- YOUNG MEN RISE UP (Foreword)
Foreword - Archbishop Mark Coleridge
The Second Vatican Council was the great surprise of the Holy Spirit in the last century. And since the Council there have been many surprises of the Spirit,. One of them is that young people are being called to lead in the Church in ways that none of us really saw coming. We have often heard it said that young people are the future of the Church, but the Holy Spirit seems to be saying that the young are the Church of now. Now is the time for them to act; now is the time for them to lead; now is the time for them to “rise up”, as Fr Ken Barker puts it here. Some might say that the young are not ready; and the young themselves might say that they aren’t ready. But it’s a bit like the prophet Jeremiah. When called by God, he said, “But I am too young”. To which God replied, “I know that you are young, but you’re still the one I have chosen, and I will equip you in ways that surprise you”. That’s what the same God is saying to young people now.
And he’s saying it to young men at a time when it can be challenging to be young and male, especially in a culture full of male stereotypes which are either ludicrous or pernicious. We hear lots of talk these days about the problems of boys’ education. Models of masculinity which were strong and universally accepted in the past are not as powerful as they once were. Often enough too, religion is looked upon as being women’s business, decidedly “uncool” for young men.
In such a situation, Fr Ken Barker has cast the net out into the deep in establishing the Young Men of God movement, and it’s from that experience that this book comes. It puts before us a model of masculinity which looks to Jesus Christ, and that is a model which may be traditional but which is also startlingly contemporary.
That is true of much of what Fr Barker presents here: it is both traditional and contemporary in a way the Church is surely called to be at this time. It can seem a little old-fashioned to speak as he does about the virtues. Yet it hits the nail on the head in this culture at this time. Even in academic philosophical circles, the discussion of virtue has made a comeback, but what is offered here is very far from academic. It is deeply personal and deeply spiritual.
In these pages, it is not only Fr Barker’s voice we hear. We also hear the stories of remarkable figures from the past, people like Damien of Molokai, Pier Giorgio Frassati and Miguel Pro. Then there are voices of young men of today who tell their story, and their testimony is powerful. Their stories are very personal, and yet they have a wider resonance and a capacity to speak in ways more than merely personal. They speak of the different ways in which they have heard the call to “rise up” and have responded to the call which they have recognised as coming from Christ himself. In telling their stories, the young men of this book become those in whom the call is passed on to others.
Here we find a chorus of voices, a community that speaks to the heart and soul. It speaks the word that Jesus spoke to the dead young man, his mother’s only son, being carried to his grave (cf. Luke 7:11-17). And that is the power of what is offered in this book. By the end, it is not so much the voice of Fr Barker that we hear nor the voices of the young men telling their stories. It is the voice of Christ himself, more powerful than the death that lurks within us and around us, a voice calling young men to see how much more is possible than they think and to enter that new world of possibility as they become the men which God has created them to be, alive to their masculinity as Christ was to his.