At a meeting of the Society’s leaders in 1847, Frederic Ozanam stated, “… it is essential for the Society to recruit its members among the young. Fourteen years ago, the Society was born: it must not get old as its founders grow old and charity becomes a routine practice. Youth are helpful for their audacity, even for their imprudent acts, for the new ideas they bring, for the initiatives which we had not thought of.”
By no means did Frederic undervalue the contribution of older members. He realized that he and other longtime members brought experience, wisdom and time-tested skills to the Society. He urged his peers to remain in the Society, and he encouraged them to end their lives in battle (they were not really that old – Frederic was only 34!) rather than in repose. He echoed Vincent de Paul’s words to his followers, “It does not matter whether we die sooner or later, provided that we die with arms in our hands.” (CCD: XI:366)
But Frederic, as co-founder of a vibrant Society, recognized the importance of the ongoing presence of the young so that the Society might maintain its vitality.
Today, writers often state that young people are the future of the Church; they will surely be alive when most of us have passed on. But, recently, on Jan. 27, 2019, in his final homily at World Youth Day in Panama, Pope Francis modified that statement. He spoke stirringly to those who had gathered from around the world, “Dear young people, you are not the future but the now of God, and God invites you and calls you in your communities and cities to go out and find your grandparents and elders; to stand up and, with them, to speak out and make real the dream that the Lord has dreamed for you.” He urged them to “realize that you have a mission to fall in love; that will decide everything … We may possess everything, but if we lack the passion of love, we will have nothing.” He appealed to them, “Let us allow the Lord to make us fall in love!”
Pope Francis explained that “the now of God” becomes present in Jesus. “It is a merciful love that does not wait for ideal or perfect situations to show itself … It is God’s time that makes every situation and place both right and proper. In Jesus, the promised future begins and becomes life.” He warned the young against thinking that “your mission, your vocation, even your life itself, is a promise far off in the future, having nothing to do with the present. As if being young were a kind of waiting room, where we sit around until we are called.”
As you, the current leaders of the Society, gather in Porto, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions:
- Do we promote Vincentian youth groups in all the countries where the Society exists? Do we reach out to the young in nearby universities (the birthplace of the Society) and in parishes?
- Are we good mentors to the young? Do we know how to speak with young people simply, humbly and enthusiastically? Do we witness to them, by our lives, the importance of the poor in the Kingdom of God and invite them to join us in serving the marginalized? Do we really partner with them, so that the experience of years and the energy of youth combine harmoniously?
- Do we encourage young people to discern their individual vocation, to listen each day to God’s call, to choose their own future, to become involved in programs of service and evangelization on behalf of those who are poor, and to take on roles of leadership?
- Do we, as Frederic implied in the citation above, allow young men and women to make mistakes and learn from their experience without being over-protective and authoritarian?
Frederic pointed out that young people have drive and enthusiasm, imagination and spontaneity. They bring new horizons to communities. They have the capacity to envision new solutions. They often feel free from rigid categories or structures that have become encrusted over the years. They are willing to “dream the impossible dream.” They find it easy to identify with the words of Vincent de Paul that “love is inventive even to infinity.” (CCD:XI:131)
Robert Maloney, C.M.