A native of Bermuda, Maryssa Gabriel is a first-year Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.) student at Notre Dame Law School. Ms. Gabriel graduated from Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland) with her bachelor of laws degree in 2010. She then earned a M.Sc. in law from the London School of Economics in 2011. Ms. Gabriel also earned an LL.M. from Notre Dame Law School in 2018. She was admitted as a solicitor of England and Wales in 2015 and is licensed with the New York State Bar and the Bermuda Bar. Her primary interests are in international human rights, maternal health, bioethics, philosophy of law, and international law.
Good evening, everyone. My name is Maryssa Gabriel. I am from the small island of Bermuda, and am currently a student pursuing a Doctorate in Law at the University of Notre Dame, our Lady’s University! I am thrilled to be with all of you at the beginning of this Synod on Youth, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment — and to share some of my own experiences as a young Catholic with you.
I was raised Catholic by my Mother who gave me a beautiful example of faith and piety during my childhood. As is the case with many young people today, during high school I was pulled into a world that was far from God. Growing up in a single parent family had a profound impact on my development and growth as a person. In high school and university, I experienced so many forces vying to give me an identity — materialism, professional prestige, an over sexualised media, the false promise of independence — these took advantage of the weaknesses and insecurities that I had (and still have!) as a young person. The advent of social media magnified all of these forces – I felt pressure to put forward a false identity, to present a veneer that masked the woman God created me to be.
As a young person, I tried to fight the pain that I felt by finding my own way and creating my own inauthentic identity. During University, after a particularly bad break-up with my boyfriend at the time, I suddenly understood that God wanted more for me, that he wanted to give me a life that was better than what I could ever imagine for myself (and in fact, was afraid to hope for!). This was a significant turning point in my life.
The only intelligible explanation that I could find for the suffering I experienced was provided by the Catholic Church. And it was still a mystery. But somehow looking at the wounded body of Christ, which is the Church, and the sorrow of Our Lady at the foot of the cross, I found hope. I understood that Jesus was moved by my suffering and loved me with a human heart. Through the Eucharist and Confession, I started to realize that I could actually be in an intimate relationship with God and that He wanted to share his life and divine love with me! Much of my own healing process came through confession, receiving communion, and prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament — all unique gifts from the Catholic Church – which helped me discover my unique identity as a daughter of God as well, to discern my vocation to marriage, and professional path.
I think that the Synod is a wonderful opportunity for the Church to ponder how to make the Sacraments more available to young people today. The youth of today need generous priests who can offer daily mass and many opportunities for confession at our local parishes. We need Churches to be unlocked and open, available to young people so that, through the Sacraments, we can encounter the healing power of Christ, which, for many of us, is the first step towards discerning our unique mission in life.
I came back to the Church as a young person because it was the only place that I found true healing, freedom, peace, and joy — which all stemmed from discovering my true identity as a daughter of God. I am so thankful for the many gifts that I have been given, most especially my faith.