Last evening was spent in the convivial company of several young gentlemen of this writer’s acquaintance, and the topic arose: What guy are you, when you are out socializing in a group? Are you the guy who shares tobacco with everyone? Are you the anchor or good luck charm on a pub quiz team? Are you the one who buys everyone the first round, or makes sure everyone gets home safely?
The Courtier is emphatically NOT the life of the party, as anyone who has spent any time with him knows. He is (arguably) a good public speaker, and is (also arguably) amusing in intimate groups, but the larger and louder the group gets, the more he retreats into silence. This is because there seems little to be gained from showing that you can shout above a din, or jostle for space in the madding crowd: the possibility for good conversation is generally lost when one is adrift in a great sea of unwashed humanity.
One of the benefits of age is coming to recognize not only one’s strengths, but also to accept one’s weaknesses. It involves a shifting of what one values in the self and in others. The things one might have wished for in one’s teens and twenties – athletic ability, being the center of attention, having scores of attractive young ladies trailing after you – fall by the wayside, and one wonders why such things were ever considered of great importance in the first place, when compared to things like a mature faith, intellectual curiosity, providing aid to others in need, and so on.
So it is that in reading reports about the World Youth Day celebrations, presently taking place in Madrid, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that the young people in attendance are putting aside childish things, as St. Paul says, and taking on the calling to be the future of the Church. They are being confronted and opposed by a diverse group of persons whose focus is primarily on a childish gratification of their own senses and desires, much as an infant screams for its pacifier when parents take it away. It is, ironically, the maturity of the young pilgrims that seems particularly striking.
Young Catholics are, it must be admitted, often left in the lurch during the sometimes decades-long period between their confirmation and their marriage or entry into the religious life. As my old monsignor back home used to say, unfortunately the Church oftentimes does not really know what to do with the young adults. They are not yet parents, or in Holy Orders/religious life, and they are usually not in jobs where they can be significant financial supporters of the Church’s works; they often barely scrape by. So coming back from World Youth Day, for many of these young people who will be energized by the experience, may be something of a let-down after the highs of that experience, where they are the sole focus of the Church’s attention.
This is where the issue of maturity becomes paramount. Realizing that you are not the do-all-end-all of existence, i.e. that you are part of the society in which you live, but that you and your needs and opinions do not form the central concern of it, is a necessary humility for one to become a functioning adult. It also allows you to take the world, and our present age, with its promises of fulfillment through materialism and hedonism for what it is: bunk. No matter what finances, possessions, homes, toys, romantic conquests, and so on you accumulate, ultimately you are food for worms; it is simply more difficult at times for young people to see this, because so much of their life is yet ahead of them.
Taking advantage of the connections, ideas, and reflections that are going on right now in Madrid, will no doubt help numerous parishes and local communities around the world with action on the part of these young Christians, who will try to turn into practicalities the encouragement to find a way to be active in the Faith. We know from past experience that the seeds planted at these World Youth Day celebrations very often come to blossom and ripen into good fruits, sometimes years after they were planted. For now, however, this scrivener is impressed by what he has seen so far coming out of Spain, where the attitude towards those participating in this event is incredibly hostile in certain rather vocal quarters, and yet it does not seem to have affected the pilgrims one bit. The good will and, yes, the maturity of these young people is proving to be something exemplary for all of us.