Young Catholics are being called to be authentic and convincing witnesses if their contemporaries are to come to know Jesus Christ, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, England, has said.
He reflected how often young people are being offered no direction in life except “make your own mind up. Go left, go right – see what works for you!”
“It is not opinions we need,” the bishop told 1,000 young people gathered at Walsingham in eastern England. “We need the truth, we cannot find our way without the Truth.” In the faith and teaching of the Church, Bishop Davies insisted, we will never be deceived but find our sure direction.
In his homily at an August 24 Mass at the Youth 2000 annual Prayer Festival in Walsingham, Norfolk, Bishop Davies reflected on the Sunday Gospel and “the all-decisive” question which Our Lord put directly to Simon Peter and now to us: “Who do you say I am?”
Bishop Davies said: “We cannot forget this summer what the answer to this question has meant for those Christians across the Middle East who were given the choice between denying Christ or facing violent death. These Christians of our time, young and old, died rather than deny the One they knew to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. We call them ‘martyrs’ which means ‘witnesses’ because they were ready to stand up and to die in testimony to the Truth Himself.
“Today we cannot compare what is asked of us with their heroism. However, a ‘quieter martyrdom’ is increasingly being asked of Christians in western societies like our own. We will be ‘witnesses’ beside them whenever we stand up and stand by what we know to be true. Faced with contentious issues and choices we will be witnesses when we look not to the changing tides of human opinion but are ready to repeat Peter’s profession of faith: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’
Bishop Davies said: “We are now to be the witnesses along every road of life whether in education, in medicine, in industry, in law, in politics, in marriage and
family, in the priesthood or in consecrated life. We are to offer the directions which we didn’t make up ourselves but received as a gift, the faith of the Church”
Bishop Davies told the young adults at the five-day festival, TheJourney@Walsingham, that the Church, under the guidance of the popes, the successors of St Peter, would never mislead them but would instead give them the directions and the means “of finding the way to Heaven”.
Youth 2000 is a movement for Catholics aged between 16 and 30 years. It has been active in youth ministry in the UK for about 20 years, seeking to draw young Catholics into a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The primary way it does this is through weekend prayer festivals where young people are introduced to Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, confession, scripture, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Its annual prayer festival at the Roman Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is the largest Catholic youth event of its kind in the country.
Here below is the full text of Bishop Davies’ homily:
Homily at the Youth 2000 Prayer Festival
24th August 2014
“The journey: dare to begin” is the theme of this Youth 2000 Prayer Festival. However, to begin a journey you have to know which direction to take! In my life as bishop I spend a lot of my time travelling and losing my direction more times than I can remember. On an October evening last year I became about as lost as I’ve ever been on the circular roads of Runcorn new town. In the darkness I literally had no idea which way to turn. It’s at such a moment you begin to look for someone who can give you “directions.” However, as I looked out at the pavements I could only see some very frightening faces. It was Hallow’en! I wondered how I was going to ask these people dressed as devils and demons for directions to the Church of Mary, Mother of the Saviour. However, I eventually saw a man walking a dog who told me: go back to the lights, turn right, take the third left, go through the second lights then turn right and left again. And they always finish by adding: you can’t miss it. I thought I could! However, after circling aimlessly for 40 minutes in the dark I arrived following these directions in less than 4 minutes!
I share this story because it reflects the situation of fallen humanity where we know we have a goal, a destination but in the dark cannot see the way. It is in the light of faith that we have found the One who can not only give us sure directions but is Himself “the Way” the true direction for all us: Jesus Christ our Lord. And His Church has been given the task of offering this direction to every new generation who might otherwise spend their whole lives going around in endless circles or being misdirected into “dead ends” by passing devils. Pope Francis frequently warns us of the Devil’s activity to deceive.
We can quickly see why we need the Church and why we need the teaching of the Church to guide us amid conflicting, human opinions. Peter is told “it was not flesh and blood which revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven” (Matthew 16:17). It is not conflicting human opinions that we need. It would have been no help to me if the man by the roadside had said what is so often told to young people today: “Make your own mind up! Go left, go right – see what works for you!” No, we need the truth, we cannot find our way without the Truth. Youth 2000 across the past 25 years has never sought to offer guesswork to new generations but sure directions on which we can depend. Catholicism pure and simple, as your spiritual director puts it. And we can be sure of these directions because the Holy Spirit has been promised to the Church. “When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus promises “he will guide you to the complete truth” (Jn.16:13). To St. Peter and to his successors as the bishops of Rome whether their names are “John Paul,” “Benedict” or “Francis” has been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter and the Popes in succession are to be “the rock” against which the powers of Hell will never prevail.
However, all these promises depend on the reliability of the One who made them. In the hard-hitting words of the Youth Catechism: Jesus was either an imposter or He is really God (YouCat n.39). And we cannot avoid the question which Jesus put directly to Simon Peter: “who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15) When we are able to make Peter’s answer the faith of the Church our own, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) then we have found our direction. Pope Francis is impatient we realise this, and says he will never tire of repeating the words of Pope Benedict XVI that Christianity is not a theory or an ethical code but an encounter with an event and a person which gives to our lives a new horizon and a decisive direction (Evangelli Gaudium n.7). “I call Christians everywhere,” Pope Francis says “at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them” (Evangelli Gaudium n.3) Youth 2000 has shared this “Franciscan impatience” for 25 years leading successive generations to this personal meeting with Jesus Christ, truly God and truly Man. No one could have come and gone from this Festival and not faced this all -decisive question: “Who do you say I am?”
We cannot forget this summer what the answer to this question has meant for those Christians across the Middle East who were given the choice between denying Christ or facing violent death. These Christians of our time, young and old, died rather than deny the One they knew to be the Christ. We call them “martyrs” which means “witnesses” because they were ready to stand up and to die in testimony to the Truth Himself. Today we cannot compare what is asked of us with their heroism. However, a “quieter martyrdom” is increasingly being asked of Christians in western societies like our own. We will be “witnesses” beside them whenever we stand up and stand by what we know to be true. We are to be witnesses along every road of life whether in education, in medicine, in industry, in law, in politics, in marriage and family, in the priesthood or in a consecrated life. We are to offer the directions which we didn’t make up ourselves but received as a gift, the faith of the Church. Faced with contentious issues and choices we will be witnesses when we look not to the changing tides of human opinion but are ready to repeat Peter’s profession of faith: “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Pope Francis insists we must be credible, approachable witnesses “a person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody” the Holy Father tells us! (Evangelii Gaudium no.266).
The Catholic faith, like the directions I received by the roadside might at first sound complicated, but the Church will never mislead us but offer both the directions and the means
of finding the way to Heaven. How many rushing along the roads of life need to hear these directions! How many will never hear the directions except through you and me? This is the continuing mission of Youth 2000 in the century ahead, the mission of the Church in which we each have our part. And we are never alone, but in the company of saints and martyrs and in the gentle company of the Blessed Mother, Mary who is “the sure sign of hope and comfort” for the pilgrim Church (Lumen Gentium 68). In such company we dare to begin this journey and to follow it to the end!
Bishop of Shrewsbury