From Youth’s Pathfinder, Rev. Fulgence Meyer, 1922
“Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the time of affliction come, and the years draw nigh of which thou shalt say: They please me not” (Eccl., 12, 1).
“I am young but once: hence I will make the most of it.” No proposition is more obvious than the one expressed in the first part of this sentence; and no resolution can be more warranted than the one contained in the second part. But there is a great divergence of opinion and practice regarding the manner of making the most of one’s youth.
The World’s Recipe
There are those who say: “Come, therefore, and let us enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine, and ointments: and let not the flower of the time pass by us. Let us crown ourselves with roses, before they be withered: let no meadow escape our riot. Let none of us go without his part in luxury: let us everywhere leave tokens of joy: for this is our portion, and this our lot” (Wisd., 2, 6-10).
Invariably, however, the same persons are soon forced to confess ruefully: “We fools have erred from the way of truth, and the light of justice hath not shined unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us. We wearied ourselves in the way of iniquity and destruction, and have walked through hard ways, but the way of the Lord we have not known. Being born we forthwith ceased to be: and have been able to show no mark of virtue: but are consumed in our wickedness” (ib., 5, passim).
The inspired writer, on the other hand, gives this recipe for the wise exploitation of youth: “Rejoice, therefore, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart be in that which is good in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thy eyes: and know that for all these God will bring thee into judgment” (Eccl., 11, 9).
If there is a period of life which particularly lends itself to happiness, optimism, and joy, it is the season of youth. But as there is, according to the common saying, but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous, so there seems to be, too, but one step from the highest joviality to the deepest gloom; from the finest optimism to the crassest pessimism; from the keenest desire to live forever to the haunting bent towards self-destruction.
An Epidemic of Suicides
Just now we appear to be having in our country an epidemic of suicides among young people of both sexes, of various classes and professions. It is an indication that not only they, but also many others like them, were and are very unhappy. And why should young people, in the most exhilarating and promising time of life, be such utter strangers to happiness?
God plainly gives the answer in these words of the Bible; “My people have done two evils. They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jer., 2, 13). In other words, these unfortunate young people have forgotten their Creator in the days of their youth.
The only way for young persons to be wholesomely, substantially and lastingly happy, is to reverse this process, and to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Then, whatever may befall them, their happiness will not suffer from it, grounded as it is upon God, Who is always the same in His love, goodness and bounty.
The days of affliction will come upon them also sooner or later, and the years will draw nigh of which they will say: They please me not. Yet they will be fortified against them in such a manner that the peace of their mind will not be diminished, and the joy of their heart will not be dampened.
Here we may paraphrase the words of St. Paul (Rom., 1, 17), and say: “The young person liveth by faith.” Faith in God will enable him or her to meet every difficulty victoriously, and to endure every test triumphantly.
The One Expert on Happiness
God is the only expert on human happiness and the manner of its acquisition. He made the human heart and gave it its irresistible craving for happiness. He alone knows how this craving can be satisfied.
From the method He has established there is no escape if one is going to achieve happiness at all. The one and exclusive way, therefore, for a young person to be happy is to follows God’s own prescription and remember the Creator in the days of youth.
Moreover, God wants what He wants. And He is not indefinite in telling what He wants. “My son,” He says, “honor the Lord with thy substance, and give Him of the first of all they fruits” (Prov., 3, 9).
If God wants the first fruits in other lines, He especially wants the first fruits of human life, namely the days of youth. He will allow no one to defraud Him of these with impunity. Whoever attempts it, pays dearly for it by the emptiness, anguish and misery of his life.
Solomon in His Youth
Perhaps no man in the history of mankind had greater opportunities to seek happiness in his youth, and no one sought happiness with more avidity and intensity in the things of this world, than Solomon, the king of Jerusalem.
He relates of himself: “I said in my heart: I will go, and abound with delights, and enjoy good things….I surpassed in riches all that were before me in Jerusalem….And whatsoever my eyes desired, I refused them not: and I withheld not my heart form enjoying every pleasure, and delighting itself in the things which I had prepared: and ….I saw in all things vanity, and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun” (Eccl., 2, 1 sqq.).
And after all his experiences this wisest of men ends by exhorting: “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is all man” (Eccl., 12, 13).
St. Augustine, one of the leading Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and one of the greatest thinkers of all times, is another striking witness to the inability of things created to give to the human heart the contentment it craves, and to the soul of man the happiness it wants.
As a young man, before his conversion to the faith, he had tried for over fifteen years to sate his hunger for joy and peace in the amusements of the world and pleasures of the flesh, in which he indulged without restraint. Far from rendering him happy, however, these worldly diversions and fleshly gratifications merely made him more miserable from day to day until under the impulse of grace he turned to God, in Whom he finally found all he was looking and yearning for.
And in the warmest gratitude and most blissful love he cried out: “Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord; and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee!”
Sacred and secular history of ancient and modern times are replete with instances of men and women in mature life deploring the follies and sins of their youth. You find no instance, however, of an elderly man or woman ruing the fact, that they spent their young years in virtue and goodness.
The Devil exults most when he can steal a man’s joy of spirit from him. He carries a powder with him to throw into any smallest possible chinks of our conscience, to soil the spotlessness of our mind and the purity of our life. But when spiritual joy fills our hearts, the Serpent pours out his deadly poison in vain. – St. Francis of Assisi
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