Last week I was invited to Phoenix to celebrate Mass for the annual LifeTeen Catholic youth ministers’ convention. When I stepped out of the airport it felt like opening the oven door when you take out a pizza. 101 degrees in the shade.
I was pleased we had over 30 youth ministers and priests from our Oakland diocese among the 800+ participants. We even had our own reception, and took the (in)famous photo that has inspired over 5,000 hits on our diocesan Facebook page.
You can check out the LifeTeen.com website to get an idea of how successful they are in bringing youth to Christ: edgy, yet solid.
In my homily I thought what could I say to folks who are more advanced than me in connecting with youth? I told them what I’ve seen:
- The young woman who came up to me in an airport terminal and asked if she could go to confession right then and there.
- The UC-Berkeley students I’ve met on Sunday mornings at People’s Park in Berkeley who show up to help the Catholic Worker group serve breakfast to the homeless. Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and others with no religious affiliation, they all told me how much they like Pope Francis, and how good it felt to be there serving. At 7:30 in the morning. After a Saturday night. College kids.
- The UC-Berkeley rowing coach who is also a Jesuit seminarian. After getting ordained a priest last year he invited his Cal crew team to attend an Easter Mass he was celebrating at the Carmelite monastery in Canyon, near Moraga. The guys cleaned up and knelt during a Mass celebrated in Latin, accompanied by Gregorian chant sung by the nuns. More at home in a pub than a church, the young men came out of the chapel exclaiming “Wow!” and “That was awesome!” They had been transported to a place somewhere between heaven and earth, hitherto unknown to them.
- The group of 16-year-old high school boys my priest-brother and I took to Rome on a pilgrimage a few years ago. Dudes from Los Angeles. On the last night of our trip we gave the boys a choice: we could make a tour of the best gelaterie (ice cream shops) in the historic center of the city . . . or we could get in the long line to see the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux, then on display in a nearby church. They wanted to see St. Therese. In the hour we stood in line to get in, we told the guys the story of St. Therese, and how she wanted “to spend her heaven doing good on earth”. When we finally reached the large reliquary, I was not prepared for the emotion. Boys touched their rosaries to the saint. Some knelt and put their hands on the case. Others placed their foreheads on her reliquary, and stayed like that with their eyes closed. The toughest kid had tears.
Mercy and Mystery. When we make it possible for our youth to experience and participate in mercy, they experience Christ. The antiphon from the Divine Office this morning says: “Wherever you are, Lord, there is mercy.” When we celebrate Mass with reverence, devotion, and respect we make it possible for our youth to experience the Mystery of God. What does the priest say immediately following the consecration? “The Mystery of Faith.” As Pope Francis said recently in a homily: “The liturgy is to really enter into the mystery of God, to allow ourselves to be brought to the mystery and to be in the mystery. … We would do well today to ask the Lord to give to each of us this ‘sense of the sacred’.”
It is not just youth that need mercy and mystery. The whole world does. The Catholic Church and the Diocese of Oakland exist to be a vehicle of the mercy and mystery of Christ.
(Catholic Voice Column, 6.23.14)