When we contemplate the life of Christ, we tend to focus on one of three elements of His life: His nativity, His life in ministry, and His life as it is now at the right hand of the Father. But we forget one of the essential points of His life: the years of His youthfulness. Except for the scene of finding Jesus in the temple, the period of Jesus’ youth is hidden from us in the accounts of the Gospel.
But we must, regardless of the silence of the Scriptures, take Jesus’ youthful years seriously. I take for this principle the fact that if the Word is united with a humanity exactly like our save for sin, then each moment of the life of Christ can reveal to us not only something about the relationship between the Son and the Father, but it also is an affirmation of the various periods of human life by God Himself. The unity between the Word and His humanity in His conception demonstrates the value of human life prior to birth. The unity of the Word to His humanity in the infancy is a statement by God that the years of infancy are important to God and that they reveal something to us about the Son as well as our relationship with the Father. So too is it with the years of Jesus’ youth, the years between the finding in the Temple and the beginning of His ministry.
We can contemplate what youthfulness means. Often we will identify it with “finding oneself”, with “rebellion”, with “having fun”, with “making mistakes”, etc. But if we truly desire to value youthfulness, we need to look to Jesus as the One Who gives us the standard of youthfulness. And what is the primary characteristic of the life of Jesus’ youth? It is one of hiddenness.
Hiddenness may seem anti-youthful to us. But it really is the core of youthfulness because it is a necessary part of the radical response of love that is engendered by enthusiasm.* The enthusiasm of Jesus is manifested in the life of His ministry. He is constantly setting His face towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51). In Mark’s Gospel, there is an intensity to the action of Jesus that permeates every verse. Jesus foretells His death and then rebukes Peter for trying to move Him off of His course (Matthew 16:21-18). There are many other passages that manifest this enthusiastic youthfulness of Jesus, but the key here is that the enthusiasm of Jesus – which is the key characteristic of youthfulness – is possible only by first living the intensity of a hidden life of preparation to fulfill His mission.
This is important for every Christian. Youthfulness is not something we ought to lose. Youthfulness, as we see with Jesus, is connected with our mission in life. And our mission is lived out in the enthusiasm of one won over by a love so intense that one is willing to give over their entire self to that love immediately, without question. That is what happens in the life of Jesus. In the life of Jesus, He is constantly aware of the love of His Father and it is in His actions that He constantly responds to that love with an abandonment and intensity that has yet to be duplicated on this earth. The only visible sign of this is in the life of the saints. Look, for example, to Bl. Teresa of Calcutta or St Francis of Assisi. They had a determination to their life that we wish we would have. They lived out the vocation that they were called to live with such intensity. But for both – and this, indeed, is a common theme in the life of the saints to such a point that we must see it as essential for our life in becoming saints – they were first enveloped in a life of hidden pursuit of God. They had, in fact, quite ordinary lives prior to their mission. They lived that ordinariness with such intensity either for the good or for the ill.
Youthfulness, then, is important. And it should never be lost. It is, in fact, central to Christian life, and to lose it is to become tepid, lukewarm. The youthfulness of faith is not the youthfulness of the world. The youthfulness of the world wants the immaturity and image of youthfulness, but not its intensity – those who tend this way live lives that are lukewarm and passionless at best. No. Christian youthfulness is quiet but inflamed with a passionate heart that desires to give itself entirely over out of love for Jesus Christ. Christian youthfulness is lived out whether one is 16 or 76. It depends not on age, but rather on the intensity of love. It is this love, so common to youthfulness and so central to the life of Jesus that defines who we are as Christians.
We must be wary in losing this youthfulness. To lose it is a dangerous thing. We must heed the warning of Bernanos:
“The mature man is that legendary animal whom the moralist has thought up to help him make his deductions. This mature man does not exist, for there is no neutral stage between youth and age. He who cannot give more than he receives is already starting to decay. Even a careless observer can see that a miser at twenty is already an old man.”
Let us not become old men. Let us have the youthfulness of the Christian. Let us burst forth to give and to give until it hurts. One of the great elements of youthfulness is its spontaneity. One of the great dangers of being an “old man” as Bernanos means it is to be a rationalist who carefully controls the world around him. Thus Pope Francis, though an old man, is actually one who has the youthfulness of the Christian spirit. This is why he attracts so many people to him. And that youthfulness means that one need to try things out of that devotion of love. It means to be willing to make mistakes and to be ok with failure. Whatever was tried, it was tried sincerely out of love. The “old man” will look at that failure and reduce the love that is within and say “well, that failed, so we need to be more disciplined in our approach, more careful in how we respond in love”. But that is not love. Love is spontaneous and total. It is enthusiastic – literally “possessed by God”. This is the love of Jesus Christ because He was possessed by the love of His Father through the Holy Spirit. We too can be possessed by the Father, indeed, we are possessed by His love. So we need to respond and be willing to make a mess, to make mistakes, to throw ourselves at the foot of divine love. Youthfulness is ok with making mistakes. It will either try again, or it will try something new. But it will always respond in love. Let us not lose our youthfulness. Let us love.
*I am aware that Ronald Knox has written a book which is rather scathing of the whole concept of enthusiasm, specifically as it results in many religious movements of the 17th – 19th century. However, I think that if Knox were to read of the enthusiasm I speak of here, he would not object. However, if he were to object, then I believe I would have to contradict his rejection of enthusiasm as anti-incarnational.
in Christ through Mary