Plenary Session Keynote Address
ACYF SYDNEY 08 DECEMBER 2017
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
The Angel left her! ….The Angel left her!
What am I talking about?
I am talking about Mary, the young female youth from Nazareth, over two thousand years ago.
Just when Mary seemed to really need the help of the Archangel Gabriel, “the angel left her” (Luke1/38).
It says it plainly in the Gospel – the Gospel of Luke 1/26-38 …. it is today’s Gospel at Mass on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Truly, there is this wonderful young woman, Mary, the mother of Jesus. So far in her very young life she has been so open to God. Her parents, Anna and Joachim, dedicated her to the loving kindness of God. God has seen how the young Mary has surrendered her entire life to whatever God wants. God sends the Archangel Gabriel to tell Mary that God has now filled her with the amazing Grace that only God can give. Mary, without truly knowing what it all means, says a great big YES to the invitation to become the Virgin Mother of God.
The Angel says to Mary: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you.”
Without hesitation Mary says, “I am the servant of the Lord, let what you want be done in me.”
This is what we call the Annunciation. It is central to our Christian Faith.
Mary receives her Mission in life from God.
And doesn’t she go for it! All she wants to do is to magnify the Lord in her life from then on.
But just as she starts her Christian missionary discipleship – “the Angel left her”
Why didn’t the angel stay around and help her out in the difficult times ahead?
Mary seems to be left to her own resources – her faith and trust in God’s promises.
Pregnant Mary sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth so they could share their new found encounter with Jesus. Her Camino to a suburb of Jerusalem is like the first Corpus Christi procession in Christian history. Mary becomes a kind of walking tabernacle! This is becomes a kind of youth festival. Perhaps the first Christian Youth Festival in history! At this visitation/youth festival, there is Mary and Jesus, Elizabeth and John the Baptist.
But with no angel to help! Mary doesn’t complain at all.
What will we do when the angel leaves us over the next few days?
This tremendous gathering of Catholic Youth in Sydney is finishing tomorrow night.
And then we are going home.
Exam results will be on our minds soon. Problems at home and with our friends will return soon. Other big issues will return that concern us. It may seem that the angel of God’s grace has disappeared. The great feelings we have felt in these days will not last forever.
So let us consider for a moment, whilst we feel so close to Jesus, Mary and all the Saints, and our Catholic faith, what will be our responses over the next few weeks. Let us plan now while the angel is still with us.
So here is the scenario.
In a week from now you meet up with someone from school, university, work or family.
Here is the conversation ….
“Hey, I didn’t see you last week. Where have you been?”
“Oh, um, I went to Sydney for a few days with friends.”
“Oh that’s nice. What did you get up to? Did you go to Bondi and see all the beautiful bodies there?”
Oh, did you go to some of the nightlife there and meet someone interesting?
“Oh, really…. Did you go and do some tourist things?”
“No, not really?”
……“Well, what did you do?”
“I went to a fantastic youth festival with thousands of people my own age.”
“Oh. A big youth festival….. Hey. Wait a minute. Oh, you didn’t did you? You didn’t go to that Catholic thing they were advertising, did you?”
“Yes I did.”
“Really! I can’t believe it! You! I thought you were different than that. Catholics are on the way out! I mean, they are “on the nose”! Don’t tell me you are you taking all that Catholic stuff seriously!”
………………… and now here is your chance to do what Mary did, with or without an angel!!
…………………. You stand up tall, straighten your back, look respectfully and firmly into your friend’s eyes and you say with great love …
“Yes I am a Catholic, and I love it!”
…………………..Is that what you will say? Yes or no?
“Yes, I love it”, you will say. “It is giving me so much inner hope. It is giving me especially a joy I find impossible to describe. I cannot hide from you or others about my newfound love for Jesus.”
Ah …. That is a Mary answer. It might not make you popular. Others might laugh at you. It gave Mary a heart of sorrows. But you will be given not something but someone that can never be taken from you …. Jesus.
It is Jesus alive in the Catholic Church. One spiritual writer says that the “Church is always God hung between two thieves.” She is born on the hill of Calvary. Sinful and wounded though she is/we are, but God’s idea, God’s sacraments, God’s thirst for the scriptures, God’s thirst for prayer, God’s thirst for walking with the poor and oppressed. Like Mary, our souls magnify the Lord, our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour. For he who is mighty has done great things for us. Holy is his name! Holy is his name! (cf. Luke 1/46-56). Just like Mary, who is like the moon which does not give off light of herself, but only reflects the light of the sun, so it is with us. We reflect God’s light to the world by allowing the light of Jesus to shine through us.
In the deep emptiness within us all, only the Grace of Jesus can enter and fill us with the light of His Holy Spirit. It is like another Christmas – but this time it is the birth of Jesus within the core of his people’s hearts.
It’s OK to think about our careers and plans for the future. To a certain degree a career will work itself out in the future. But a vocation to be a missionary disciple for Jesus by a real adult decision of faith for the rest of our lives can happen right now – in this festival. It is a recommitment of our Baptism.
Everybody in Australia talks these days about MY CHOICE.
Fair enough: but be careful! A purely MY CHOICE option in life can lead to sadness and loneliness, even if it can lead to success and lots of money.
But a decision, deep and with total surrender, to Jesus is on another level all together.
An encounter with Jesus deep within lasts for eternity. It does not free you from struggles and difficulties but it gives you something nothing else can give – “the saving justice, peace, and joy brought by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14/17)
In the light of the theme of this entire Australian Youth Festival, let us choose together now this deeper vocation. Let us do this on two levels. First, let us think of life’s vocational choices: the priesthood, religious life – Sisters, Brothers, married, family life, or Single for the Lord. Secondly, let us renew our baptisms and truly become not simply cultural Catholics but real missionary disciples within the Catholic Church.
Let us choose JOY …. J and O and Y …. Meaning three options in our life from now on,
…..Jesus Over You….
…..Jesus Others You…
And ….Jesus Overthere You …… don’t forget the periphery people – the “overthere” people!……Especially our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – The First Australians.
As we prepare to leave this festival this time tomorrow, let us encourage each other. Let us make plans in these days to regroup once we return to our dioceses and ponder on all that has taken place. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to deepen in us our encounter with Jesus.
Finally, please join with me now in a surrender prayer Pope Benedict XVI offered to the youth of the world in his homily when he led the World Youth Day Final Mass, not in Sydney ten years ago, but 6 years ago in Madrid, Spain (21 August 2011).
Let us now join in this Papal surrender prayer together. Let it be a renewal of our Baptismal commitment. Let us use our flashlights on our mobile phones as a kind of Baptismal candle for this precious moment. Please repeat after me the following …
“Jesus, I know you are the Son of God who has given your life for me.
I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your Word.
I place my trust in you and I put my life into your hands.
I want you to be the power that strengthens me
And the JOY that never leaves me.”
ONLY JESUS, ALWAYS JESUS, FOREVER JESUS.
AND THE ANGEL LEFT HER
…… BUT JESUS NEVER LEAVES US