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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lessons for the faithful from Kraków

Here is the text of the reflection I shared with those who came to pray with us this weekend: some thoughts inspired by the words offered by Pope Francis to the youth gathered for the celebration of the XXXI World Youth Day.


Wisdom learned in Kraków

The 31st celebration of World Youth Day has been taking place this past week in the city of Kraków in Poland.  Young people from all corners of the world have gathered in the homeland of Saint John Paul II, the founder of these international youth festivals of faith to celebrate the gift of their faith and to learn the wisdom that is shared.

On Thursday evening of this week, the youth officially welcomed Pope Francis who is there, along with other Cardinals, Bishops, priests, Sisters and people of faith.  Together, they (and we) are gathered in order to speak the words of faith that are in their hearts: Jesus is alive (Pope Francis, Address to Youth, 28 VII 2016).  If we truly believe that Jesus is alive, we can rekindle our enthusiasm in following him, and we can renew our passionate desire to be his disciples.

I watched Pope Francis as he spoke to the young people in Błonia Park on Thursday.  As he spoke, I couldn’t help thinking that this is what it must have been like when Jesus himself taught the crowds.  One of the additional things that the Pope is doing this week is hosting a series of evening conversations, held by video conference with young people who are gathered in other parts of the world.  There have been two such video conferences, one with Italian youth and the other with youth who are gathered in La Habana (Cuba).  In addition, on two occasions, the Holy Father has addressed crowds outside the Archbishop's residence in Kraków from the window above the entrance, recalling the frequent greetings that his venerable predecessor Saint John Paul II would also offer from that same window while he was Archbishop of Kraków.  On Wednesday evening, Pope Francis spoke to youth gathered in the square outside the residence, and on Thursday evening, he spoke with married couples, newly-weds and those who are preparing for their weddings.  The Holy Father knows that not all youth could be physically present in Poland, but that shouldn’t stop them - or us - from being able to celebrate their faith.

The conversations Pope Francis has been having with young people this week – at times including questions from the youth and answers from his heart - are not unlike the conversation that Jesus had in the gospel we have heard today.  When someone in the crowd asked him a question, Jesus took the opportunity to turn the question around so that instead of accusing his brother of not wanting to divide the family inheritance, the questioner and those who were gathered ended up asking themselves some important questions (cf Lk 12:13-21).

Similarly, the young people who are in Kraków this week may very well have arrived bearing their own questions, and Pope Francis has been speaking to their hearts and encouraging them to listen as Jesus too speaks to their hearts.  He began his speech on Thursday evening by reassuring them: Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives … In you, we see that the Father’s mercy has an ever-youthful face, and constantly invites us to be part of his kingdom.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us though that we must always be aware of the danger of vanity: the temptation to believe that we can find all the answers on our own, without the help of God.  Pope Francis also spoke about this temptation: It is difficult and troubling to see young people who waste their lives looking for thrills, or a feeling of being alive by taking dark paths and in the end having to pay for it … dearly … or to see young people squandering some of the best years of their lives, wasting their energies running after peddlers of illusions … who rob you of what is best in you.

All of us, no matter what chronological age we have attained, can fall prey to such illusions, but there is a way out, a way to find fulfillment, a way to gain new strength.  The object of our search is not a tangible thing, but rather a person.  His name is Jesus Christ.

During this Year of Mercy, we look to him, and we ask him to open his heart to us, to teach us his ways of mercy, to show us the great gift of his forgiveness.  With the help of our heavenly mother, we can turn our gaze away from selfish desires, and seek instead the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Col 3:1).
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