An Encouraging Word — Practice ‘youthfulness of spirit’

Father J. Ronald Knott

Let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Ecclesiastes 11:9

Fr. Ron Knott.RGBa.2012One of my favorite phrases from Pope John Paul II is “youthfulness of spirit.” He said, “ ‘Youthfulness of spirit’ … cannot be imposed from without. … Only those who keep ever alive their desire to learn and grow can be said to enjoy this ‘youthfulness.’ ”

This is an ideal near and dear to my heart. I have been deliberately pushing myself toward this ideal throughout my priestly life. I was reminded of this fact recently when I read about the monks of Taize welcoming 40,000 young adults to Rome for a retreat to usher in the new year.

From 1971-1976, I participated in five week-long retreats at their monastery on the tiny hilltop village of Taize in the south of France. Back then, they were welcoming an astounding 3,500 young adults like myself from 70 countries each week of the summer. Sleeping in tents, rain or shine, it was a little like a religious “Woodstock.”

The community was founded by Brother Roger, a Swiss Protestant, in 1940 as the world’s first ecumenical monastery. After World War II, his vision was for a monastery to be a place of welcome and reconciliation, especially between Christians of different denominations. The community now has about 100 monks from 25 countries; about half are Catholic and half are Protestant.

One of their unique habits is not sharing communion as a matter of policy. They believe that we will never resolve our real differences unless we “feel the pain” of not sharing communion. Protestant monks attend their Catholic Masses, but do not receive communion, while Catholic monks attend Protestant services without receiving communion.

Sadly, Brother Roger was gruesomely murdered right there in the church where we used to pray. A demented Romanian woman came up from behind him as he was kneeling and stabbed him several times. Having seen him many times, kneeling in the middle of a huge crowd of students, I can see it vividly in my mind. In spite of this tragedy, young people still go there in great numbers.

“Youthfulness of spirit” drove me to Taize. It was not like me to go on such adventures at that point in my life. With only a three-line announcement cut out from a newspaper, I landed in Paris in the summer of 1971 — without maps or reservations and with very little money in my pockets.

I had only done one other such thing, two years earlier. Again, with only an announcement cut out of some paper, I went to be a campground minister in Carter Lake National Park in Oregon, as the first Catholic, for the United Church of Christ’s Christian Ministry in the National Parks program. On a dare, I even drove home in a 1951 Buick that someone gave me.

I still try to practice “youthfulness of spirit” and I like to hang out with other old people who do the same.

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