by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA 2023 Teacher of Peace
The Irish author George Bernard Shaw supposedly said: “Youth is wasted on the young.” One wonders what kind of a person would say such a thing.
Everything in our Catholic tradition – and most others – actually celebrate youth. The Book of Ecclesiastes says, “You who are young, be happy while you are young and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9) Jesus looked with love on a young person who had striven to keep God’s commandments. (Mark 10:31) St. Paul writes to Timothy, evidently a much younger disciple: “Let no one have contempt for your youth…” (1 Timothy 4:12).
The same attitude toward our younger sisters and brothers has been expressed in our times. Pope St. John Paul once stated: “Humanity is in urgent need of free and courageous young people who dare to go against the tide…” And we have Francis, who can well be called “the pope of youth.” In a letter to them he wrote the following startling words: “…[D]ream freely and make good decisions. Take risks, even if it means making mistakes… make a ruckus [my emphasis]. Give yourselves over to the best of life: Open the door of the cage, go out and fly! Don’t take an early retirement.”
The recent World Youth Day (WYD) demonstrated vividly how much the Holy Father values and puts his hopes in the younger generations. An editorial in the August 19-26 issue of international Catholic weekly, The Tablet, had this to say about that event: “Suddenly there’s belief in the future of the Church … The enthusiasm, excitement and prayerfulness seen at World Youth Day surprised many observers and has changed the narrative about Catholicism’s appeal to young people in Europe and beyond.” Later in the same article, sociologist José Maria Pereira Coutinho is quoted as observing that “WYD showed that the Church is alive, dynamic and for the young.”
For the past several years the leadership of Pax Christi USA has developed exactly what Pope Francis expects of young people. We had our own kind of WYD at the 50th anniversary of Pax Christi USA last year when younger members took leadership roles in that inspiring event.
And a revived Pax Christi Young Adult Caucus promises to continue this “new day” in our movement. For one example, this year’s Peace Pairs Project demonstrated another of Pope Francis’s convictions: the value of intergenerational conversations. These happened among us because both sides, young and old, spoke to one another as friends, celebrating new energy on one side and valued experience on the other.
We have to applaud what is taking place in Pax Christi USA.
Returning to the subject of World Youth Day 2023, the Tablet editorial concluded with this sober warning: “The future of the Church in Portugal and throughout the world might depend on the seeds sown by World Youth Day not being allowed to fall on stony ground.”
To observe the enthusiasm and sheer joy among young women and men who actually attended WYD was incredibly inspiring. But immediately the question arises: will this energy be cultivated and sustained now that the youth are back in their day to day Catholic environments?
This poses an enormous task both for dioceses and parishes around the world, not the least in the United States, and particularly for those who have access to pulpits in our churches. Sadly the average Sunday homily in Catholic churches demonstrates what theologian Karl Rahner said on this subject: “[I]t is more often the case that the words of the preacher fall powerlessly from the pulpit, ‘like birds frozen to death and falling from a winter sky.’”
The laity, in particular Pax Christi, have every right to demand what Pope Francis says to preachers in his early letter “The Joy of the Gospel”: Let the homilist “keep his/her ear to the people and discover what they need to hear.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace and the 2023 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.