National Youth Day Sunday
Over the years, parents, teachers and many friends have tried to help you find reasons to live. Maybe that is not the way you sensed it, but it was their way of saying they want only the best for you - that they will do all they can to preserve and nourish your life.
Even so, there are times and circumstances when you wonder about the truth of it all. Love may not have always been the gift it was meant to be. You may have been the victim of tragedy in the lives of those responsible for your care. You may yourself have tried to live well and failed. Perhaps you've been let down, or disillusioned by the awareness of weakness in yourself and in others. You may be among the nearly 30,000 under 24-year-olds currently unemployed in our country.
These are the kind of experiences that can lead you to question many of the values that seemed much clearer when you were very young: Why should I trust anybody? Should I try to succeed? Is there any point in believing in Jesus or in the Church or in other people? Is there going to be a future? Has my life any purpose?
No matter what you've experienced, or how cruel or unfair the world about you appears, you and all of life remain gifts to be honoured and cherished.
The experience you've had of how other people have loved you and given of themselves for you must not be allowed to either stagnate or turn sour. That experience is your guide to truth and, ultimately, to your own lasting happiness.
We want to strengthen that experience and help you to discover the great contribution you can make in and through your youth to the life of the whole community.
Your spontaneous and magnificent response to the Famine Relief Appeal says that youth are ready to help when a need is identified. Even if all you could do was buy the records, you knew you were helping others to live. The melody of life is richer and more resonant when people are enabled to live and not just exist. The harmony of many transforms the agony of isolation and aloneness. The themes of the International Year of Youth are stepping stones in this necessary work of transformation.
As young adults, you are often reminded that you are the leaders of tomorrow and the Church of the future. Don't let this "peering ahead" distract you from the present, or lead you to feel disconnected from today.
Be assertive. Be a participant in life at all levels. The future will be what you make of today.
Within the Church community your talents and interests can all find expression. Your music and art, for instance, have their own place in liturgy. In the various ministries open to you, you can be visible reminders to the community not only of your presence, but of your faith and of your full membership among the people God has chosen for His own. Age is not a barrier to belief or commitment or participation. The RENEW process is an open invitation for you to become involved. Your energy is needed to meet the demands that will always arise for a community that sees help given to neighbour as help given to Christ. Those demands will come from families, the elderly and your own peers. From your energy and involvement in your neighbourhoods, your voice will come to be heard on Parish Councils.
Participation is life-giving, for it links you to "living" people. Get in and be a part of what's going on. Let your own uniqueness contribute to the life experience of your peers. And be prepared to learn from them, remaining especially open to the richness that can come from those whose ethnic backgrounds differ from your own.
This point is made very strongly by Pope John Paul II, whom we look forward to welcoming to New Zealand next year. In his 1985 Easter letter "To The Youth Of The World", he writes: "Youth is the time for new contacts, new companionships new friendships ....". It is through "contact with living people" with their "richness and variety" that we learn the "truth which can build up and enrich the humanity of each one of us."
Through this urge to contact, you will be drawn to give of yourself. This is the path to a fuller understanding of who you are, and to a deeper appreciation of Jesus of Nazareth. His participation in life brought a wonderful array of gifts: healing, restored dignity, peace of mind, forgiveness, joy .... Don't be surprised if some people don't seem ready for you yet. That happened to Jesus, too. You need to work, as Jesus did, at growing in self-knowledge and awareness of others by contact with God.
Pope John Paul II:
"My wish for you too is a similar 'growth' through contact with God. For this purpose, contact with nature and with other people can help indirectly, but the special and direct means is prayer. Pray and learn to pray! Open your hearts and your consciences to the one who knows you better than you know yourselves. Talk to Him! Deepen your knowledge of the word of the Living God by reading and meditating on the Scriptures."
Jesus hears your question about eternal life: "What must I do so that my life may have full value and full meaning?" And He calls you to a process of discovering, organising, choosing, relating, wondering -in a word, to a realisation of yourself as a person in your own right, greatly loved by God. Let your life become an unbroken conversation with Jesus, who wants you to be fully alive. It's no coincidence that the word often used for eternal life- "salvation"-is derived from a word meaning to be healthy, to be whole, to be full of life!
Development means more than body building. It is person building. It follows or, rather, goes hand in hand with being a participant in life. It has to do with becoming aware of the other people in your life, especially those less able to care for themselves, and realising they are your sisters and brothers. Development is also about taking care of the world, of your environment. To see yourself as a caretaker is to see value in everything.
One way of being involved is through the various cultural, spiritual and sporting activities sponsored by the Youth Ministry teams in our dioceses. This year's National Youth Day is a means for you to take pride in both your Catholic heritage and the fact that you are part of the new generation-the one that will usher in a new century-entrusted with caring for and passing on the good news about God's love for His creation.
In developing your life to have "full value and full meaning", you need to be wary of setting your heart too much on what is temporary or passing. To do so is to invite an illusion of freedom. There are people only too eager to trade on your craving for wholeness, your hunger for happiness, and their deceptions are clever and subtle Instant paradise can never be delivered, no matter how enticing or convincing the promise.
It's encouraging to see the energy and creativity that's characterising our diocesan Youth Ministry teams so early in their own development. Working with very limited resources, they are already making an impact of great significance. We realise that if they are to adequately meet your needs, and help you take up the challenges we offer in this letter, further resources must be made available. We will do our best in this regard, and intend this letter to also be an endorsement of their efforts.
Remember, though, that diocesan youth teams can really only help you to the extent that you are ready to help yourself in taking initiative. Look for ways of doing this, whether in the formal setting of a youth group or Parish Council, or the informal situation of flats, friendships, sports fields ....
The desire for peace is uppermost in the hearts of all sensible people. No sane person wants war or deliberately sets a course of self-destruction. Yet peace remains a challenge, especially in the face of huge arsenals of weapons that threaten global life. Unemployment, injustice in so many forms, apathy and cynicism also promote a climate of confrontation and violence rather than peace.
As young people without the opportunities of decision-makers, you may feel powerless to make any difference. But this is not so. Precisely because of your youthfulness you have great potential to be peacemakers. Your youthfulness makes you the ideal person to reach the wounded and frightened among youth. Health statistics show, for instance, that nearly 700 teenagers enter public hospital drug and alcohol clinics in New Zealand each year. Their pain and that of so many other young people, whatever its origin, reveals a lack of inner, personal peace, the very peace you have to offer. The yearning for peace in the world is related to the deep yearning for individual peace of mind. The tortured and crippled minds of so many young people is a tragedy that the Christian community must address.
You speak the language of your peers. Tell them of the peace of Christ - the peace that is yours by right - a peace the world alone cannot give. Pope John Paul II affirmed young Christians in their role as peacemakers in his 1985 New Year message. We make his words our own:
"God, who is eternal peace, has made peace with the world through Christ, the Prince of Peace. That peace has been poured into your hearts and it lies deeper than all the unrest of your minds, all the torments of your hearts. God gives you His peace not as a possession which you can hoard, but as a treasure which you possess only when you share it with others."
You share with us the mission and privilege of bringing the peace of Jesus Christ into our community. We hope this letter helps you see how you are uniquely placed to lead people to life and thus to Christ. In the reading from the Mass of the day for National Youth Sunday, St Paul tells that Jesus "is the peace between us" and that "He came to bring the good news of peace, peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near at hand" (Ephesians 2:13-18). Together with the Shepherd theme in the readings, it confirms our own sincere hope that you will never stop believing in the God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ as caring, protective, understanding, wanting only your happiness. This conviction will strengthen you to keep alive the desire for peace, to work for the development of values that shape your lives in harmony with your God-like dignity, and to participate in life in such a way that all around you, in sensing your joy in living today, will be encouraged not to lose hope in tomorrow.
Live life. Give life.
May Mary, Mother of the Church, and Mother of all who follow her Son, watch over you now and always.