by Olivia Martin
LAWRENCE — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann shared a question of his with a group of students a few weeks ago — a question some may consider shocking: “I’m not sure I believe in God. And if there is a God, I’m not sure if Jesus really is who he claimed to be.”
It was a question from the archbishop’s youth, and he was sharing it with those gathered at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas for the “Trust One Greater” event on April 11.
The archbishop recalled asking those questions of a priest at his seminary college the summer before his junior year.
It was the 1960s — a time of great societal and cultural change — and his vocational discernment process had hit a wall.
More interesting than his questions was the priest’s response.
“He made a suggestion that I’ll always be grateful for,” said Archbishop Naumann. “He pointed me to the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, where the disciples ask one of their better questions.
“They said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’
“So, Jesus gave them the Our Father as an instructional prayer.”
The archbishop shared this vignette, among others, to encourage those gathered to spend time with God in prayer — even if that is simply asking him to show his face. And do not be afraid to ask authentic questions, he told them, especially with the Synod of Bishops on “Young people, faith, and vocational discernment” approaching this October.
“A synod,” he explained, “is a gathering of a representative group of bishops. There will be a delegation from our country and every other episcopal conference in the world to reflect and pray over questions [from the youth].”
In preparation for the synod, Pope Francis has asked bishops from every diocese in the world to offer input, questions and suggestions by participating in dialogue with local youth — both Catholic and non-Catholic, religious and secular — in an effort to understand the modern young person so as to better serve him or her.
As he has in other settings, Archbishop Naumann sought to gather input from the young adults present through a Q&A or “stump the bishop” session, in addition to participating in eucharistic adoration and praise and worship together.
Chris Hilger, a student at KU from Russell, contributed to the praise and worship music of the night and came with an interest to have a chance for his community to directly engage with the archbishop.
“I wanted to listen to some responses to the questions asked . . . because I want to know how to be a better Catholic,” he said. “It’s always interesting to hear other people’s perspectives and the issues they care about.”
Also participating in the Q&A was Kelsi Mclaughlin of Olathe. She was struck by the authenticity of the archbishop’s account of his own vocational discernment.
“And when he talked about the Our Father and how that is more of an instructional on how to pray, [it] gave me a new perspective on prayer,” she said.
The questions asked ranged from what pressing pastoral issues are now facing the archdiocese to how to understand the God of the Old Testament in light of the New Testament..
In addition to diligently responding to each question, the archbishop gave a bottom-line synthesis to the questions proposed.
“I need you,” he said. “The church needs you because you have the opportunity to speak to other young people that I’ll never get the chance to talk to unless you help bring them to the church.”
He also outlined what each person can do to begin inviting others into the church: “Know your faith well . . . and be bold and fearless in entering into conversations with other people about why your Catholic faith means so much to you.
“When others see the faith lived, it’s very attractive.”