Homily: Fourth Sunday of LentBy: Bishop Edward M. Rice West Plains MO
Sunday morning homily
Diocesan Youth Conference, West Plains, MO, March 26, 2017
Awhile back, someone sent me an article about “youth ministry.” It was written by a young woman, now married, who was reflecting back on the experience of her high school youth group. It wasn’t good.
She admits now that she attended youth group for all the wrong reasons. Why? In her own words, “I was really involved as a teen because ding, ding, ding, the boy I liked was a youth group regular, as was his popular older brother. So I went religiously.” She went on to say “Every pizza social, every lock-in, and every service project. I was your girl. I played all the games … drank all the root beer floats … My memory is of 99% fluff and maybe 1 % content. I think we went into the church itself to listen to praise and worship once … while we sat in a semicircle around the altar.”
“My faithful attendance every Sunday night at 7 p.m. did not ensure a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. I did not learn how to pray. I did not prepare adequately to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I did not make good confessions. It did not communicate a single meaningful thing to me about the faith.”
Now the amazing thing is that she is still in the Church, and active in the Church. Why? How? Because someone became a mentor to her, someone invested in her and believed that she deserved to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. And I say the same thing to each and every one of you: You are worth it, I believe you deserve to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church.
It won’t be through this conference, though it can help. It won’t be through a pizza party, although I love pizza. It won’t be through silly games, watered down teachings, and dumb activities. You deserve more, you deserve better. You deserve the fullness of the faith!
So I wrote to our youth ministers, many of them here today, to ask what we should be doing for our youth. They said things like this; “Kids are looking for a real encounter with Christ … the more we treat them like adults, the better. Our youth love Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They do not want to have pizza parties and watch movies; they are eager to do what Christ has called us to do.” “This youth group business is not about glorifying the youth but glorifying God.” “The ultimate goal has to be to aid youth to grow in holiness.” “Chastity is important to the girls; boys need to learn how to be men.”
Pope Francis, in his letter to the Church, “The Joy of the Gospel,” tells us in the very first sentence, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of those who have encountered Jesus.” If you have not encountered Jesus, none of this makes sense. If you do not know Jesus as living among us, as living with us, as living with you personally, this is just a nice get-away weekend. How do we have this encounter? We have the answer—the Sacraments—the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of Jesus. That is enough for us. We have been baptized into the very life of Jesus. We have the answer—Reconciliation. When we go to confession, it is Jesus who forgives our sins. We have the answer—it is the Eucharist, the Mass. Our teachings tell us that when we gather for Mass we are at the foot of Calvary. When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion it is His body and blood, His soul and divinity. That is enough for us. Is there anything greater? Even with poor preaching and stale music, it is still the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. It is one thing to “know” that teaching. It is another thing to “believe” the teaching and allow it to transform my thoughts, my words, and my actions.
We have the answer—it is Christ Crucified.
We have the answer – it is Adoration, bringing our youth to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
We have the answer—challenging our youth to be holy, to be pure and reject the “cheap and easy.”
We have the answer—it is the call to be saints in today’s world.
We need saints. We need saints who wear jeans and go to movies. We need saints who put God in first place. We need saints who have time everyday to pray and who know how to date with purity and chastity. We need modern saints, Saints of the 21st century, saints of our time, committed to the poor, who live in the world and are sanctified in the world, who are not afraid to live in the world. We need saints who passionately love the Eucharist, saints who are social, open, normal, friendly, happy. Saints who are in the world and know how to taste the pure and nice things of the world but who aren’t of the world.
The Gospel for this Fourth Sunday of Lent is of the man born blind. Maybe for the past few decades we have been blind to what our youth really need. And if that is the case, now is the time for me and for our youth ministers, for all of us, to ask the Lord to remove our blindness so that we can see and come to realize what we need has been with us all along. The answer is Jesus.