Thursday, July 16, 2009

Respond and Be Happy!

AEC Youth Assembly 2009

14 July, Kingston, Jamaica

“If you only knew what God is offering you” (John 4:10)

Evangelizing youth for a fuller life in Christ

What would you say the theme of the AEC Youth Assembly 2009 is all about? “If you only knew what God is offering you” (John 4:10) “If you only knew…” sounds almost pessimistic, but it would be a mistake to take John 4:10 that way, because it would be reading this passage out of context. The whole of John Chapter 4 is far from desperate or pessimistic; it is a real success story. Here in the Gospel Jesus is speaking to a complete stranger, the Samaritan woman, a woman who had come to draw water from Jacob’s Well and from whom He, Jesus, asked a drink. Jesus engaged her in conversation and lost no time in refreshing her not with well water but with the pure and sparkling water of the Truth. This woman and through her the people of that town were refreshed and changed by their encounter with God’s promised Messiah, Jesus the Anointed, the Chosen, the Christ.

The subtitle to the theme of this assembly reads: Evangelizing youth for a fuller life in Christ. What does that mean? In Catholic circles at least, I have to tell you that the word “evangelize” is generational and specialized vocabulary. It’s not a word commonly used by my mother’s generation and maybe not even by yours. Professional church folk use the word all the time. How do you evangelize somebody? I might rightly ask some of those here present if there is a Creole word for “to evangelize”. I am not rejecting the word “evangelize”, but I do wish to say that to my mind we’ll need to go easy with the emphasis on that big 5 syllable word “e-van-ge-liz-ing” and place our accent on the second part of the phrase: “for a fuller life in Christ”. This is what Mother Church wants for you; this is God’s Will, His plan for you: “a fuller life in Christ”. To explain what I mean by fuller, let me use a familiar example. Parents want the very best for their children. Future parents even dream about making life absolutely fantastic for their not yet born son or daughter. We want everything and to the full for those whom we love. There is nobody who wants that full better or more for their children than nurturing parents. It’s the same for the Church with regard to its children. The hope and the dream of the Church is that you, our sons and daughters through Baptism might have, might know “a fuller life in Christ”.

The Planning Committee asked me to present today a “Charge to the Youths”. I think “giving a charge” is the same as “assigning a task” while at the same time challenging you or motivating you to do something. To the extent that someone speaking to a large group can even do it, I would like above all else to empower you, to point you in a direction and give you a little push to start you on your way. I’d like to convince you that full, as in full of life and happiness, can be fuller if you are built on that solid rock which is Christ. There is and can be more to you and to your life if you are bound closely to Jesus.

We always know when a child is on the way to growing up; growing up is marked by some crisis or even crises of greater or smaller proportion. That moment of crisis comes already in our young lives when all of a sudden we become aware in grown-up fashion of what is going on around us; we become thankful for all that has been given to us. It is a moment of crisis in the sense that we feel as though our really being blessed or happy requires a response on our part; we have to do something in return for all the good which has been done to us. The problem is or the crisis is: what to do? I don’t know how old I was but I still clearly remember my moment of crisis as a young person, being struck by this new awareness one night after supper and feeling I just had to do something immediately for my parents in return for all they had done for me up until that point in my life. For lack of a better idea, I just went out into the kitchen and did the dishes. It may not have been a totally adequate way to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for all I had received up until that point in my life, but it was my moment of recognition toward all others for what they had done for me, even if at the time my reaction was a bit awkward and adolescent. “If you only knew what God is offering you” (John 4:10)… I have no way of knowing whether folks at home caught the meaning of my gesture of washing the supper dishes without being asked or ordered to, but it must have had some importance for them too. I say that because even now, if I try to beat Mom to the supper dishes, she won’t chase me out of the kitchen, but she won’t let me to do the dishes alone either.

Truth to be told: we’re always on the receiving end and thankfulness should be primary in our lives, but happiness is increased by our responding and doing something. Happiness is magnified when we become active, when we take life on for ourselves. We cannot live without goals that we act upon; real people do not live virtually; you cannot expect to live life to the full by wielding the TV remote or by mouse-click. We need to respond personally and as best we can; the words “anonymous” or “vicarious” have nothing to do with full or fuller. They do not and cannot satisfy.

“If you only knew what God is offering you” (John 4:10)! One time here in Kingston, riding in the car with Archbishop Reece, a young man came up to the car window at a stop light to ask for something and the Archbishop asked him what he wanted to be in life and he said a popular singer. He sang for us a little something which wasn’t bad but probably would never make it to anybody’s top ten hits list. I hope he has a “plan B” or has other things he’s striving for in life. I hope Jesus and life with Jesus is central to his plan. What does it mean to strive “for a fuller life in Christ”? If you don’t know, take advantage of this Youth Assembly to listen hard and don’t hesitate to ask for light in prayer and to ask persons who seem to know something to share with you the reason for their hope and happiness. Above all don’t limit yourself to seeking just entertainment or adventure in life! Choose life to the full in Christ and be really happy always!

Do you know enough about your faith? Do you know enough about Jesus, Who has loved you even unto death, death on a cross? Jesus invited the Samaritan woman to ask Him for living water; she did and He simply told her the truth about herself and about God. Chapter 4 of John’s Gospel goes on: “So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of the city and were coming to him… Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:28-30; 39-42) It is my hope that the AEC Youth Assembly 2009 might work for you as the encounter with Jesus did for the Samaritans. May this week be the push you need to make a real life choice and come to know the fullness of life in Christ!

If I look back on my youth and the people my same age I knew from childhood and grew up with, I’d have to say that to my knowledge there aren’t any women whom I went to school with who have become nuns, religious sisters. That is out of over a hundred girls in my high school class. In the past, that thought made me quite sad until I met a number of those women five years ago for the first time again and could see what great wives and mothers some of them had become. Three of my high school friends plus me out of 100 boys became priests. That is indeed something, but I have also had the honor of getting reacquainted with a number of the rest of those 100 boys who were with me in school and who are fine men, fathers and husbands, and now even grandfathers. Some of my class are not happy or were not happy: sadly enough I found one of those boys who had been in and out of jail, not a bad person at all, who had hung himself from the rafters in the janitor’s room of the same elementary school we had both attended. Choose life for yourself, life in Christ!

Be grateful for all you have received and seek to respond even if your response does not quite seem to measure up to what you have received. I am sure that here among you today there are potentially some very great, loving husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. I’d bet that if you took Him on, Jesus would probably call forth from this group some of the excellent religious women that our region so desperately needs for the future. I am fully confident that there are goodly young men among you who have a call from God to become priests. Respond now, without waiting another day! Don’t wait! Get to work studying Latin and philosophy, start now to build yourself up for the call to the priesthood which will come through the Church from your bishop! Respond! Don’t do nothing! Do something even if it might seem inadequate to you! Ask Jesus for living water, give Him your heart, soul, mind and strength, and be happy! “If you only knew what God is offering you” (John 4:10)!

Your life not only can but will be fuller in Christ if you answer His call and ask Him for the living water He is ready to give you. Pray about your future and open your heart to know what God wants for you! Use these days for a profitable exchange with others here in Kingston! Don’t sit back! If you decide to act, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!

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