Third Annual Canadian Melkite Youth Convention (CMYC)
Address of H.E. Luigi Bonazzi, Apostolic Nuncio
September 1st, 2018
My dear Melkite Youth,
I thank you for the invitation to join you on this Third Annual Melkite Youth Convention. I would like to share with you four brief thoughts, which I submit for your consideration and reflection.
- The importance of asking questions. It is important to observe and ask questions: in living our lives it is necessary to ask questions: “whoever does not question himself”, said Plato, “cannot lead a human life”. On closer inspection, there are many types of questions, which can be collected and arranged in three major “stratifications”. There are the surface questions (e.g.: what will I wear, who will I meet, how will I spend the day?); there are the intermediate level questions (e.g.: which profession to choose? how can I best realize my abilities? in which direction to organize my projects?), and, finally, there are the deep questions, those that invest the ultimate meaning of existence: Where do I come from? Where am I going? What’s after death? What’s the point of pain? How to overcome evil? Where to find authentic happiness? (cf. GS n. 10).
For many, let’s say it, these are uncomfortable questions: they compel us to reflect. And thinking has a cost: because it requires placing oneself under investigation, it pushes us to look for friends who can help, and, above all, involves facing the fatigue of the journey towards Truth.
It seems, according to recent surveys, that there are many young people who show a pronounced “allergy” to “strong questions”, those that shake the conscience and do not leave it in peace, until it reaches the appropriate answer. The most frequent questions – these scholars say – are “short-range”, strongly contaminated by egocentrism (that is, by an attitude that relativizes everything to itself) and hedonistic (pervaded by the anxiety of “everything, immediately, at no cost”).
The allergy to “difficult questions” explains why many implement avoidance strategies, the effect of which is to defuse the serious questions and replace them with non-demanding or with futile questions (which slip on the surface of events and they allow them to be pushed by the logic of the ephemeral).
- Beware of “mystifications”. I would like to draw your attention to two great “mystifications”, that are part of the superficial and secularized culture and that are infiltrating the mentality of many young people and leading to grave problems:
The misinterpretation of the concept of sin, which is no longer considered a mortal poison about which God has written with impassioned love: “avoid it!” On the contrary, it has been sold as a “prohibited good” by an intrusive and despotic lord-and-master. As a consequence, a transgression is exalted as an emancipatory and self-affirming gesture: “step out of line if you wish to be yourself”. In the same line it says: “If you want to be a free man get rid of God! If you want to be the director of your story, do not listen to what the Lord says through his Church. “A mentality, this, which projects a distorted image of God, like a ‘God master’, who appears on hurried men’s paths, like a ‘jealous God’, therefore, who is there to stop man’s attempt to be the author of himself. But beyond these sneaky ideological trappings, what remains true is that sin is an evil that generates evil, and with its false promises of a “life in the fast lane”, it inevitably leaves ashes and ruins in its wake. It is your task to proclaim the truth frankly (cf. Ephesians 6:20) and, staying close to the Lord’s teachings, to call good, good, and evil, evil: always and everywhere, at any cost.
The confusion between freedom and spontaneity. The slogan that gets around in many youth circles goes something like this: “do as you wish and let yourself be transported by what you feel.” In this logic of “yes, if it pleases you,” “no, if it’s going to cost you,” what is missing is authentic discernment. The will is missing and one’s decision is entrusted to the shifting winds of emotion and circumstances. In this way, by acting as “freemen” we become slaves: for freedom, true freedom, is the handmaid of grace and is played out (finds itself) in living in truth and love (see Ephesians 4:15). It is thus, at the same time, a gift of God and man’s gain: in any case, it demands toil and perseverance, but it pours an ineffable fullness into the hearts of those who are faithful to it.
“It’s been a while since I have stopped running after myself and have begun to look for Jesus,” a girl wrote me. And I answered her: “then Freedom has truly entered into your house (see John 8:31-36): make room for it and invite others, that they might also be enamoured by it!” Then I added, quoting St. Augustine: however, remember that “you will be free if you make yourself a servant; free from sin, a servant of justice.”
- The first verb of the Christian life. It is not the verb “to give” or “to do”: to do something for God and for our brethren. The first verb is to “receive”.
Dear friends: the fundamental thing we have to discover – and here we enter into the heart of the Christian life – is that even before our search for God, there is God searching for us. God always precedes us. In fact, the essence of the Christian message does not lie primarily in the commandment to love God but in the invitation to allow ourselves to be reached by His redemptive Love through Jesus, in the gift of the Spirit. In fact, it is God who has loved us first: it is absolutely His totally, freely-given initiative, infinitely merciful. We can only love Him in return. The apostle John puts it very well: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins… We love because he first loved us (1Jn 4:10-19). “Lo proprio de Dios es hacer, lo proprio del hombre es dejarse hacer,” (It belongs to God to fashion, and it belongs to man to allow himself to be fashioned) an old and wise Jesuit priest used to say to me. How true this is!
Dear friends: this is the great discovery we have to make and the fundamental grace to ask for: to open our eyes and see the presence of God in our lives– with our intelligence, our heart, with all our self. God, who is Love (see 1 John 4:16). God who is Father, a Father who accompanies us, renews us and guides everything towards our good (see Romans 8:28). To discover, or better, to rediscover that God is Love is the greatest adventure of modern man. Is it not perhaps because we do not know God – God, who is Love – that in this world of ours there are many things which are ugly and sad, that we do not like, that make us suffer?
(Experience of Georges Vanier: On Good Friday 1939, leaving the Church, he said to his wife Pauline: “I did not know that God is love”. And since then, he went to Mass every day).
Pay attention: Jesus did not come only to speak to us and to show us by his life that God is Love. He came to give us his love, to allow us to partake of the love of God. He placed this love – his love – in our hearts: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).
Yes, dear friends, not only is there human love in us, that noble sentiment that is capable of great things but also able to turn inwards, on itself, and to become paltry and selfish. On the day of our Baptism that same love of God was planted within us. We were baptized “in the name of”, that is in the Love of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We must welcome this love, nurture it, heeding the Word. We must make it grow with prayer and by partaking in the Sacraments, in particular the Eucharist and Confession.
- A word from Pope Francis. I quote from his dialogue with the Chilean Youth, on the occasion of his Pastoral Visit last January. Concluding his dialogue, Pope Francis says: “Let me share a story with you. Chatting one day with a young man, I asked him what sort of things made him unhappy. “What makes you unhappy?” The context was right for this question. He said to me: “When my cellphone battery runs down or I lose my internet connection”. I asked him: “Why?” He answered: “Father, it’s simple; I miss out on everything that’s going on, I am shut off from the world, stuck. In those moments, I jump up and run to find a charger or a Wi-Fi network and a password to reconnect… Without a connection, a connection to Jesus, we end up drowning our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and our faith, and, naturally, we get frustrated and annoyed.” (Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to Chile and Peru, January 17, 2018).
Now, how to connect or re-connect with Jesus? Pope Francis answers quoting Blessed Alberto Hurtado, very dear to the Chilean Youth.
“Hurtado’s password to reconnect and keep the signal was quite simple — surely none of you brought your phones? Really? I’d like you to key this into your phone, I’ll dictate it to you. Hurtado asks himself, and this is the password: “What would Christ do in my place?” Key this in: “What would Christ do in my place?” At school, at university, when outdoors, when at home, among friends, at work, when taunted: “What would Christ do in my place?” When you go dancing, when you are playing or watching sports: “What would Christ do in my place?” This is the password, the power source that charges our hearts, ignites our faith and makes the sparkle in our eyes never fade. That is what it means to be a protagonist of history”.
My conclusion. Dear Friends: I wish you to be the “protagonists” of a splendid adventure, of which God himself is the author. Open yourselves to receive – every day – the Love of God. If you will let the Spirit of Jesus work within you, He will write in you a glorious history, capable to produce a push towards what is better, in the years to come. The world is longing for this.
I would like to repeat to you the words that a young Italian woman, St. Catherine of Siena, addressed to the men and women of her time, politicians, artists, men of commerce, men of the Church: “Do not be satisfied with little things because God wants great things” (Letter 127). And again: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire” (Letter 368).
The secret for a good result? Walking together, guided by the Spirit of the Risen Lord. Together with Jesus, together in the Church, together among you. That’s right: just strengthen and build communion, and the impossible becomes possible, because it is the Almighty Himself who lives and works among us (cf. Luke 24,15; Mt 18,20).