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Priests Can Be Youthful at Any Age

By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

Although the average age of U.S. priests hovers around 60, the priesthood has an excellent opportunity right now to display it youthfulness.

Youthfulness, the renowned theologian Father Yves Congar told us, is "marked first of all by the spirit of adventure, of joy, by a kind of impetuosity, easily aroused enthusiasm, a carefree confidence and an exuberance that seems to indicate inexhaustible strength."

Why should the priesthood be enthusiastic or display carefree confidence? Because of what it is. True, it is not exempt from scandals. Truer than this, however, is the fact that priests are men of God, men of experience with the Holy Spirit and men of eternity.

Catholics, and for that matter all who comprehend history, know that those in responsible positions in life are not exempt from temptation. They also understand that as Christ had his Judas, so too does the church include some who misrepresent the priesthood.

Despite the church's failings, Catholic still desire someone who can respond to their yearning for God. For them, this person is a priest who reassures them that comprehending God is not only possible, but a holy duty. Interestingly, in their quest to know God they do not hunger for a particular priest, but for the spirituality the priesthood represents.

The heart of priestly youthfulness is derived from the faithful who live in complex times. It is an age in which public role models of honesty are few, time to cultivate love between spouses is sparse and knowing what is right or wrong in the marketplace is confusing.

People know that they need more time for contemplation, but don't know where or how to find it. They fear becoming matter-of-fact about issues that disturb their conscience. They see young friends struck by life-threatening illnesses. They watch the daily news and are apprehensive that the violence reported will hit their neighborhood. And they wonder why a good God allows this.

Underneath the questions is the desperate hope that in knowing God better they will understand good and evil, life and death.

Most of the schooling they received did not prepare them to know God. Rather it equipped them for the marketplace. Never did they image that as they grew older and wiser in the ways of the world, a certain hunger for spirituality would begin to gnaw within them.

People need the priesthood more than ever.

As crippled as the priesthood and church may seem, society is calling for priests to maintain their youthfulness. For it is in great need of experiencing the joy of finding God, the strength this creates and the exuberance it inspires.

When a deeply felt need like this is experienced, it is ironic how much new enthusiasm and strength can be generated within priests to meet it. Suddenly pains and aches disappear, and we are filled with an adventuresome spirit. With this comes a carefree confidence, and we feel young again despite our age.

It goes without saying, everyone cherishes a youthful spirit, especially when it is a youthful priestly spirit.