Friday, October 18, 2019

We Are on the Same Team

This guest post was written by Wynn Brown, a University of Notre Dame graduate and Young Life staff associate in South Bend, Ind.
Staff Associate Wynn Brown, left, and one of the high school students Wynn has befriended working for Young Life Michiana.

In the fall of 2015, I began college at the University of Notre Dame with some apprehension about Catholicism. Eighty percent of Notre Dame students identify as Catholic, but I was raised in an evangelical Protestant church. I knew little about the Catholic faith, and, I admit, what I had heard made me wonder if Catholics were “real” Christians. At a Young Life camp the summer before college, I found I thrived when I was surrounded by friends who shared my love of Jesus. So when I moved in at Notre Dame, I looked to Young Life for a Christian community of friends. Little did I know that I would befriend Catholic students who would change my definition of what constitutes “real” Christian faith. Little did I know that my Catholic theology courses would stretch and enrich my beliefs and lead me to earn a second degree in theology. I encountered many nominal Catholics at Notre Dame—people who identified as Catholic but who seemed to have nothing in their lives that set them apart as followers of Christ. I attended Catholic Mass and saw students who knew the routine but didn’t appear to enjoy it. Then I met Madi. Madi sang the same worship songs I did. She read the Bible. And when she offered to pray over our lunch one day, she started with “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and I expected to hear “Bless us, O Lord.” Instead, Madi thanked God for the food, the friends around us, and for the greatest gift of all, Jesus. She spoke as someone who clearly had a relationship with Christ. Faith for her was not a weekly religious requirement but something that connected with her soul. I started off seeking a business degree at Notre Dame, but along the way I took a C.S. Lewis class to fulfill a theology requirement. I was blown away that I could study things—things that I actually enjoyed—as part of my education. I just kept taking more and more theology classes until I had met the requirements for a second major. In addition to classes on Scripture, I read the works of Augustine, Therese of Lisieux, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Erasmus, and many others. These were mostly Catholic writers, and I found that I agreed with 99 percent of everything I read and was growing deeper in my faith in the process. Perhaps even more influential than the Catholic materials were the professors who taught me. These men and women cared deeply about the subjects they were teaching, and, more importantly, they cared about us and our faith. None of my business professors ever cried in front of the class because he or she so passionately connected with us or the material being discussed. One of my favorite classes was called “The Catholic Faith,” and in it we walked through Book One of the Catechism. After nearly every class, a friend and I would linger to ask the professor a few questions about little discrepancies between what we had been taught growing up and what he had mentioned in class. He would always welcome us with, “Hello, my Protestant friends!” I took other classes with him because I loved his teaching so much, and we developed a friendship. Toward the end of my senior year we sat down to lunch together, and I asked him for some advice on my future. He gave me some practical advice, and we chatted back and forth, but then he paused and started tearing up. He said, “Wynn, whatever you do, never lose your kind spirit. God has given you a unique gift. Don’t throw that away.” I received a lot of advice over this time, but that was the only career advice that really stuck with me. During my four years at Notre Dame, I volunteered with Young Life Michiana. And after graduation, I decided to stay in South Bend and work full-time for Young Life. I love Young Life’s mission to introduce adolescents to the person of Jesus and help them grow in their faith. And I love that Young Life is ecumenical: We are on the same team. My faith as a Protestant has grown through my exposure to the Catholic faith. And I hope that through the collaboration between Young Life and the Catholic Church, more Protestant Young Life leaders will come to appreciate the Catholic faith. I also hope more Catholics will come to know Young Life and want to join this effort to reach every kid with the love of Christ. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes the purpose of his book this way:
It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.
I think Young Life has a similar goal, and it’s a goal Protestants and Catholics can tackle together. Young Life seeks to bring adolescents into the great hall of Christian faith. But no one is meant to live their life dwelling in the hall of Young Life. They must enter a room—a practicing church—to find deeper communion. Young Life is a funnel to churches: Protestant and Catholic churches. We encourage students to connect with the person of Jesus Christ. We desire a connection that lasts a lifetime. And we know a lifetime of faith can only be sustained within a church.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Young Life Grew My Vision for Catholic Ministry

This guest post was written by Amanda Jewett, youth and young adult minister at St. Cecelia Church in Beaverton, Ore. She serves on the Diocesan Committee on Young Life for the Archdiocese of Portland.

Catholic Youth Minister Amanda Jewett, far right, visited a Young Life camp in 2017.

Two summers ago I attended a Young Life camp in Eastern Oregon as an adult guest. I agreed to visit Washington Family Ranch not knowing much about Young Life. I was curious but did not anticipate that the experience would change the way I view youth ministry.

Similar to any summer camp, there were ropes courses, a zip line, and a swimming pool. But when it came to the program, I noticed right away that Young Life didn’t assume that the 400 campers had faith in God. Young Life expected that most students didn’t yet believe or were still questioning. And this assumption dictated the initial language, music, and message. God wasn’t mentioned a lot the first day, and all the songs were popular secular music. But over the course of a few days, God became the focus of everything. And as I looked around, I saw disconnected teens slowly become more comfortable talking about Jesus. By the end, teens were singing praise and worship songs as loudly and as passionately as they had sung the songs of Taylor Swift and One Direction. Teens were acknowledging their need for God and surrendering to Jesus.

What led to this transformation?

I watched as Young Life made it all about a relationship with Jesus first and foremost. All catechesis and faith formation follows naturally from this relationship or encounter with Christ. Without this foundation, catechesis can be lost or considered irrelevant.

Our Catholic youth need what Young Life prompts teens to develop: a relationship—not just head knowledge, not just the idea of faith—an actual relationship with the actual person of Jesus Christ, who loves us more infinitely and unconditionally than anyone else ever can. I saw Young Life reaching kids in a way I never experienced as a cradle Catholic and one who attended Catholic school from preschool to college, got a degree in theology, and now works for a Catholic parish. At camp, I saw an immense opportunity—an opportunity for these teens, whose lives were being intimately touched by God’s divine presence, but also an opportunity for the Catholic Church to improve its outreach to teens, especially in this day and age.

My exposure to Young Life taught me, as a Catholic, that I am called to go out, especially to the peripheries, so I can encounter teens and spread the Gospel, rather than wait for teens to come to me and my youth group. Like our pontiff Pope Francis has said, we are called to smell like the sheep, and I saw Young Life leaders doing this.

When watching the interactions at camp, I recognized that the Young Life leaders had real and authentic relationships with each one of their kids. Prior to camp, these leaders had gone out to football games, school plays, and robotics tournaments to find these teens, rather than wait for them to come meet the leaders at a Young Life club. Camp was a culmination of months of contact work and relationship building.

This is missionary discipleship. By the very nature of our baptism, we are called to “take on the smell of the sheep” and accompany people on their journeys to Christ. We are a missionary church, and Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28) is at the center of that. Should our parish ministries not reflect this as well, going (not staying!) and making disciples of all nations?

Our Catholic faith holds such beauty, depth, and richness, and my identity as a member of the Catholic Church is a source of personal pride and delight. For this reason, I want to learn from Young Life and become more effective in sharing my faith in Christ with teens.

At the time I was visiting the Young Life camp two years ago, my primary concerns at St. Cecilia circled around the number of kids who were attending our church youth group, how well they knew the Catechism, and how heavily involved they became in the life of the parish. All of those are important and play their own roles. Yet I had lost sight of the primary goal, the “why” of Catholic ministry: Do our parish teens have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and are they on the path to sainthood? I had to ask myself a difficult question: Does our youth ministry lead our teens to information, events, and programs, or to a PERSON?

In the two years since my visit to camp, I have engaged with the Young Life ministry in my area. I have befriended my Young Life counterpart who serves at a local high school, and we have done contact work together at the school. I have also joined a committee of Catholics and Protestants who are shepherding a collaborative effort between Young Life and the Catholic Church to reach more kids. As a part of this committee, I helped organize three joint worship nights where Catholic youth ministers and Protestant Young Life leaders met to get to know each other. Even though we are coming from different Christian denominations, we know many of the same kids, and we need to work together if we are going to reach every kid.

I lead youth ministry in Portland, where few claim to be Christian. Most teenagers here are disconnected from a church, and I desire nothing more than to help them find Christ. My exposure to Young Life has inspired me to help build bridges between different Christian denominations and, more importantly, between teenagers and God. I thank God for allowing his Spirit to move in this way, and I ask that He continues to bless and guide us in this work, as we go and make disciples of all nations.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Pope Francis: Let Them Lead from Their Calling

This guest post (the final installment in a four-part series) was written by Craig Gould, Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is also a member of the Young Life Catholic Relations national board.

For our life on earth reaches full stature when it becomes an offering… It follows that every form of pastoral activity, formation and spirituality should be seen in the light of our Christian vocation. (Christ is Alive!, paragraph 254)
In the last blog, Let them Lead Everywhere, I wrote that Pope Francis’ call to ministry leaders was to let young people lead in all the different places where young people are living their lives, not simply within the bounds of the ministries we have created. For my final post on Christ is Alive!, I am highlighting Pope Francis’ invitation to let young people lead because they are called by God.  

If it’s the end of the school year, you can count on young people being asked vocational questions. The standard would be to graduating seniors as everyone wants to know what they will be doing next year. After 14 years of compulsory school, youth are free to choose what comes next. The decisions they make offer a real insight into how they conceive of their own calling and whether or not God has a place in that. Will they go to college? For two or four years? Will they go to trade school? Will they go right to work? Are they taking a “gap” year or doing a year of service somewhere? 

This question isn’t a surprise since young people have been answering it ever since they were 5, and their kindergarten teacher had them draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. The real surprise is that after all of this time, those of faith who have relationships with young people haven’t forced the next question, which is: “What is God calling you to do with your life?” If we don’t ask that question, they assume God is outside of this most central part of their life. And it may take years before they reconcile what they’ve said yes to along the way and what God is actually calling them to do. 

I had a phone call last week with a recent college graduate who has decided she wants to work in ministry although she just invested four years studying psychology. I had lunch this week with a friend who is fulfilling her calling as a high school campus minister but admits she spent her college years studying art and philosophy. She wonders whether her love for art fits in with her current work. And next week, I’m meeting with someone who is starting as a church youth minister after spending 30 years as an engineer. Despite their different ages, all three are asking themselves the same set of questions, vocational questions, questions about their gifts and God’s call.

That’s the other thing about vocation. It’s a constant question, or more accurately, a set of questions: 
What am I good at? What do I like? What does the world need? What are my responsibilities? How does being a disciple of Jesus Christ change any of the questions I just asked? How do I hear a call from God? If I make a wrong choice, will God not bless me? Does God only have one specific path for me? 
What I hear Christ is Alive! saying is that for too long those of us who love young people and who want to see Christ at the center of their lives have left them to figure out their calling with only the culture to guide them—a culture where success is measured in popularity, influence, money and attention. And that sounds more like an invitation from the rich young man mentioned in the Gospels than an invitation from the Lord of “sell everything you own and follow me.” Finding their calling with only the culture to guide them is really far from a community that considers itself “collectively responsible for accepting, motivating, encouraging and challenging” young people in their vocation (Christ is Alive!, paragraph 243).

I’d suggest these words push us as leaders of young people to ask ourselves tough questions about calling: 
How do we practice discernment in our own lives? Do we ask our young people questions about how they make decisions? Are we helping young people to identify their gifts and live those out? How do we help parents to see this decision through the eyes of faith? 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Pope Francis: Let Them Lead EVERYWHERE

This guest post (the third in a four-part series) was written by Craig Gould, Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is also a member of the Young Life Catholic Relations national board.

'Popular' leaders, then, are those able to make everyone, including the poor, the vulnerable, the frail and the wounded, part of the forward march of youth. They do not shun or fear those young people who have experienced hurt or borne the weight of the cross. (Christ is Alive!, paragraph 231)
In the last blog, Pope Francis: Let Them Lead WITH You, I wrote that Pope Francis’ call to ministry leaders was to accompany young people as they lead. In this post, I want to focus on his even more radical vision for young people—that they would lead everywhere. 

There was a common strategy that was used to train me when I was learning to do youth ministry. It was believed that if you got the most popular kid to be active in the ministry, he or she would soon bring lots of other youth. It was purposeful, it was deliberate, sometimes it was successful, but it was elitist.

It was also not scriptural. If Paul and the Holy Spirit are to be consulted, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Yet there I was trying to woo the captain of whatever team was in season, believing this to be the best strategy. It would take me a long time to realize that no one would have made Peter captain of anything. Or that Jesus’ tactics would have been criticized the minute he began with Matthew the tax collector.

In youth ministry the temptation is to gradually build up young leaders until we can hand over new levels of responsibility to them when they are ready. Pope Francis isn’t buying our perfectly scripted plan. He’s concerned because when we construct those processes, we are doing so with the intention of creating leaders who will perpetuate us and our programs. And when we do that, we’ve effectively created an exclusionary practice.

I believe the Holy Spirit is using Pope Francis to call us further out of our posture of superiority. How many times have I heard someone from the church or from Young Life complain because a young person didn’t prioritize youth group, or Campaigners, or club—as if their faithfulness to the gospel was measured on the scales of activity that we created? God’s vision for them is bigger than this, and our participation in His kingdom must be bigger as well.

The way I was initially trained had me excluding some students as I went after the popular kid. And it led me toward a rotten internal philosophy where I believed that by building a relationship with the popular kid I could somehow make him “mine,” and he would be an ambassador to draw kids to my (fill in the self-important event here). The Holy Spirit has always been too wild for that kind of manipulation. I am thankful that though it’s taken me a while to grasp it, Jesus has been patient with me.
How patient will young people be with us if we continue to try to fit them into tight windows where only a few will lead?
Where have young people shown incredible leadership outside of official church ministry?
How do I imagine growing the gifts of a young person outside of my structures for discipleship?
What gifts of leadership do we celebrate in young people?
Do we reserve congratulations only for a select few young leaders? 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pope Francis: Let Them Lead WITH You

This guest post (the second in a four-part series) was written by Craig Gould, Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is also a member of the Young Life Catholic Relations national board.

The community has an important role in the accompaniment of young people; it should feel collectively responsible for accepting, motivating, encouraging and challenging them. All should regard young people with understanding, appreciation and affection, and avoid constantly judging them or demanding of them a perfection beyond their years. (Christ is Alive!,  paragraph 243)
In the first blog, Pope Francis on Youth Ministry: Let Them Lead, I wrote that Pope Francis’ call to ministry leaders was to let young people be protagonists and people of action. In this post, I want to draw our attention to one of his favorite ideas: Everyone, especially teens, should be accompanied.

My first time leading a group of teens was as a Young Life volunteer leader taking a group of high school guys to summer camp. At 11 pm at night, when we were supposed to be settling, we were still making lots of noise—so much so that a leader from above us came to the door to ask us to quiet down. I’ll never forget when I opened the door and the other leader took one look at 19-year-old me, looked around the room, and asked, “Hey, where’s your leader?”

The other thing I won’t forget was how my mentor, John Grothjan (Gro), showed me how to build relationships with youth—how to pray for them before we spent time together, pray for them silently while we were hanging out, and then pray for them after they had gone home. I learned to always take a notebook to talks to capture what the speaker said so I could bring it back to the small group cabin time later. I could even compare notes with Gro, who after 20 years of doing youth ministry still brought a notebook himself because leaders model leadership. He taught me to show up to the high school graduation and pray over every kid who walked across that stage. One last shot to do my part to put them at the feet of Jesus.

Letting young people lead doesn’t mean abandoning them. Youth ministers know this, Young Life staff know this, but it’s the larger community that sometimes forgets. We have to teach other adults how to walk with young people. As advocates for young people, we’ll have to step into the uncomfortable position of talking to the adults who don’t treat them well.

Yet just as I get comfortable as the ultimate defender of young people, Pope Francis also reminds me:

“A mentor should therefore nurture the seeds of faith in young people, without expecting to immediately see the fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit.” (Christ is Alive!, paragraph 246)

Here’s a list of people who love this young person more or just as much as I do:
the God who created them,
the parents raising them,
the family who cares for them,
friends who know them,
and teachers, coaches, other adults who invested in them.
I want this young person to know Christ, I believe God called me to share the gospel, but I’m not the only working of the Holy Spirit.

So if I’m called to serve youth, but also called with others, how do I: 

Make sure I’m lifting them up in every victory and standing with them in every defeat?
Work with other adults to accompany them—or do I see them as “mine”?
Celebrate what else God is doing in their life beyond the role God has for me?
Share with other adults, in particular their parents, the joys and concerns I see in them?

Accompaniment is hard, but I suppose Jesus feels the same about me, and the Incarnation happened anyway. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Pope Francis on Youth Ministry: Let Them Lead

This guest post was written by Craig Gould, Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is also a member of the Young Life Catholic Relations national board.
Christus Vivit! (Christ is Alive)

“It is likewise important that it (path of growth for young people) has two main goals. One is the development of the kerygma, the foundational experience of encounter with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. The other is growth in fraternal love, community life, and service.” (CV, #213)

If the truth of the New Testament is often summed up with the 16th verse of the 3rd chapter from the Gospel of St John, I might suggest that the above line could be considered the summation of all 299 paragraphs (or 66 pages on my computer) from Pope Francis’ letter to young people, Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive!). For certain there are other great lines, but none so succinctly and pointedly captures the aim of the whole letter—and even more so the whole of meetings of bishops and young people—than these two goals.

Accept the kerygma.

Live the kerygma with each other.

I also do not need any clearer of a picture of what it means for Young Life and the Catholic Church to partner together than this mandate here. As a former Young Life staff person, I can testify to the great power of the kerygma I experienced through Young Life. (The “kerygma” here is defined as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord). As a life-long Catholic who has always been in ministry, I am witness to the reality that as a Universal Church we have, for centuries and across continents, wrestled with what it means to live as community. With those gifts offered together in mission, I believe that the plentiful harvest that Jesus speaks about will be realized.

If those words are encouraging, then these words are prophetic:

“I want to state clearly that young people themselves are agents of youth ministry.” (CV, #203)

For over 20 years I have been a Young Life staff person, a church youth minister, a graduate school youth program director, and a Diocesan director of youth ministry. Nothing has challenged me as much as Pope Francis’ call—no, his demand—that I allow young people to be agents of the gospel. He pushes us to step out of the way and make a space for them to lead. He demands that we recognize that not only can they lead, they must lead if we are going to see missionary discipleship as the Lord envisions it.

Both communities have spaces for this to happen—whether it be campaigners or work crew for Young Life or peer ministers and service camps for the Church. The prophetic voice moves us beyond offering those opportunities to simply the “elite” youth who have proven themselves. It’s a call to full inclusion, a call to a “popular” ministry, which I will explore in my next post.

Encouraged by kerygma and community, challenged by the agency of young people, I’m left to wonder:

What would happen if we let young people lead the kerygma?
What would it look like if young people helped define and bring to life community for all, not just themselves?
What would they do if young people experienced their own ability to bring the gospel to life?

Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask these questions. Pope Francis has reminded us of them. Now it’s time to let the young church give the answers.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Pope Francis Issues Letter to Young People: Christ is Alive!

Earlier this week, Pope Francis issued a letter to young people – Christus Vivit, “Christ is alive!” It is so beautiful, so pastoral in tone, I envisioned a sagely patriarch, gathering his many grandchildren around his feet and lovingly imparting to them all that God had taught him over the years. Perhaps knowing that he has entered the twilight of life, I could see him settle in his old rocking chair, maybe one or two of the littlest ones in his lap, looking his beloved in the eyes, and sharing the words that were so deeply ingrained on his heart.

Draw deeply on your imagination. In the spirit of St. Ignatius, explore the scene with all of your senses. Hear the words and let them sink more deeply into your consciousness. Papa Francesco speaks to us all:

“The very first truth I would tell each of you is this: ‘God loves you.’ It makes no difference whether you have already heard it or not. I want to remind you of it. God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved.”[1]

The children are rapt in attention already. They have heard it before, but they love it when papa reminds them. And they know it’s true because grandpa loves them. He continues:

“You have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands. He does not keep track of your failings. He helps you learn something even from your mistakes. Because he loves you. Now try to keep still for a moment and let yourself feel his love. . .”[2]

They close their eyes, take deep breaths, and try to feel what papa was telling them. It’s hard to keep still, but their hearts are filled with warm feelings, sunshine, and freedom. They always love the way grandpa makes them feel. After a moment of silence, he continues:

“The second great truth is that Christ, out of love, sacrificed himself completely in order to save you. His outstretched arms on the cross, [what does that tell you?]. It tells you that he is a friend who is willing to stop at nothing: ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’ (Jn 13:1).”

It was hard for them to think of Jesus on the Cross but papa always talked about it in a way that didn’t make them feel afraid. It actually made them feel really special, like they were that important, that their lives really mattered. He went on:

“Look to his cross, cling to him, let him save you. Be set free from sin, sorrow, emptiness and loneliness. And if you sin and stray far from him? He will come to lift you up by the power of his cross. Never forget that. Time and time again, he bears us on his shoulders.”[3]

The children all thought about that. They knew, somewhere in their hearts, that they had strayed from time to time. They kinda felt bad about that. But it was God’s love that allowed them to look to Jesus and believe that they could be forgiven. Then papa really got going:

“Young people, beloved of the Lord, how valuable must you be, if you were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ! Dear young people, you are priceless! You are not up for sale! Please, do not let yourself be bought. Do not let yourself be seduced. Do not let yourself be enslaved by forms of ideological colonization that put ideas in your heads, with the result that you end up becoming slaves, addicts… You are priceless. You must repeat this always: I am not up for sale; I do not have a price. I am free! Dear children, fall in love with this freedom, which is what Jesus offers.”[4]

Tears started welling up in his eyes, and their eyes too. It was so powerful the way papa spoke. Sometimes, he had to stop and just let the tears fall, he loved them so much. He knew he didn’t have much time and he wanted them to know this so badly. He continued:

“Finally, there is a third truth: Christ is alive! Sometimes we see Jesus Christ simply as a fine model from the distant past, a memory, as someone who saved us two thousand years ago. But that would be of no use to us. It would leave us unchanged, it would not set us free… He is the Christ, risen from the dead, filled with supernatural life and energy, and robed in boundless light.”[5]

The children liked that image of Jesus. Luminous and strong, filled with energy and youthfulness. And papa was right, Christ is not dead, he is alive! Grandpa always reminded them that even though Jesus suffered so much and died for them, there was so much more to the story. He went on:

“See Jesus as happy, overflowing with joy. Rejoice with him as with a friend who has triumphed. They killed him, the holy one, the just one, the innocent one, but he triumphed in the end. Evil does not have the last word. Nor will it have the last word in your life, for you have a friend who loves you and wants to triumph in you. Your Saviour lives!”[6]

Papa was always talking about Jesus as our friend. “Jesus wants to be a friend to every young person,” he said.[7]They liked that. It helped them feel safe, like they could always approach him and say whatever was on their minds. And it wasn’t just a story, grandpa always reminded them. This was something they could respond to, that Jesus wanted them to actually enter into the story:

“The life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life story that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. That life is not a salvation up ‘in the cloud’ and waiting to be downloaded, a new ‘app’ to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. . . The salvation that God offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story.”[8]

They could tell that papa was tired but the fire was still in his eyes. With great intensity, he would look at each of them and ask questions:

“Do you need love? You will not find it in dissipation, using other people, or trying to be possessive or domineering. You will find it in a way that will make you genuinely happy. Are you seeking powerful emotions? You will not experience them by accumulating material objects, spending money, chasing desperately after the things of the world. Are you looking for passion? Then fall in love! Because nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite absolute and final way.”[9]

It was kind of strange to think about falling in love with God, but the children knew what falling in love meant by looking at their parents. It was a closeness, a commitment, a covenant that would never be broken. It was that glimmer in their eye, the kissing and holding hands, but it was also what got them out of bed so many nights when the baby was fussy or one of the kids was sick. They knew what papa meant and it made them feel safe about God. He went on:

“If in your heart you can learn to appreciate the beauty of this message, if you are willing to encounter the Lord, if you are willing to let him love you and save you, if you can make friends with him and start to talk to him, the living Christ, about the realities of your life, then you will have a profound experience capable of sustaining your entire Christian life. You will also be able to share that experience with other young people.”[10]

The way papa talked about God, the children wanted to share him with others. How could they not? It was the best story that they had ever heard, and God was inviting them to be a part of it!

“Keep following your hopes and dreams. Jesus is the way: welcome him into your ‘boat’ and put out into the deep! He is the Lord! Avoid the paralysis of the living dead, who have no life because they are afraid to take risks, to make mistakes… Even if you make mistakes, you can always get up and start over, for no one has the right to rob you of hope.”[11]

This was so energizing. Somehow papa made them feel so free, like they could do anything with God. Even the idea of making mistakes wasn’t so intimidating because papa helped them remember that God was always “making lemonade out of lemons” or “drawing straight with crooked lines.” Sometimes he even shared some of his own mistakes with them but how, trusting in God, somehow all was well in the end. His final words were spoken with such passion, all eyes were glued to their beloved papa:

“Dear young people, make the most of these years of your youth. Don’t observe life from a balcony. Don’t confuse happiness with an armchair, or live your life behind a screen… Don’t be parked cars, but dream freely and make good decisions. Take risks, even if that means making mistakes. Don’t go through life anesthetized or approach the world like tourists. Make a ruckus! Cast out the fears that paralyze you, so that you don’t become like mummies. Live! Give yourselves over to the best of life! Open the door of the cage, go out and fly!”[12]

Papa’s words, his whole life, made them all want to fly. Secure in their friendship with Jesus, saved by his sacrifice, empowered by his love, they were ready to drop their nets and follow him wherever he led. Papa was right: Christ is alive! And they wanted that abundant life in their lives too. They didn’t want the night to end but bedtime was calling. Some of the younger children had already fallen asleep, not from boredom but because they felt so safe. With a glow still on his face, he closed this most special night with this:

“Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, “attracted by the face of Christ, whom we love so much, whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. May the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run this race. The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith. We need them! And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us.”[13]

[1]Pope Francis, Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive!), 112.
[2]Ibid, 115.
[3]Ibid, 118-19.
[4]Ibid, 122.
[5]Ibid, 124.
[6]Ibid, 126.
[7]Ibid, 250.
[8]Ibid, 252.
[9]Ibid, 131-21.
[10]Ibid, 129.
[11]Ibid, 141-42.
[12]Ibid, 143.
[13]Ibid, 299.