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Marist Bulletin - Number 51

 

Reflections by Brother Jacques Scholte, Provincial of West Central Europe
13.02.2003

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THE WORLD OF YOUTH BECKONS US

Br. Jacques Scholte, 58 years old, is Provincial of the Marist Brothers in West Central Europe, a Province that includes Belgium, Holland, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany. He is a past President of the Union of European Conferences of Major Superiors, and participated in the European Synod of Bishops. Recently he distributed some reflections to the brothers in his Province as they prepare for their second Provincial Chapter. Among his thoughts are comments on the text in II Cor 6, 1-10, from which we are selecting two sections that we feel would be of interest to our readers. Initially, Brother Jacques makes reference to the Christian community in Corinth, made up of men and women from all levels of society and coming from racially diverse backgrounds. Notwithstanding the difficulties they faced, Paul felt that that they lived in a favourable time for claiming and spreading the Good News.


What is this time of God’s favour?
The question may surprise you. A favourable time? Perhaps you see things altogether differ-ently and feel that we are living instead through very trying times. Could this be, perhaps, as Paul suggests, because of our prejudices and difference of opinions? Are we not inclined to be at the mercy of a whole range of negative emotions and ideas? It is true that so much has changed over the past century that it is hard to see the connection between the past as we knew it and what we have today. But we should try to see our society from another point of view and realise that we must accept it for what it is, in spite of the fact that there are so many well-meaning people who are disappointed and discouraged and just cannot see these days we are living through as a time of salvation.

Among the negative aspects of our society we can cite the number of elderly and young peo-ple who are experiencing loneliness. Many feel a sense of disillusionment with themselves and with the world around them. There is no denying the fact that apathy and cynicism are commonplace today.

And what about us? Do we honestly see the times we are living in as a time of grace? If so, won’t that lead us to view the present situation and the direction in which the world is moving in a totally different light? Won’t we come to recognise today as indeed a day of salvation?

This is what will happen if only we make positive use of our questioning about today’s world and see it as a challenge for the future.
· Young people today are looking for material and financial independence and the lib-erty to come and go freely. Society, for its part, holds out to them a wide choice of professions, jobs and even religions. They believe in having all sorts of experiences. ‘Where is the liberty in all that?’ we may ask. Yet, if we concentrate only on the nega-tive ‘attitudes’ of some of the young people today, we are doing an injustice to all those who are sincerely seeking a meaning to their lives. If this is the way we judge them, can our presence among them be said to be an attentive presence?
· Another craving in young people is to have their own recognised place in society, in-dependent of institutions and conventions. The whole world is open to them as regards formation. Travel and the Internet broaden their horizons and give access to such a wide range of information and knowledge that sometimes they do not know how to make an informed choice, bombarded as they are with such a multitude of conflicting values. So they decide to make up their own minds about life. Are we being fair to them if we judge them by appearances only? Is this the right attitude to adopt if we really want to be of assistance to them, should they want to come to us with questions?
· Young people are very sensitive about what they consider important, such as, for example, the death of someone of their own age. Evidence of this are the candles and flowers which they place at the scene of some tragic event and the solemn, silent ses-sions they hold together. They are trying to cling to some ritual or other which might give an outlet to their genuine inner feelings. We might be tempted to see in this a mere passing whim, like a burnt-out candle or some withered flowers. Shouldn’t we rather try to empathise with how they feel at such times? Should the fact that they are not interested in a church ceremony prevent us from showing solidarity with them?
· It is the courage of their own convictions and experience which serves as a compass for them as they embark on this new century. This is very real factor which we must recognise. ‘That’s the way I feel’ is an expression we often hear from them. Young people find belief in an invisible God something very vague. Must we conclude from this that God does not interest them? Haven’t we got an answer of our own for them?

The above points are some indicators of how young people feel today. They may help to us to understand their world. Even if the life of the young today is not much different from what we were familiar with in the past, it has nevertheless its own distinctive characteristics.
Young people nowadays grow up and live in a quite different milieu; yet they fall, make mis-takes and pick themselves up again as people have always done. They are like the Christians in Corinth, exposed to the same internal and external problems. It would all too easy to find similarities in the life of people 2000 years ago with our own day and age. It would be a mistake to go to the other extreme and to think that the two ages have nothing at all in com-mon. Looking more closely at Paul’s attitude, we will come to a better understanding as to how he was able to keep going in spite of everything.

Paul did not accuse the Christians of Corinth of lack of faith in the working of the Spirit. He is personally convinced of the imminence of the ‘time of God’s favour’ and of the fact that God’s grace will be manifested. He continues in all circumstances to preach faithfully the words of truth. At the beginning of his letter, he had already said that if we are to work for God we would have to ‘see the present moment as grace’ and ‘not to hesitate to speak the word of truth.’

And tomorrow?
The world of young people is a challenge to us. The youth of today invite us to take a good hard look at ourselves. We are challenged to answer the following questions: What inner strength animates us? What are the words of truth that we are ready to speak out? Our way of life and our identity are called into question in today’s world. We are not asked to provide answers but to try to explain in all modesty what is our raison d’être and how we intend to play a meaningful role in the world in which we live.

The important thing for us is to follow the advice of Marcellin Champagnat and to be with the young and love them. This is the only way in which we can be their guides and companions. These two values – presence and love – are complementary and are what young people expect from us. They are much more appreciated than many other tendencies and attitudes the young are exposed to since they point to an altogether different scale of values.

Love for the young and Attentive Presence point to values such as:
· A sense of community: This value exhorts the young not to be inward-looking and to understand that freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand. In this way, they will realise how working for others can benefit themselves too.
· Involvement: Our own involvement with the young can teach them the importance of forming lasting relationships as invaluable assets for self-fulfilment and genuine autonomy.
· Security: Our identity requires that we take an interest in everyone with whom we come into contact. Faced with difficult choices, young people should find in us people who are ready to help them in their doubts and insecurities so that they don’t feel undervalued.

Living this way is so important since the manner in which we ourselves live our spirituality can lead the young to new and reaffirming discoveries about themselves. The three values referred to above are an integral part of Christian tradition. We often find it difficult to inte-grate new elements in our society and the different ways of living as Christians today. We tend to separate the old from the new, which serves only to accentuate the differences. The Christian life, as we understand it, is in danger of not being understood by our contempora-ries, of being in a sense relegated to minor importance. If we are sincere, if we take seriously the world of the young today, and if we try to relate to them in an authentic way, our Christian way of life can be for young people a source of inspiration and encouragement.
This conviction of living in a favourable time has its origin in the covenant which God has made with man for his happiness. Jesus lived this covenant to the full. In him and by him we see how the life of a man in search of God, lived in utter simplicity, can be ‘sanctified’. Jesus blessed the men and women around him, he welcomed children, pardoned sinners and prayed for those he loved. He called God his father! These attitudes can become ours too.

Bro. Jacques Scholte

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