. Regardless of why they come, the Church and its ministers need to welcome them as Christ welcomes them, with understanding, love, and acceptance, challenging them with the gospel message, and giving them hope that a lifelong commitment is possible.

Marriage preparation connects young adults with Christ and with the Church. The good news is that marriage preparation serves an important and useful purpose for most of those who participate in it.36 Marriage preparation is an opportunity to learn more about the Church and its teachings, especially those pertaining to married life. It can be a "journey of faith which is similar to the catechumante (RCIA)."37 Here are some key principles upon which to build strategies:

  • Rejoice with couples as they make this commitment to each other for life; this is a very special moment in their lives.

  • Challenge them lovingly and gently to greater growth in Jesus Christ rather than prejudge them.

  • Present couples with a clear and dynamic presentation of authentic Catholic teaching on human sexuality, marriage, and family.

  • Emphasize the sacramental dimension of marriage. While most engaged couples experience joy and life, as well as a certain amount of struggle, they may not connect those feelings to the gospel message. 

  • Help couples understand that the wedding is the beginning of a married life requiring continuous growth and understanding.

  • Be sensitive to the cultural traditions of our diverse Catholic community—including those of the families of origin—when addressing questions of age, ritual/ceremony, and readiness.

  • Be aware of the family dynamics of marriage preparation. Many unresolved issues between children and parents can come to the surface at this time. Weddings bring celebration and joy, but also stress and tension. Take every opportunity to encourage communication and, if necessary, reconcilation.

  • Encourage couples to consider becoming involved in the parish where they are married or in the parish where they will be attending Mass.Invite active young couples to accompany them to their first parish event or service opportunity.

  • Refrain from developing unnecessary rules and regulations that can alienate people of good will.
Here are some strategies for preparing couples for marriage:

  • Involve clergy and married couples in the marriage preparation team—this approach is most effective. Invite the priest to play an active and substantial role.38

  • Recruit married couples as mentors to meet with engaged couples. These mentors should be skilled in pastoral ministry with young adults and should understand the developmental tasks of people in their late teens, twenties, and thirties.

  • Offer multi-session programs that include structured time for talking with each other. They can continue the dialogue between sessions.39

  • Discuss subjects that are meaningful to engaged couples during marriage preparation such as theology of the sacrament, communication, commitment, conflict resolution, the role of religion (especially for interfaith marriages), values, children, and natural family planning.

  • Use proven premarital inventory tools such as FOCUS or PREPARE.40

  • Pray for couples in marriage preparation during the general intercessions at Mass and consider inviting engaged couples to receive a blessing from the community.

  • Work collaboratively with the appropriate diocesan offices to administer different aspects of the marriage preparation program.

  • Provide guidelines for marriage preparation and procedures for obtaining dispensations that are sensitive to the cultural implications of impediments and annulments, so confusion and misunderstanding are avoided. Pastoral ministers need to be aware of the pastoral application of these guidelines, which can be made available at campus centers, parishes, and military chaplancies.
The following are most helpful in clarifying church teaching on marriage and family: The Documents of Vatican II, Familiaris Consortio, Letter to Families, and recent documents from the Pontifical Council for the Family on human sexuality and marriage preparation.

Baptismal Preparation
As with marriage preparation, preparation for the sacrament of baptism of children is an opportunity to evangelize young adults and to strengthen their relationship with Christ and the Church. An effective preparation program continues the ongoing formation of parents and provides an opportunity for a closer relationship with their local community. Effective strategies include the following:

  • Create opportunities for mutual support among parents seeking baptism for their children.

  • Plan programs that take into consideration the time constraints of parents with infants and young children and that are sensitive to people's cultural traditions and practices of piety. Sunday morning may be more effective than an evening session.

  • Be aware of and sensitive to those who have been married outside the Church. Baptismal preparation can begin a process of welcoming people back to the Church.

  • Provide families with the opportunity to have their children baptized at a Sunday eucharistic celebration. For pastoral considerations, a separate celebration of the sacrament may be appropriate.

  • Involve parents and family members in the ritual as much as possible. Consider providing a printed program to increase participation during the celebration of the sacrament.

Do not be afraid to go out on the street and into public places like the first apostles, who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (cf. Mt 10:27).
John Paul II, Homily at WYD Vigil, 1993

3.  Vocation Discernment

As we discussed earlier, many men and women respond to God's call of vocation during young adulthood. Families, parishes, military chaplains, and campus ministers can help young people discern their vocations. In particular, consider these strategies:

  • Hold seminars, workshops, and overnight retreats in a spritual setting to discuss vocation discernment, and commit resources for follow-up.

  • Involve priests, deacons, religious, and lay ministers as mentors and spiritual guides for young men and women discerning their vocations.

  • Develop a vocations committee in the parish, on the campus, or on the military base. Catholic organizations and movements can also develop vocations committees.

  • Urge clergy to discuss vocations in their homilies and on other occasions.

  • Invite young people to take a sabbatical year to do volunteer community service.

  • Invite young adult coordinators to be members of the vocations team.

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