Our young people need to hear about “the greatness, uniqueness and courage of the first evangelizers of this country, those who were the extraordinary pioneers of faith,” Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the papal nuncio to the United States, said this past week at the bishops’ meeting in Baltimore.
I was struck by how true the nuncio’s message is for everyone, but particularly for the youth, who long for meaning and inspiration in their lives. All one has to do is look at the case of the three teenage girls from Aurora who tried to join the Islamic State militants in Syria. They responded to a challenge, a call to serve something beyond themselves. The Islamic State was able to give them a mission that would confer a purpose to their lives, even though it carries out unspeakable atrocities.
Archbishop Viganò reminded us that “young America is searching for something, or perhaps someone, to lead them beyond the frustrations they experience every day. They are looking well beyond just so-called ‘happiness.’”
During our meeting in Baltimore, we also heard a report from Archbishop Thomas Wenksi of Miami, who delivered the results of a multi-year survey of the Catholic faithful. The survey found that Catholics active in parish life would acknowledge they had trouble with certain Church teachings, but younger Catholics said they just “tuned out” teachings they didn’t agree with. They adopted an “agree to disagree” approach.
The survey showed that young Catholics are being influenced by the relativistic culture we live in. But despite this atmosphere, it is impossible to suppress our longing for meaning and purpose, since every human being is created for God.
We must respond to this longing for meaning by proposing Christ and his Church to them. As Archbishop Viganò said so eloquently, “(w)e have to let our young people know that their lives are worth living and that they were born for eternal glory, not for glamor, or guns, or sensationalism. They are crying out to us. They desperately need to be inspired, to have the life of Christ breathed back into them. It is up to us to set the example, not just by doctrinal teaching alone, but by the teaching of our whole lives.”
The Archdiocese of Denver has been graced with the heroic examples of many saintly men and women whom we can look to for inspiration. Our first bishop, Joseph Machebeuf, was one such man. When he arrived in Denver in October 1860, he and a priest who accompanied him were the first Catholic clergy to be sent to Colorado. At the time, Denver was home to only 200 Catholics, out of a population of 3,000. Father Machebeuf traveled extensively to bring the Gospel to the mining camps and towns that had sprung up throughout the region. His ministry, fueled by his love for Christ, had meaning and an eternal impact.
You might also have heard of Julia Greeley, a former slave who earned her living scrubbing floors and used the little money she had left to help the poor. By all appearances, she was an unremarkable woman who could have been mistaken for a homeless person. But when she died on June 7, 1918, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, people flocked to her wake and funeral by the hundreds.
It soon became widely known that although Julia earned $10-12 a month, she would constantly visit the poor and help them with what little she had. When her money was insufficient, Julia would beg for those in need. In a story written shortly after her death, the Denver Catholic Register recalled, “Nobody ever asked for help in vain from Julia Greeley. She was victimized many times by charity frauds. But Julia’s rule seemingly was that it was better to give than to be too careful and deny assistance to someone who needed it.”
We are surrounded by saints-in-the-making today, too. There are many men and women in the archdiocese who selflessly dedicate themselves to the same person who gave purpose and meaning to Bishop Machebeuf and Julia Greeley–Jesus Christ.
I cannot talk about the saints of the archdiocese without mentioning St. John Paul II, who has profoundly impacted so many people. When he arrived in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993, he spoke about the “internal contradiction present in a part of the culture of a modern ‘metropolis’”–it proclaims truth, is relative, but it also longs for meaning.
St. John Paul II responded to this cultural confusion by pointing young and old to the source of true meaning in life. He told those gathered in Mile High Stadium, “Jesus has called each one of you to Denver for a purpose: You must live these days in such a way that, when the time comes to return home, each one of you will have a clearer idea of what Christ expects of you. Each one must have the courage to go and spread the Good News …”
You were created for a purpose; you were made to live with and for God. The world needs the gifts, personality and character that he has given to you alone. I pray that each of us will have the courage to answer the call to imitate the saints among us and those holy people who have gone before us!