Cardinal Meisner's Catechesis to Young People

«Our Hearts Are Troubled Until They Rest in Thee»

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COLOGNE, Germany, AUG. 17, 2005 ( Bishops and cardinals at World Youth Day began their sessions of catechesis for the participants at the event. Below is a translation of the catechesis given by Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, in the Neuss ice arena, on the topic «Seeking the Truth as the Deeper Meaning of Human Existence.»

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Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising (Matthew 2:2).

Dear Young People!

1. The catecheses serve as a kind of framework for World Youth Day. Here, both you and the catechists will be confronted with the themes of World Youth Day. God is the Word. «In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God» (John 1:1) — so says the prologue to the Gospel of St. John. That means that God can be spoken and heard. And that is what happens in the catecheses. God lets himself be spoken, and he lets himself be heard.

Let us not forget the Rule of St. Benedict! It is one of the fundamental documents of the Western World, and it begins with the words: «Listen, O my son!» The Apostle Paul says: Faith comes from what is heard (see Romans 10:17). In the beginning is the Word and not the image. That is the reason that the creator gave us two ears and only one mouth — so that we will listen twice as much as we speak. Now Satan, the enemy of human beings, set out from the very beginning to rob people of their hearing. When a person stops hearing, he or she no longer knows who he belongs to or where he belongs. And then he will be at the mercy of every social rat-catcher.

Every totalitarian system has begun by robbing the people of their hearing. I can still remember my childhood and youth very well: a childhood under the Nazi regime. On Sundays, the SA and the SS held huge marches with Nazi marching music. And under Communism, loudspeakers blasted out Socialist slogans and Socialist battle songs all day long on Saturdays and Sundays. That was even worse than the factory sirens on workdays. Therefore, the catechesis needs to be a place of inner silence, where we are able to hear the Word of God, and then to follow it.

2. In a non-biblical source, Christ gives us this advice: «Anyone who wants to be close to God requires 10 things. Nine parts silence and one part solitude.» Silence is indispensable in order to avoid confusing God’s word with your own. At his prayers in the desert or on top of a mountain or in other lonely places, the praying Christ does not give a lecture to God. Rather, he is silent and waits until he hears God speak. Nine parts silence — that means, we then begin once more to understand our words as ripe fruits, just as Jesus does when he says that our words are like thistles or like grapes.

Grapes need to ripen for a long time before they can be savored. In the same way, in the silence of the catecheses at World Youth Day, we can allow those words to ripen which we will then need to repeat to others when we come home. Jesus was silent for thirty years before preaching for three. Here, we can say, in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: «He who wants to speak a word listens long to himself in silence. He who wants to ignite a bolt of lightning must first remain long a cloud.»

3. We are all messengers of the Word, just as we are all carriers of our faith. But my faith is not my faith — rather, my faith is your faith. And the Word of God in me is not my Word of God — rather, it is your Word of God. If we do not address our mutual faith to each other, do not pray to each other, do not love each other, then we will dismantle each other’s faith, or we will become the thieves of each other’s faith. The word that will help me further cannot be spoken by me — it must be spoken to me by others.

Nor can I, as a bishop, make confession to myself and speak the words of absolution to myself — rather, another priest must grant my pardon. The word of my forgiveness is carried to me by another — I do not carry it myself. However, I carry it in myself for others. Thus, we meet one another with the often unspoken request: «Speak just one word and my soul will be healed.» But first of all, I must hear the word. «Listen, O my son! Listen, O my daughter!» — so begins the Rule of St. Benedict.

4. Satan is called the «Diabolos,» the «creator of confusion,» the «noise-maker,» one whose goal is to rob us of our hearing. His business consists of constantly feeding people with information, to the point that they become nearly deaf and are incapable of receiving any real directions — particularly not the Word of life itself. The counter-image to Satan — who scattered the frightened apostles to the far corners after the ascension of Christ — is Mary, who gathers the apostles together after they have been scattered. She leads them back to one another: under the same roof, in the same house, at the same table — namely the table of the Last Supper in Jerusalem. There, she becomes the leader of the first Pentecost novena, at the end of which the miracle of Pentecost takes place. Mary gathers those who have been scattered. Thus, she is «Symbola» — that is, the «gatherer» — who appears in opposition to the Diabolos, the creator of confusion. We pray to Mary now in this hour of catechesis.

It is said of the Magi that: «On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage» (Matthew 2:11). Today, as well, Mary offers us the child Christ, the center of our lives. Therefore, let us observe the rules for true Christian listening:

1. Sit down silently!
2. Fold your hands — in other words, gather them together out of the confusion!
3. Close your eyes!
4. Bow your head — and<br> 5. Guide your understanding from your head into your heart!

At the miracle of the loaves, when 5,000 grown men followed our Lord into the desert and have nothing with them to eat, a crisis is at hand. The people are about to starve. And Jesus says to his apostles: «Tell the people to sit down!» Then Jesus would perform the great miracle of the loaves. But the 5,000 people don’t even know what Jesus is capable of.

But at the word of the Lord: «Tell the people to sit down!» they actually sit down on the grass. To sit down on the grass in the desert with a growling stomach and empty pockets sounds like suicide. But they believe the words of Jesus, that he can satisfy their hunger. Here, even before the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, an even greater miracle occurs, namely the miracle of the people’s faithful obedience: They sit down, hungry, in the grass, in the hope that he can feed them. And as we know from this story, all of them are fed, and the pieces that are left over would fill 12 large baskets. That is the Miracle of the Desert. That miracle is now the first catechesis: «Tell the people to sit down!» — «And speak just one word and my soul will be healed.»

I am fully convinced that during these days, God will give you the Word which perhaps you need in order to redirect your lives. You cannot yet know what that Word is — then you would tell it to yourselves in your imagination. Rather, you must truly live in these next few days with the inner prayer: «Lord, speak just one word and my soul will be healed!»

5. In silence, we begin our journey inward. What were our guidelines for meditation: «Sit down silently! Fold your hands! Close your eyes! Bow your head! Guide your understanding from your head to your heart!» We must return to the point which is the core of our being. And that is my self as a mirror image of God. I can find this in the longings of the deepest part of my life. These longings need to be laid bare. Let me illustrate this with a few examples:

Decades ago, I met an intelligent man who was completely without faith. And he admitted to me freely and openly that he could not understand how I, to whom he also attributed some intellectual abilities, could believe in God
. I tried to help him get in touch with his unique self by asking him two questions. The first question was this: «Do you want to be bad? So bad that other people say, he’s not worth a grain of salt. He is truly abysmally evil.»

He answered, «Of course I don’t want that.» Then I asked him: «But every effect has to have a cause. You don’t want to be bad. What is the reason for this?» He had never thought about that before, was his answer, and he didn’t know why it was so. And he answered my question with a question: Did I know why that is? I said, «I know.»

And when he asked if I could share my knowledge with him, I said, «Of course I can! We are not originals, prototypes, we are copies. Our original is God himself. We are images of him. And since God, my prototype, is the greatest good, I as his image cannot want to be bad. Even if I sometimes am. It is like a candle trying to stand on its head. The flame will not go along with doing the headstand. It keeps on burning and shining its light upward. I can twist it and turn it any way I want, but the flame will never shine downward, it will always shine upward.

«It’s the same way with people. A person is not capable of wanting to be bad, even if he sometimes is, because his prototype, the innermost core of his being, is the image of God. And this God is the greatest good. And if, sometimes, we are not good, and we are caught not being good, then it as if a defiled image of God rises up inside us. It becomes physically visible when we start to sweat or turn red. Since our deepest self as the image of God remains linked to the prototype of God, and this God is the greatest good, I cannot want to be anything other than good. I would have to strip off my own skin.»

And the second question is in the same vein, namely: «Would you like to be unloved?» To this question, the atheist answered: «That would be hell.» That is, precisely, the theological definition of hell. But how does an atheist, who has had no schooling in faith and no religious instruction, know the definition of the nature of hell? What is the cause for this effect in the life of every human being: «I don’t want to be unloved»? — It lies, in turn, in our status as mirror images of God. Because God, as my foundation, as my prototype, is the personification of Love.

The one who says: «With age-old love I have loved you» (Jeremiah 31:3) cannot wish for his mirror image to be unloved. It is not possible. We must take ourselves from the surface into the deepest part of our lives. It is the same way with a river. If you want to taste the quality of the water in the Rhine, you shouldn’t do so here in the Rhineland — here the Rhine doesn’t taste good anymore. You have to make a pilgrimage up the Rhine — in other words, swim against the current — to the source. There you can acquire a taste for Rhine water. But — as everyone knows — dead fish can only swim with the current. Only living, healthy fish can swim against the current.

We have to go back to our place of origin, to our prototype, to God, who is Love. Who do I meet at the source of my life? God, the living one, who is the creator of billions of galaxies. He says to his people in Israel: «With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you.» This is not only true for the people of Israel, this is true for me personally! And again and again, Israel cannot believe that God loves this very race of people who have traditionally had more enemies than they number themselves — just like the people of God today. They often have more enemies than friends. And God has chosen these people and said: «It is only you that I want.» In the end, God wants only love. We can see this illustrated in the Gospel of St. John as well: As a continuation of the creation through the Word, the Word — namely Jesus Christ — becomes man, it becomes flesh, it lives as a word-become-man among us people, in order to love us tangibly, in person.

The Fathers of the Church had the courage to say, «God, the eternal Word, becomes a person so that people can become like God.» The creation is greatness, beauty and truth. And Love is devotion come to life. How much devotion does a human child need in order to become an adult? And now we can be told: God’s love explodes all perceptions. It is simply beyond measure, as the Universe is beyond number. The secret of all things is Love, in the way that God means it.

In John 21, Jesus asks Peter, «Do you love me?» And Peter answers: «Yes, Lord, you know everything; you also know that I love you even though I am the one who betrayed you, the one who did not have the strength to stand up and be faithful to you at the moment I was challenged.» Peter’s love remains unbroken. That is very important. Jesus accepts the love of the unfaithful disciple, just as he accepts the love of the sinful woman, Mary Magdalene. The disciple’s love for Jesus is a poor love, but it is a love that can break through despite unfaithfulness and which seeks its meaning, its place and its source. And Jesus accepts it. Thus, the «you» goes both ways, and it means Love.

Ultimately, everyone meets God alone. In the same way, everyone lives alone, one day dies alone and takes responsibility for him or herself alone. Other people, even my nearest and dearest, can only come along, they can only support me. But God loves every single person. He became human for each and every one of us. He is closer to every person than that person is close to him or herself. If God, the creator of billions of solar systems, is so infinitely great, then every single person may conclude that an unfathomably great portion of God’s love belongs only to him or her. And this connects us to one another. Thus Peter says, «You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood» (1 Peter 2:9). What we have in common with the Magi is not only our quest, but also our origins. Like them, we are of royal origin and royal dignity. We cannot think highly enough of ourselves.

6. The Magi, too, were driven by this inner restlessness — by the longings that had their origin in the core of their being — to the observation towers to search the heavens for signs of God’s love. And then they found the star. And their great adventure began. They set forth on their way, they followed the star. And when it disappeared from their sight, they looked, they asked, they searched the skies again until they once again spotted their guiding star and came to their destination.

The World Youth Day in Cologne is, first of all, an invitation to hearken back to my origins, to the place where the mirror image of God molded my being, the place where all longing, restlessness and homesickness for that which is holy, good and beautiful — ultimately for God — begins. And you, as young people, are not as far removed from the hand of God the Creator as we older people are. This closer proximity to the hand of the Creator makes this longing for that which is pure, good and beautiful — that is, for God — much stronger than it is in us older people.

And when we go home again, our experience will be like that of the Magi. We will go out among the multitudes. It is then our duty to strive at home for that direction which we received here in Cologne. I know with the certainty of my faith that for each one of our lives, God has a specific, unique plan which cannot be delegated away. The success of our lives depends upon our ability to recognize and accomplish that plan.

Each of us has only one life. Life, faith and love are not like learning to drive, where you have a responsibility-free period while you are in driving school. No, in life, faith and love, you are a fully responsible driver from the very beginning. There is no such thing as a practice period for life, faith and love. It’s serious from the very beginning.

How can I find out what God wants from me? Here, I strongly advise every one of you to make a good confession during these days — perhaps a confession of your whole life. This happens very often at World Youth Days. We ha
ve to cleanse our souls, our hearts from all the sins, all the dirt and debris that has collected within us so that we can once again find a clear perspective on ourselves. God wants to make every person’s calling clear to him or her at the World Youth Day in Cologne, so that the world doesn’t have to wait so long for the next Mother Teresas, for the already-chosen Edith Steins in your midst, for the Maximilian Kolbes, and all the others.

But let me look for a few other paths from the surface of our lives to the depths of our being, to the source, where the image of God is tangible. It is a part of our nature that we cannot satisfy our inner hunger for eternity, for everlastingness. In my life, it has always been like this: When I strived for something — perhaps wanted to own a beautiful picture — and then, with greater or lesser effort achieved it, it fascinated me for a period of two to four weeks, and then it became ordinary again. Then my desires refocused themselves on some other object. And when I found the other thing, the same process repeated itself: It became ordinary, and my longings were not fulfilled.

Our longings cannot be fulfilled here on this Earth. They drive us from one goal to the next. As the great Augustine said: «Our hearts are troubled until they rest in Thee.» Then we do not have something — rather, we have HIM, he who is everything to us.

Or, in the same way, the law of the limitedness of our existence shows us that the template for our person is God, and not a human being. This becomes clear to me, for example, every time I listen to a familiar piece of music: I look forward to a very special passage, and then it escapes me again immediately. I want to hold onto it, but it cannot be held. It made me happy, and at the same time I was painfully moved. I want to keep it in the present, but it is not possible. It keeps moving forward. This is an example of the limitedness of our earthly existence, against which the longings of our hearts are constantly fighting. The music is very intense, but very fleeting. A picture, on the other hand, is very lasting — it hangs in front of me all the time — but it is less intense.

If a person travels across all of Italy, for example, in two weeks, he or she will gather a wide range of experiences, but the content of his or her experience will be very small. If, on the other hand, the person remains only in the Italian city of Florence for two weeks, he or she will have a smaller range of experiences, but the content of his or her experience will be much greater. The larger the range of one’s experience, the smaller the content of that experience will always be. You cannot have both of these things in this world. And this is what my longing for eternity struggles against. This is proof that we have been created according to different measurements than the dimensions of a human being or the dimensions of the world. As measurements for people, the world and human beings will always be too small.

«Our hearts are troubled until they rest in God.» — Why have you come to Cologne? The answer is in the motto for this year’s World Youth Day: «We have come to worship him.» Our inner longing for a great, fulfilled and successful life has led us onto the roads, like the Magi, to seek and to find the one who is both the source and the destination of our lives: God, who is our all in all; God, who makes my life great.

If a high jumper wants to get over a bar, he needs to count on something higher than himself. A person who has faith is counting on something higher than him or herself — namely, on God. And when he has jumped over the bar, the best praise he can hear is: «You’ve outdone yourself!» A person who has faith outdoes him or herself. This is what we are called upon to do, just like Mary, who says in the Magnificat: «The Mighty One has done great things for me» (Luke 1:49). The Mighty One will do great things for all of you.

Joachim Cardinal Meisner
Archbishop of Cologne

[Translation issued by the organizers of World Youth Day 2005; adapted slightly here]

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