Fr. Vladimir Felzmann was once talking to me about change – and like most of Father Vlad’s talks it was poignant, brief and enlightening. He said that if you want to stay the same, you have to change. He gave the example of Saint Francis and the monks that he had with him. Saint Francis wore a sackcloth habit – why did he wear one? Well, it was what the poorest of the poor in his time wore. He wasn’t trying to look different; he wasn’t making a statement about clothes – he was showing solidarity with the poor and wearing what they wore.
Franciscans today wear habits – and sackcloth is not quite so easy to get hold of. It’s a bit more expensive, and it isn’t what anyone besides religious wear. So they have changed. They changed by not changing.
I use this now as an example of the constant need to reach for the heart of what we believe; and why we can be a changing Church with unchanging values – how the face of Christ shifts with the ages, but the heart of Christ remains the same. Just as any person looks different as a child and as an adult; so the Church has changed and grown in outward appearance through the ages. Franciscans wear sackcloth and that’s good and noble because it still has that element of radical poverty attached to it – but I don’t believe it’s the same statement that Saint Francis made.
What do we need to change in our lives and our times to fit with the young people? What do we need to adapt to; adopt and deliver? It’s important to recognise that there are so many elements of youth culture that are positive and wholesome as well as things that are toxic and detrimental. How do we want to be that positive change in our young people?