August 12 is International Youth Day and Eid al-adha (Isaac sacrifice feast)
At celebrations of International Youth Day, speakers usually make rousing tributes to the gifts and decency of young people.
They also express confidence that in their hands, the future of the world is secure. More rarely do they reflect on what kind of a world we are leaving to young people as foundations on which to build the future.
It is fortuitous that International Youth Day this year falls on the same day as Eid-al-adha, the Muslim feast that commemorates Abraham’s expedition to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command and God’s later instruction to substitute a lamb for the sacrifice. The Muslim feast commemorates a story included also in the Scriptures shared by Jews and Christians.
That fact might prompt us to recognise that the future of Australia lies specifically in the hands of Muslim young people as well as of others. It also invites us to see that the future of the world rests on the future of the Muslim youth threatened in war zones, locked up in detention centres and idle in refugee camps throughout the world. If young people are the future of the world, all young people demand respect, not just the fortunate or the favoured.
The conjunction of International Youth Day and Eid-al-adha also confronts us with a challenging question. Does our image of God encourage us to respect young people? The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of Abraham’s respect for God’s will, no matter what the cost. It is a story of dedication. But it also seems to represent a God who uses Isaac’s life as a pawn to test Abraham’s generosity.
Isaac’s life and death are put into play for reasons that have nothing to do with him. A God willing to make children instruments for other goals may seem to us uncomfortably similar to governments that leave children languish on Nauru or warehouse them on the Mexican border in order to proclaim the sovereign inviolability of borders.
That image of God sits uneasily with the Son of God who weeps with those who weep, and respects children sufficiently to refuse them to be made subservient to adult demands.
The recent Apostolic Preferences of the Jesuits make the needs of young people central to the imaginative world of Jesuits.
The naming of the Preferences followed a process of discernment in which Jesuits around the world were invited to pray and speak together about where they see the Society called to focus today. Young people were named as one of the rivers of the heart that flow into one another and carry people and ministries on them.
The Preference for young people invites us to care deeply about young people and draws us to see the world through their eyes.
It makes us want them to be respected, to find a deep meaning in their lives and to be able to contribute to society as welcomed members. In the Jesuit vision, where other Apostolic Preferences are for people who are disadvantaged and for the Spiritual Exercises, our hearts are naturally drawn to the most deprived and neglected of young people, among whom Jesuit Social Services works. They invite us to allow them to touch our hearts in our day to day work.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.