"Young Man, I tell you, Arise!"
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
"The only son of a widow had died and his body was being carried out for burial. When the Lord saw her, he felt sorry for her and said, 'Don't cry'. Then he touched the coffin and said, 'Young man, get up'. The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him back to his mother" (Lk 7:13-15).
This Gospel narrative is not just a once for all episode of past history, but is meant to be the ongoing experience for all periods, for man has been and will be confronted with 'deaths' of varied hues. But God is always moved with compassion by our sufferings and wants to wipe away our tears (Eucharistic Canon I). Even more he desires to heal our wounds, spiritual, emotional and physical, raising us from every type of 'death', and giving us a new 'birth', restoring and renewing our life at all levels (Preface of the Dead III).
It was understandable to see the long never ending lines or queues for sacramental confession and personal counseling of the rank and file youth that came for the National Youth Convention at Ooty, South India, in December 1996 - so urgent was their need of spiritual and inner (or emotional) healing. But it was a great surprise to realize that the youth leaders themselves of the Torchbearers for Christ of Bombay, who had come for a leadership retreat, were also in great need of even a basic inner healing of personal problems, which had not yet been adequately dealt with. The Inner Healing retreats for youth given in various countries and Personal Counseling of individual youth everywhere have revealed the main and basic areas of life where teenagers and youth encounter the most serious hurts and in which they need the most urgent healing - as the following typical incident would indicate.
It was a most unusual sight during counseling time at a Parish Lenten Mission in Goa. Three women leaders of the Renewal were all of a sudden dragging into the counseling room a teenager, who was screaming, 'Let me go', and, on my asking, 'Where?', shouting, 'I want to go there'. I was told that she was pointing in the direction of the Church cemetery, where the ladies, on their way to the Church, happened to see this girl about to cut the veins of her wrist with a blade. They caught her just in time and brought her here. I held her firmly by the hand as she struggled to get away and managed after much persuasion to get her to gradually unfold the whole story behind her attempted suicide - the usual story of a terrible hurt, which could give rise to either an intolerable sadness that could end in suicide or a livid anger that could end up in murder, or even both, as in the case of terrorists, like the suicide bombers.
She had failed in Std. VIII two years ago; had repeated the class and failed again; had just appeared for the final exams a third time - and knew that she would fail once more. A scholastic failure can be a terrible blow to a student who is serious and hardworking, especially when she hopes and expects to pass. This may lead her to commit suicide, but it will lead her to do so, if she is also unreasonably blamed for not having put in enough effort, or if it has been dinned into her that she has let down the family - as happened in this case. Her elder brother, who was a father figure to her, had warned her that, if she were to fail a third time, he wouldn't want to see her face any more - and she could very well go and kill herself. To be an unexpected failure is shocking enough. But then to be shunned and spurned by those from you expect sympathy and support is still worse.
What could I do, besides moralizing and dishing out the usual platitudes? Suddenly I felt inspired to point out to her that passing Std. VIII was not the most important thing in life - and that she was going to fail, but that since God always turns everything to the good of everyone who loves him, having a purpose in every predicament, and transforming every burden into a blessing, we should therefore together praise God - for her failure (Rom 8:28). Obviously she could not and would not do this at first; but when I made her realize that what I had said did not just come out of the compassionate heart of a priest but was with the authoritative word of an educationist, she began to praise God sincerely and joyfully.
I waited for her to leave when it was all over, but she seemed rooted to her chair. I then asked her to do so. She got up from the chair - but remained standing. I told her once more that she could and should leave now, but she uttered not a word. I asked her with some impatience what more did she want. With downcast eyes she only said softly, 'I want to cry.' Somewhat relieved I replied, 'Go ahead and cry.' She almost collapsed on my knees as she cried out all her pain, loud and unabashed - and then cried forth tears of joy (Heb 5:7).
That same evening she had the courage to give her testimony publicly at the closing of the Mission on the Church Grounds. Firstly, as she was being prayed over that morning, it struck her forcefully that she had broken the first commandment in having accompanied her mother to very many witch doctors and several places of worship to be helped to pass her exams. She repented, and renounced all this. Secondly, while she was crying, all the bitterness towards her brother disappeared and she was filled with a great forgiving love for him. Finally, she also added, to my surprise, that, when she drank the blessed water that was given to her, it tasted very bitter at first and she wanted to throw it away, but, as she continued drinking, it became extremely sweet. She could then make the hymn, sung during the healing service that evening, her own prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Living waters flow on,
Sweep away my pain,
Bring your healing to my heart,
Let me love once again!
To bring therefore healing, liberation and new life to our youth, we need to emulate and adopt the approach of Jesus himself. When he saw the large crowd, who had come running from every town to meet him, he felt sorry for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:31-34). What then did he do? Even though they had disturbed him and his apostles, who had wanted to be alone by themselves and have a hard-earned rest, he first made them welcome with kindness - a kindness that drew people to pour out their hearts to him. Even today we have seen how the youth especially are waiting to meet someone to whom they could unburden themselves, some one who will listen to them in absolute confidence and without the slightest condemnation.
For even right from their childhood, many of our youth often feel not loved and appreciated, and perhaps even rejected and discarded by their own: e.g., an alcoholic and violent, an irresponsible or insensitive father - and left alone with their hurts. As they grow into boyhood or girlhood, they may develop, because of unexpected failures and unwarranted comparisons, a feeling of inferiority and anxiety. And finally as they enter adolescence and youth, they can be overpowered by a fear of not being recognized, because of a lack of achievement and fulfillment. In their yearning for acceptance and belonging, they may hunger for pleasure and possessions, for power and popularity, thus exposing them to peer pressure from the wrong friends, especially where there is no family life with Christian values.
Secondly, we need to speak God's Word to them as Jesus did, namely, to tell them of God's unconditional love for them and his unquestionable provision for their salvation and well being; not giving them ready made, man made, solutions, but relying on the Holy Spirit who will tell us what to say to them and how to say it. For example: Even though Jesus himself was not welcome by his own people, thought crazy by his family, suspected by his apostles, deserted by all his disciples, disowned by one, betrayed by another, and finally felt abandoned even by his Father, - he could still say that he knows that his Father loves him (Jn 15:9,10), just as he wanted all to know that he in turn loves the Father (Jn 14:31), and that he has always loved his apostles to the very end (Jn 13:1). What more blessed assurance to give our youth than that Jesus loves them in spite of their sins? What more valuable mandate to give than to love one another in spite of their hurts? (Jn 13:34; 15:12).
And thirdly only then did Jesus reach out to heal them in their needs. We too need to pray for our youth, not a in a vague or stereotyped way, but relating to their specific needs (Lk 9:11). What God has done for his Son Jesus, Jesus in turn will do for them. Jesus nailed to the cross was for all the world to see a total failure; but God raised him high and gave him a name above every other (Phil 2:8,9). So too God will bless our youth with a future filled with hope - a future of success, not of suffering (Jer 29:11), having created them, dropouts and jobless though they be, in his own image, and ransomed them by the blood of his Son Jesus. 'Fear not', he reminds them, 'My power at work in you can do far more than you dare ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).
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