Australian Bishops have designated this year to be a national Year of Youth. It is vital that the Catholic Church continues to engage with young people and create a place of safety and welcome for them. It is also important to ask young people about what they think and feel on their faith journey within the Church. By better understanding the minds, hearts, concerns, and hopes of the young, they can be nurtured along to carry the flame of Christ into the future. Guided in the way of peace and truth by their older companions in the Church, and mindful of the need to abide by the eternal unchangeable teachings of Christ, the young must be willing to look to their Creator without fear.
While I think it is important to have such time to focus on certain groups and themes in the form of these ‘Year ofs’, today I offer you an alternative view for consideration and reflection.
In truth, I personally prefer impartiality. I believe that we should all celebrate a ‘Year of You’ in our common faith journey with God.
In my utopian world, the ‘Year of You’ – which would actually last a lifetime – would have us focus on all members of the Church in every state and phase of life, be they young, old, single, married, religious, or discerning their vocation and place in God’s world. Every person in the Church would feel valued, welcome, and have a place or purpose. Everyone would see that their presence and contributions are not taken for granted, especially if they are ‘the same regular parishioners’.
The elderly and long-term committed members of the Church voluntarily give so much of their time, hard work, and energy to support their faith communities, the liturgies, priests and religious, and the Sacraments, year after year. You are the ones who hold up the Church on earth! Imagine if you all vanished tomorrow – truly your wisdom and service would leave a gaping hole in the Church family! ‘No one is indispensable’ is a common catch cry, but people are not a throwaway commodity – they are children of God and everyone has something to contribute. Look at what God achieved through Moses (Deuteronomy 34:7), Sarah and Abraham (Romans 4:18-20), and Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25). They were considered to be near death – done and dusted!
The input, time, and presence of single people in the Church must also be appreciated. Singles are not going to Mass to find a husband or wife (and should not be). Their close connection is to the Lord who was single all of His life. Singlehood can be a deliberately chosen vocation or it may just be how a person is; it is not a temporary affliction which must be cured or fixed up before it is ‘too late’. Single girls and ladies can be role models for the Church, taking Mary and the many female saints as their guide. Single boys and men can do likewise, looking to Jesus and the male saints as their template.
There are so many other ‘categories’ of often forgotten people who also need acknowledgement, understanding, and focus time in our church communities: people living with disabilities; people dedicated to living pure and chaste lives (be they religious or lay); husbands and wives without children; the homeless; the unemployed, etc.
The ‘Year of You’ dream is this: that no one should be isolated or pushed aside. Every person needs to feel and know that they are an important part of the body of Christ that is the Church community.
The ‘Year of You’ is made up of every day of our lives spent together as one people in the Lord. Our sole focus should be to operate as the body of Christ on earth: people working in unity regardless of age, stage of life, or circumstance, as long as they are living holy lives in accordance with the teachings of Christ through the Catholic Church. I cannot put it better than in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (bold emphasis is mine):
The body is a unit, though it is comprised of many parts. And although its parts are many, they all form one body. So it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink.
For the body does not consist of one part, but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we consider less honorable, we treat with greater honor. And our unpresentable parts are treated with special modesty, whereas our presentable parts have no such need.
But God has composed the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Did you get that? If you are elderly, if you are weak, if you are single, if you feel unimportant or too small or humble, listen up! Every member of the body is important, and it is often the smallest parts that are absolutely critical for the good of the entire body. So it is with the Church.
YOU are an important component in the body of Christ. What part you play and how you dwell with God in the life of the Church matters. If you are active, great. If you are quietly in the pews focused on Christ in your heart and in the Sacraments, great. If you are old, great. If you are young, great. If you are single or married, great. If you have been a regular server at Mass for many years, great. If you are a new member, great. If you have returned to the Catholic Church, great. If you are suffering in some way and are just holding on by your fingernails but continue to go to church and receive the Sacraments, great.
God knows you. He puts no limits on you. He only asks (through your free will) that you choose Him. He asks that you abandon sin and give your unwavering love and devotion to Christ and His teachings through the magisterium of the Church.
As long as we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28) we are capable – including those who are not physically abled. Is your heart beating? Then you have possibilities. People in the Church do not have an expiry date – as long as your mind, soul, attitude, and actions are in the right place. You were created to be valued and loved in Christ’s Church whether you are eight or ninety-eight.
So make this very moment a ‘Year of You’ – you and your faith, you and your church community, you in connection with the wider universal Catholic family, you and your God.