Youths can be ‘Champions of Mercy’
When we consider the situation of young people, should we speak of youth with families, without families, or youth in families?
When one asks in a group, “What is a family?”, the stock answer is that of the nuclear unit: father, mother and children. But ask, “Who is your family?”, and groups might well mention neighbours as well as biological relatives.
But back to youth. It is my perception that quite often in youth programmes the focus is on the immediate needs of the young people, their sense of self-worth, their education (including sexuality education), the job they hope or plan to have one day.
And yet youth remain, and need to remain, an important part of a family through these challenging years. Relationships with parents or parent-figures remain strong but not necessarily easy; up one day and down the next.
Families continue to support young people in an environment where youth unemployment is so high. Ideally the relationship can be of interdependence, to a degree. Those who work bring in the money. Those who don’t work can contribute in other practical ways, such as taking care of home and children.
It is difficult for parents who work for long hours to come home and still have to cook and clean while the youth are lazing about or are out. Consider too the child-headed family where a young person who may still be at school has to take on a parenting role.
Pope Francis celebrated the Mercy Jubilee for Youth in April. He told the youth that love is their Christian ID document.
Love is beautiful and it means to give and to care. A relationship with Jesus, who is ever faithful, is a source of strength and a model. Youth have a growing desire for affection and “the Lord, if you let him teach you, will show you how to make tenderness and affection more beautiful, to love without being possessive”, the pope said.
A longing for freedom is natural at this time—and we are reminded of that this month as South Africa observes national Youth Day on June 16.
Personal freedom is not just doing what you choose but is being able to choose the good. Pope Francis writes: “Love is a free gift, a responsibility, but a noble responsibility and a daily task.”
A family is a school of love. The pope has much to say on this in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love. There is a strong emphasis on marriage and the married couple, but he also speaks at length about marriage preparation which is ideally a normal natural part of growing up.
This remote preparation happens through exposure. The proximate stage begins during late teens and early adulthood when the young adults are looking for and finding partners. But today there is also a trend for later marriage, or no marriage, or an option for the single life. The immediate preparation is the time before a wedding which is not just a weekend or short course but a more intensive reflection on the responsibilities and joys of this new state of life.
Youth think of sex but often do not think seriously about marriage or may be put off by not seeing positive, happy marriages around them. Is that why many say, “I’m not interested in marriage, I want to do my own thing”?
Pope Francis wrote: “Jesus wants us to be up on our feet. He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise’. Jesus’ hand is often given through the hand of a friend, through the hand of one’s parents and those who accompany us through life.”
And addressing the young people at the jubilee in April, he issued this challenge: “Let your daily programme be the works of mercy. Be like sporting champions, who attain high goals by quiet daily effort and practice. Be champions in life, champions in love! That is your Christian ID.”
Marfam’s family focus for Youth Month is “Youth for Mercy”. Do they experience mercy in their young lives from God, their families and others? Do they offer mercy to others in whatever kind of needs there are?
Protesting for free tertiary education or schooling or services can be seen as seeking mercy but beneath and beyond that must be the sense of the common good which begins through “Building Homes of Merciful Love”, this year’s family theme.
For more on Marfam visit marfam.org.za
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