S+L logo

“Be the Change You Wish to See in the Church and the World"

May 25, 2009
NOTE: The following text, in English and French, was presented by Fr. Rosica as the Keynote Address to the Montée Jeunesse (Youth Summit) 2009 on May 15th at Laval University, Québec City (You may remember Therese Nichols's blog last week about this event). The embedded video of Fr. Rosica presenting the address is entirely in French.
Your Excellency Archbishop Ventura,
Excéllences, les Pasteurs de Québec,
Dear Friends,
Très chers amis,
For one week in June 2008, I rediscovered what extraordinary Eucharistic miracles are all about, only this time it wasn’t in theology books or Basilicas of old Europe. Along with 15,000 other people from throughout Canada and 75 other countries of the world, I saw the Eucharist come alive in a very powerful way in a hockey arena in Quebec City’s Pepsi Coliseum – transformed into a National Catholic Cathedral during the 49th International Eucharistic Congress. The impressive opening ceremonies of last year’s International Eucharistic Congress took place in the Pepsi Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, June 15, 2008 before a crowd of nearly 11,000 people. In a richly choreographed ceremony that featured contemporary music, dance, giant marionette figures of Saints and Blesseds of Quebec moving slowly through the huge assembly, plumed Knights of Columbus escorting the now famed Ark of the New Covenant borne by the young portageurs, we knew that we were in for something special over the next week. But the powerful images of those Saints and Blesseds, towering over the assembly and moving gracefully yet purposefully through the Coliseum spoke volumes. The Saints came marching in to our lives that night. Something was changing in Canada…
Following the Thursday afternoon celebration of the Eucharist in the Coliseum, participants of the Congress joined in a 5.1 km procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Quebec, starting at Pepsi Coliseum and ending at the Agora in Quebec City’s Old Port. Over 25,000 people took part in the great procession, something people in Quebec have not seen for over 50 years. A spirit of prayer, contemplation, joy and hope permeated this historic procession in Quebec City. Something was changing in Canada that night…
For many, the high point of the week took place on Friday evening at the priestly ordination ceremony held in the Pepsi Coliseum. In a part of Canada and North America that has had few priestly vocations over the past decades, the ordination ceremony of twelve young men (eight of whom were from the new community “Famille Marie Jeunesse”) before a crowd of nearly 12,000 people elicited extraordinary emotion, joy, gratitude and abundant tears from those in attendance. The crowd erupted into applause at several moments throughout the ordination ceremony. It felt more like a hockey game than a mass at times! The music was extraordinary. I have never experienced a liturgy like that one. On that Friday night, Quebec’s silent majority did not stand on the sidelines. It was as though the crowd was begging to differ with the darkness, encircling gloom and despair that have been part of the background of Quebec ecclesial life for far too many years. What great hope filled that Coliseum on a Friday night last June! Something changed in Canada that night…
For one blessed week last June, we caught a glimpse of a tide that is turning, a sad epoch that is changing. Several times during that magnificent week of the International Eucharistic Congress, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, himself stated emphatically that the Congress marked a “turning point”. At the lively Saturday evening prayer vigil with hundreds of young people, the Cardinal said the he felt as if he had been “raised from the dead.” What fitting words to describe what is afoot in Quebec: a resurrection of sorts! And it continues tonight with the opening ceremonies of this year’s Montée Jeunesse, with 450 young adults from across Canada who have come to Quebec City to reflect on the life, witness, message and boldness of St. Paul the Apostle. This is a special moment of the New Evangelization and we are witnesses and agents of this new moment. Something indeed is changing in Canada through all of these great and blessed events!
St. Paul, agent of change
Let me share with you something about St. Paul so that can better appreciate his mission and our mission in the Canadian Church. Of all the founders of the Church, Paul was perhaps the most brilliant and many-sided, the broadest in outlook, and therefore the best endowed to carry Christianity to alien lands and peoples.
Born into a well-to-do Jewish family of Tarsus, the son of a Roman citizen, Saul was sent to Jerusalem to be trained in the famous rabbinical school headed by Gamaliel. There, in addition to studying the Law and the Prophets, he learned a trade, as was the custom: the trade of tent-making. Although his upbringing was orthodox, while still at home in Tarsus he had come under the Greek influences which at this time had permeated all levels of urban society in Asia Minor. His missionary journeys were to give him the flexibility and the deep sympathy that made him the ideal human instrument for preaching Christ's Gospel of universal fraternity.
In the year 35 Saul appears as a self-righteous young Pharisee, almost fanatically anti-Christian. We are told in Acts chapter 7 that he was present, although not a participator in the stoning, when Stephen, the first martyr, met his death. It was very soon afterwards that Paul experienced the revelation which was to transform his life. On the road to the Syrian city of Damascus, where he was going to continue his persecutions against the Christians, he was struck blind. Paul accepted eagerly the commission to preach the Gospel of Christ, but like many another called to a great task he felt his unworthiness and withdrew from the world to spend three years in "Arabia" in meditation and prayer before beginning his apostolate.
His extensive travels by land and sea, so filled with adventure, are to be traced by anyone who reads carefully the New Testament letters. He himself tells us he was stoned, scourged three times, shipwrecked three times, endured hunger and thirst, sleepless nights, perils and hardships; besides these physical trials, he suffered many disappointments and almost constant anxieties over the weak and widely scattered communities of Christians. Just think for a moment of the way that the apostle Paul's words have worked their way into the fabric of our English language 2,000 years later and an ocean away from his place of birth in Tarsus. How many times in a week do we hear or say something uniquely Pauline not just in church but in the course of ordinary conversation? Consider for instance these well-known phrases:
"Fight the good fight" (1 Tm 6:12).
"Labor of love" (1 Thes 1:3).
"Bear with fools gladly" (2 Cor 11:19).
"Mend your ways" (2 Cor 13:11).
"A thief in the night" (1 Thes 5:4).
"The root of all evil" (1 Tm 6:10).
"Old wives' tales" (1 Tm 4:7).
"A thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor 12:7).
"The letter of the law" (2 Cor 3:6).
"The twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor 15:52).
"The wages of sin" (Rom 6:23).
"The powers that be" (Rom 13:1).
"All things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22).
"Fallen from grace" (Gal 5:4).
His entire life was entirely consumed by souls (cf. II Corinthians 12:15), not in the least peaceful and protected from snares and difficulties. In the encounter with Jesus, he had understood the central significance of the cross: He had understood that Jesus had died and risen for all and also for [Paul], himself. Both elements were important -- the universality: Jesus had truly died for everyone; and the subjectivity: He had died also for me. To accept the cross of Christ means to undergo a profound conversion in the way of relating with God. We must build our lives on this true wisdom: To not live for ourselves, but to live in the faith in this God, about whom all of us can say: "He loved me and gave himself up for me."
The New Testament doesn’t tell us about St. Paul’s death. But an ancient and reliable tradition reports that he was martyred under the Roman emperor Nero, probably sometime after the summer of the year 64 — perhaps in the same persecution of Christians when St. Peter was crucified. According to the ancient tradition, the morning of June 29, Peter and Paul were taken from their common cell at Rome's Mamertine prison and separated. Peter was taken to Nero's Circus where he was crucified upside down, while Paul was taken east to the area now known as Tre Fontane. The name records the legend of the saint's beheading, when his severed head reportedly bounced three times, creating three fountains. Paul's pilgrimage was from the blindness of persecution to the fire of proclamation. He made the Word of God come alive for the nations.
To be with Peter means to preserve the unity of the Christian church. To speak with Paul is to proclaim the pure Word of God. Their passion was to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Their commitment was to create a place for everyone in Christ's church. Their loyalty to Christ was valid to death. They were not afraid. Peter and Paul are for us a strong foundation, they are pillars of our church.
Dear young friends, Peter’s mission and Paul’s proclamation are not things of the past nor are they over and done! And the mission, legacy and hope of World Youth Day 2002 and last year’s International Eucharistic Congress are not fading memories of glorious moments of Canadian history. They must continue through each and every one of us in this Church tonight. It is not enough to simply complain about all the bad things around us and the difficult of chaning anything for the good! We must become the change we wish to see in the Church and in the world around us.
To be witnesses, apostles and agents of change in today’s world and Church means first and formost to announce the Gospel that is joy. Jesus Christ loved me and gave himself for me! We bring about this change by evangelizing others and the world. To evangelize, to proclaim Christ crucified, is to teach the art of living, not on the surface but really and truly living! At the beginning of his public life Jesus says: I have come to evangelize the poor (Luke 4:18); this means: I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path toward happiness—rather: I am that path. Jesus cannot be reduced to a simple role model who shows us the way to an ethical Kingdom of peace and love constructed by us on our own insights. He is much more than a role model or a source of personal inspiration: he is our Lord. Conversion is a call to change, to live life on his terms, to surrender, to submit to God’s holy will made visible in Jesus. The power to surrender is itself a gift from the Holy Spirit. We are a people filled with hope precisely because God’s kingdom isn’t ours; it’s Christ’s.
Devnir des agents de transformation
Si nous voulons être des agents de tranfomation dans notre culture canadienne, et des instrument de la Nouvelle Evangélisation, cela veut dire que nous, dès ici, sommes appelés à libérer les personnes de leur désespoir, leur manque d'espérance, leur confusion et leur doute. Le monde auquel nous proclamons l'évangile est devenu plus triste que beaucoup parmi nous aimerions avouer. Celui qui croit en Jésus est tout d'abord un croyant dans un monde incroyant, un qui espère chasser les démons de la peur, du désespoir, de l'injustice, de la bigoterie et de l'égoïsme. Et nous faisons cela uniquement si nous offrons Jésus comme “le choix réfléchi” parmi toutes les grandes questions et les grands défis de notre temps.
Je vous offre cinq moyens pour transformer et évangéliser, [c’est-à-dire témoigner Dieu et son Fils qui nous sauve] aux autres. Jésus est allé à Galilée dans l'évangile de Marc pour "prêcher la bonne nouvelle" tout au début de son ministère. Non seulement limitée aux moments publiques, où il y a une foule, mais proclamer la bonne nouvelle arrive aussi dans un dialogue amical et intime. Pensez à Jésus dans une discussion un-à-un avec la Samaritaine, une des plus puissantes discussions théologiques qui a eu lieu dans le Nouveau Testament. Pensez à la conversation nocturne avec Nicodème. Pensez à tous les moments quand Jésus est laissé seul avec les pécheurs, avec ceux qu'il a guéris, ceux qui souffrent et les paroles de la bonne nouvelle qui sont échangées.
La deuxième méthode d'évangélisation c'est par la convocation, les grands nombres, le grand appel: invite tout le monde à la fête. Appellez tout le monde au banquet, nous avons quelque chose digne d'une célébration. Convoquer une JMJ! Organiser un Congrès Eucharistique! Préparez une autre Montée Jeunesse! Nous avons quelque chose à offrir, nous avons vraiment une Bonne Nouvelle. Et nous voyons cela à plusieurs occasions lorsque Jésus est présent avec les grandes foules, la multiplication des pains, l'enseignement des foules sur le Mont des Béatitudes, les paraboles où il utilise la fête des noces et le banquet de beaucoup de personnes comme le paradigme du salut offert à tous. L’église catholique et notre milieu catholique doit offrir l’invitation à tous. Nous nous souvenos du grand cri du Pontificant de Jean Paul II: “Ouvrons tout grands nos portes au Christ et à sa mission qui sauve!”
The third method of evangelization takes place by attraction. This is the experience of the first community of Jerusalem, who even before sending out missionaries witnessed the crowds from the neighboring cities streaming to Jerusalem because they've heard about the good news. There's something unique and different about these people: they seem to love one another, they have placed all of their goods in common, so that there will be no poor among them. Goodness and authenticity cannot help but inspire and attract others, it is the most powerful witness that we have. The most important image we should be concerned with is how our living together and loving one another mirrors the unity that Jesus has intended for the Church.
The fourth method of evangelization is the contagious factor, not Swine Flu or SARS but another form of contagion! This is based on the fact that one small light will be generated from another light and the word will spread and we have no control whatsoever over this reality. One smile generates another, one small candle burns in the darkness, one person goes to another person, who goes to another person. "We have found the Messiah" as we read in the New Testament. And we hear the response: "Come, bring me to him."
One individual goes to another; one group goes to another group, one community moves to another community. We read in Luke's Gospel [12:49], "I have come to bring fire to the earth and Oh, how I wish that it were ablaze right now." Jesus came to light the world on fire, sometimes we are so afraid of ourselves and the power that's within us through Christ's spirit that we can't even light the match. Even when some refused to believe the word, others are convinced of the word because they have seen how these Christians live.
La cinquième méthode de transformation et d'évangélisation du monde, d’annoncer la Bonne Nouvelle, c'est par la simple méthode du levain dans la pâte. C'est peut-être, la méthode la plus longue et la plus difficile qui requiert le plus de temps. C'est plus lent, c'est plus caché, comme le levain que la femme a utilisé pour pétrir le pain. Cette méthode demande que les évangélisateurs réalisent qu'ils sèment seulement les graines de semence; ils ne verront jamais le résultat du travail qu'ils ont fait.
Nous ne sommes pas les principaux évangélisateurs, c'est le Saint Esprit qui est le plus grand évangélisateur, qui a besoin d'instruments transparents, qui se sont vidés de leur propre programme et se sont ouverts à l'oeuvre de Dieu.
Jeunes du Canada, laissez-moi vous demander ce soir : Pourquoi les chrétiens et les catholiques de ce pays devraient-ils être réticents de se déclarer chrétien, catholique, ou révolutionnaire de la sainteté? Pourquoi devrions-nous nous comporter comme si notre message pouvait être dangeureux ou comme si nous avions une Parole et une histoire mais ne savions pas comment l’annoncer? Avons-nous peur de l’indifférence, de l’hostilité ou d’être ridiculisé?
Lorsque l’Église se trouvent dans des périodes creuses, Dieu élève des saints extraordinaires pour ramener l’Église à sa véritable mission, comme si la lumière du Christ était encore plus brillante en ces périodes de noirceurs. Nous vivons l’une de ces périodes, et le Seigneur accepte toujours des candidats pour prendre cette forme extrême de sainteté. Et j’ai le fort sentiment que le Seigneur était rayonnant de joie au cours des 28 dernières années, alors qu’Il regardait les foules de jeunes réunies à Rome, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Compostela, Czestochowa, Denver, Manilles, Paris, encore à Rome, puis Toronto, Cologne et à Sydney. « Ha, ha, dit le Seigneur, les Journées mondiales de la jeunesse sont des bureaux d’emploi pour la sainteté extrême, pour les nouveaux témoins de l’Evangile, pour les Apôtres et Missionaires de nos jours. Il y a là des candidats qui peuvent travailler pour moi. »
Et le Seigneur s’est réjoui en grand au Canada …« Ha, ha, je trouverai parmi ces jeunes Canadiens des successeurs de Saints : Jean de Brébeuf, Noël Chabanel, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, Isaac Jogues, Gabriel Lalemant, René Goupil and Jean de Lalande. Je vois de nouveaux agents qui prendront la vision et le travail de Pierre et Paul, de Marguerite d'Youville, Marguerite Bourgeoys, et leur équipe gagnante de bienheureux: André Grasset, Kateri Tekakwitha, Marie de l'Incarnation, François de Laval, Marie-Rose Durocher, André Bessette, Marie-Léonie Paradis, Louis-Zéphirin Moreau, Frédéric Janssoone, Catherine de Saint-Augustin, Dina Bélanger, Marie-Anne Blondin, Émilie Tavernier Gamelin…»
À cela le Seigneur ajouterait sûrement : « Il y a beaucoup de francophones sur cette liste. Je veux que des jeunes du Canada anglophone postulent pour ces emplois! »
Ces modèles nous mettent au défi d’entreprendre aujourd’hui une nouvelle évangélisation. Ils nous encouragent par leur dévouement au Christ, et aussi par leur zèle et leur prière tout au long de l’autoroute qui mène vers le ciel.
One of the goals of Pope Benedict XVI in proclaiming the Year of St. Paul this year is to have every Catholic hold up a mirror to his or her life and to ask, Am I as determined and as energetic about spreading the Catholic faith as St. Paul was? Is spreading the faith both by example and by our conversations with our friends even a concern?
I leave with you the words of Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, in his 1994 inaugural speech as President of South Africa:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others."
Let us never be afraid to open our hearts to Jesus and to proclaim him to those around us. Your playing small in your parishes, neighborhoods, families, secondary schools, universities or colleges across this vast country doesn't serve the world or the Church. You exist here in Canada to make manifest the glory of God. And that glory is nothing small!
Remember St. Paul’s words, and put them into practice in your lives:
"Fight the good fight" and don’t be discouraged.
Do everything as a "Labor of love."
"Bear with fools gladly." "Mend your ways.”
Listen to"The powers that be." “Be all things to all people.”
Become the change you wish to see in the Church and the world!
Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Television Network