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The Sacramental Appeal of Youth

by Michael Healy

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At some wonderful moment each spring a plant bursts into colorful, fragrant bloom. Flowers and leaves are so new they look clean, smell pure – without the inevitable wear and corruption of time. Each unique blossom contributes to the larger, progressive pattern of spring.

When we see this annual renewal of the earth, we can feel that all things are new. The manifestation of spring in the bright azaleas, cherry blossoms, flowering dogwoods, delicate lilacs – in all of nature – becomes a sign of renewed life, of reaffirmed life and hope.

Youth strikes us the same way. In our separate lives it is a sudden, gentle, splendid blossoming. Although it can feel awkward, it also inspires those who see its beauty, strength, and spirit. Ultimately this vision of youth reaffirms the resilience of life itself.

Youth wears many faces: eager student, committed soldier, inspired artisan, unemployed worker, struggling refugee, hopeful parent, dedicated apprentice – yet always a vulnerable survivor. Man-child or woman-child, each of them is an innocent coming into power in an all too imperfect world.

Although these blossoms still remain vulnerable to thoughtless pluckings and withering frost, they radiate potential. Youth is the not-yet time of life, with an innocent beauty and a raw power. Its time, however awkward, is full of grace. For each youth bloom clings precariously to vine before giving way to the fruit of adulthood.

A common element unites their singular lives in our imagination. Though a fleeting experience, youth’s image endures across time and cultures with a universal appeal. It captures an ideal which every one of us imagines ourselves to be: attractive, healthy, full of energy and spirit, receptive, dynamic, and sociable. Therein lies an ever-fresh appeal, full of promise not yet disappointed or bounded.

Youth’s image includes beauty, strength, and enthusiasm. Its innocent beauty is uncorrupted by the weight and lines of adulthood. Its budding strength transforms raw power into graceful expression and control. Youth’s characteristic enthusiasm thrives on challenges. Its spirit not only endures but prevails over the inevitable pains of life. Youth’s collective enthusiasm joins together in a communal celebration of life.

This image of youth is not a recent creation. Ageless perspectives have admired youth’s qualities. Ancient civilizations – Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Indian – recognized the special appeal of youth. They celebrated it in their sculpture, frescoes, mosaics, and other art forms. This art helps us make sense of the world we see. The appeal of youth is so instinctive in humans that all cultures also interpret it in mythic stories. Myths help us make sense of the life we experience.

Art and myths keep their power through the centuries because they use external signs to show life’s deeper truths. The image of youth is especially rich as a symbol. Rather than using it as a model to be imitated, we need to approach youth as a sign which tells us something about ourselves.

Although beauty fades, strength withers, and enthusiasm flags, they endure as timeless ideals of the human spirit. These images of youth also symbolize qualities potentially within each of us.

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Tags: Children Reflections/Inspirational