By William Manaker, SJ
Each day at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis the whole school pauses for five minutes before the last class period to make a brief Examen. One day recently, as I sat with a class of freshmen, I began to look around the room at the young men seated there, most of whom had their eyes closed or their heads on their desks. One by one, I said a prayer for them all, taking a moment to contemplate each individual. It was a graced moment, and I found myself filled with consolation and strength as we began class for the day.
The third Universal Apostolic Preference invites us “to accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.” As I contemplate the faces of the young people in my life, they naturally stand as signs of hope. I see their energy and resiliency, their plans and desires for the future and their willingness to learn. How often have I been amazed at how a student, after a challenging conversation about discipline or schoolwork, will still greet me with energy the next day!
In ministering to the young people in my life, a key dimension of my task is to guard and nourish their hopes. There are many forces that would rob them of their hope, such as anxiety, scandal and tragedy. This past fall, our De Smet community tragically lost a student in an auto accident, and I witnessed firsthand the struggle of many of my students—his friends and peers—to understand and process what had happened. To accompany those young men at that moment, I knew that I needed to pray, to offer a compassionate listening ear, and ultimately to point to Christ, who Pope Francis calls “our great light of hope and our guide in the night” (Christus vivit, 33).
It is in looking to Christ that I find the key to this third Apostolic Preference. Jesus himself shows us the model of what youthfulness can be (cf. Christus vivit 22-33), and in contemplating the faces of the young people I serve with the eyes of faith, I can see Jesus’ presence within each of them. I know that Jesus looks at each one of them with eyes of love and compassion, and he invites me to do the same. I pray that Jesus will grant me the grace to help them realize the hopes and plans that he has for each of their lives.
This Lent, I invite you to call to mind the faces of the young people in your life and offer a prayer for them. Consider how you can safeguard their youthful enthusiasm and nurture their dreams. Ask God how you can best be a welcoming and accepting presence in their lives.
— William Manaker, SJ, is a regent at De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis. Watch his video on the third Universal Apostolic Preference on YouTube.