During this Holy Year of Mercy I have had the privilege of working with a number of different groups of young people in a number of different settings. Firstly as a School Chaplain in an 11-18 school, secondly with my IMPACT! (YCW) youth group in a parish setting, and finally in my new appointment as a Sixth Form College Chaplain.
My first understanding of my role and mission, as school/college chaplain and youth minister during this Year of Mercy was to make as many young people aware of this year and its theme as I could, to teach them about mercy and to inspire them to have mercy at the forefront of their minds –
hopefully creating a merciful generation among those I minister to, and giving them the opportunity to be transformed and inspired by God’s great mercy.
However, this did not go to plan.
In the run up to this Holy Year I planned launch events, the use of a number of resources to use throughout the year, retreat days, interfaith workshops on the theme of mercy and even built a Door of Mercy! In truth all this planning and organising was only for my benefit.
I delivered assemblies and retreat days, services and workshops and was quickly reminded how merciful this generation of young people already are, reminded how much knowledge they have on the idea of mercy and reminded, in fact told, that all they wished, longed and were striving for, was a merciful world for them and for the future generations to grow up in.
I was shocked and I remember sitting in my office after my first set of assemblies and retreat days ashamed at how much I had underestimated the young people I had worked with for a good few years. This is when my Year of Mercy began.
I changed my tack and in fact put myself at the centre and at the mercy of the young people. Instead of leading these days of reflection I had planned, I left it up to them. I gave them activities that would teach me what it means to be merciful, a chance for them to tell me how they put love into action.
The beauty of my job, as a chaplain and youth minister, is that I am inspired everyday by something said or done by a young person or staff member within the setting I am working in. I never expected to have such a personally transformative Year of Mercy.
I thought it was my job to enable the young people to be transformed by God’s mercy, but actually they enabled me to be completely transformed by God’s powerful and immeasurable mercy.
I learnt a lot more about mercy than the young people did. Their natural understanding of mercy, their “but it just makes sense” attitude to it, filled my heart with joy and total admiration. Their natural capability and natural merciful response to situations was something I had taken for granted. They felt they had a duty to be merciful to help others, they certainly felt called to mercy even before this Year of Mercy began.
Young people receive a horrendous amount of negative press. The media constantly reports on the bad actions of a few young people, tarnishing all with the same “antisocial behaviour” brush. If you take one thing from reading this I hope that it inspires you to look at young people in a different light.
When you see a group standing at the bus stop, laughing and joking, maybe being a little louder than you’d appreciate, please don’t jump to the conclusion that they are out to cause trouble. In my experience we have so much to learn from young people and they have to be our inspiration. After all Jesus said:
I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18: 3)
I would like to finish on a comment made by one of my students:
Being unmerciful is something we learn, a learnt behaviour. We are brainwashed to be unmerciful and to hate others and to not want to help others, to be selfish. Showing mercy to others, being merciful, is the natural thing to do.
It just makes sense to be merciful. Acting unmercifully is irrational, and doesn’t make sense.
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