The Rule of St Benedict begins with a call to listen. That’s why the Church gives us this reading from the Book of Proverbs as a reading for the Feast. The author of the Book of Proverbs says to us, “Turn your ear to Wisdom and apply your heart to the truth.” This is echoed by St Benedict when he tells all the sons of the Order: “Listen, carefully, my son, to the Master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”
Benedict also tells them to listen to the youngest; to listen to the youngest of the community because they may have something to say which hasn’t occurred to anyone else. Many of you will have had the experience in your youth work of having learnt something significant from the young. As you take stock of the year, it might be good to ask yourself, “What’s the most striking thing a young person has said to me this year?” Recapture it; savour it; store it.
Doubtless you’ll be asking yourself other questions at this time. It’s good, at the end of any year in community, to ask yourself what’s the most important thing I learnt about myself this year? I find impressive what Jean Vanier writes about community. He suggests two important questions you should ask yourself periodically in community are the questions, “Do I feel at home here?” and “Am I growing?” And, if the answer to either is negative, then seek out a wise person to discuss it with.
Asking such questions is itself a form of listening; it’s about attending to what’s going in deep within you; attending to your deepest desires. When Jesus said to us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be”, he was meaning: listen to your deepest desires; and it will tell you a great deal about who you are. It will tell you who you desire to be; who the Lord is calling you to be.
But be gentle with yourself too: even if you are getting a sense of who the Lord desires you to be, you may know yourself to be a long way off. What matters is that you’re trying, that you’re really trying to get there. You’re bound to feel there’ve been some real successes but also some real disappointments this year. It’s the nature of youth ministry; it’s what it costs when you take the risk to give of yourself.
The importance of trying is graphically expressed this very fortnight, every Wimbledon fortnight, above the entrance to Centre Court, Wimbledon. You possibly know that, emblazoned above the doors through which the players pass onto Centre Court, are words by Rudyard Kipling from his poem “If”: “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.”
And it trails off, because the meaning is obvious: what matters is that you tried. And I say the same to you, at the end of this year’s journey: what matters is that you tried. What matters is not what you achieved but that you tried. And I’m confident the Lord says the same to you too.