Let me begin by wishing a Blessed New Year to all who are reading this column and to all those you cherish. The start of a new year reminds us that our lives are made of days and nights, of seasons and years. We mark ends and we make beginnings and, in all, we praise God for the grace and mercy that fill our days. I trust that the months ahead will be filled with the bright hope the presence of Christ brings to all of us.
Each year shortly before Christmas the Holy Father receives in audience members of the Roman Curia for an exchange of Christmas greetings. On that occasion, he also speaks about the situation in the world and certain events of the past year. This year he mentioned that the key theme of this past year and the years ahead, is the need to make our faith a living force in our world. Our Holy Father noted specifically the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid and the “new evangelization” that he observed during his time there. As I read his remarks I was reminded of a question that Pope Benedict addressed to the Bishops of New York State when we met with him in our Ad Limina visit. He asked us: “Are the young people in your Dioceses open to the faith?”
I have reflected on that question often since our November meeting. As I write this column I am reminded of the many ways in the past few months that I have seen an openness to the faith on the part of many young people. And I know during the months ahead there will be more opportunities for this faith to be put into practice. Let’s take a look at some ways our youth have demonstrated their openness to Christ.
Three buses of our young people went to Indianapolis in November to participate in the National Catholic Youth Convention. There they joined young people from throughout the United States to deepen their commitment to the faith that will sustain them on the journey of life. I was reminded also of the prayer vigil at St. Joseph’s in Camillus during the wake for Father Gregory LeStrange. Over 200 young people paid an emotional tribute to a much loved priest. During the past few weeks, I have witnessed young people in our Catholic schools and parish faith formation programs reaching out to help the needy during the Christmas season. I know this generosity will extend throughout the year in many ordinary and extraordinary acts of kindness and service. During the Christmas break, more than 1,000 young people and their families gathered to support the vocation promotion efforts of our priests and seminarians at the annual Men in Black basketball games.
I am looking forward to participating with the young people of our diocese in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. during the weekend of Jan. 21-23. Eight buses, six of which will be filled with our young people, will be going to Washington. Over 300 of our diocesan youth will witness to their belief in the sacredness of every human life!
This month we also observe National Vocation Awareness Week, which is celebrated around the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and reminds all of us, especially our youth, that we each have a vocation in the Church — as dedicated members of the laity or in the consecrated life or priesthood. Towards the end of the month, we will celebrate Catholic Schools Week — a further sign of the dedication not only of our parents but also of our young people who are coming to know Jesus better.
When the Holy Father spoke to the Roman Curia he referred to the wonderful experience of the World Youth Day in Madrid. He talked about “a new youthful form of Christianity” and the “new evangelization put into practice.” He described this experience under five headings.
1. A new experience of the Church’s universality: Although the young people came from every continent, had never met one another, spoke different languages and came from diverse cultural backgrounds, they were all moved by the one Lord Jesus Christ. “In this setting, to say that all humanity are brothers and sisters is not merely an idea: it becomes a real shared experience generating joy.”
2. A new way of living our humanity: Pope Benedict noted one of his most important experiences in Madrid was meeting with the volunteers, nearly 20,000 young people, who devoted weeks and months to the preparations for World Youth Day. “Those who give their time always give a part of their lives.” They were concerned not only about themselves but also about others. “These young people did good, even at a cost, even if it demanded sacrifice, simply because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others.”
3. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament: Thousands of young people, in the midst of a thunderstorm which almost ruined the night vigil, responded in eloquent silence to the Lord’s sacramental presence. “The risen Lord enters into our midst. And then we can do no other than say, with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God! Adoration is primarily an active faith. … God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if he is present, then I bow down before him.”
4. The sacrament of Confession: Increasingly the sacrament of Confession is coming to be seen as an integral part of the World Youth Day experience. “… in consequence of our sinful history is a tendency that is opposed to love — the tendency towards selfishness, towards becoming closed in on oneself, in fact towards evil. … Therefore we need the humility that constantly asks for God’s forgiveness, that seeks purification and awakens in us … the positive force of the Creator, to draw us upwards.”
5. Joy: This feature of World Youth Day should not be overlooked. “Where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly there are many factors at work here. But in my view the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved.” We need the other’s presence, telling us “with more than words: it is good that you exist.” Only faith gives us this conviction. And with this conviction comes joy.
It is fitting that we reflect on the Holy Father’s question: “Are the young people in your Dioceses open to the faith?” in the days following the Christmas season. The message of the Angel awakening warm sentiments of hope and love, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy … a Savior has been born for you, who is Messiah and Lord,” (Luke 2:1-11) is the good news that our youth and indeed all of us must be open to and proclaim in our day, in our time, in this new year.
We have numerous opportunities to make the faith a living force or as our Holy Father noted to offer “a remedy against faith fatigue.” What can you do to contribute to this new evangelization during the coming year?
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.