(Editor’s note: Archbishop Charles Chaput is giving a series of talks at World Youth Day, July 24-26. At the request of the Holy See, speakers have been asked not to read formal, prepared texts to the young people. The following are talking points of the archbishop’s informal talk.)
World Youth Day Catechesis/3
July 26, 2013, Rio de Janeiro
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
We’ve spent the last two days talking about the thirst for communion with God that every person shares in some way. We also saw that life in Christ is never an exclusive relationship. It always involves others. Christian faith is always personal, but it’s never private. It always has public consequences. And it’s always shared with other disciples. We live our faith most fully within the community of the Church, where Jesus continues to make himself present.
Discipleship can be hard, but it’s also deeply rewarding. Yet we should realize that however much we try and fail at living a Christian life, many people have never even heard the Gospel. Others have heard and ignored it. Many people simply push life’s most important questions to the side. Some become skeptics. Others walk away from the Church completely. If we want our faith to be fruitful, we need to bring it alive first in prayer, and then in action. The greatest way we can show love to other persons is by sharing Jesus Christ with them. And that means all of us are called to be missionaries.
To be missionaries, we have to go somewhere. We need to “go forth.” But Catholics often misunderstand what real mission work involves. We think of people like the great Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier, who left his home, his family and his friends, and traveled around Asia for the rest of his life preaching the Gospel. We have a much harder time seeing ourselves as missionaries.
It’s very possible that God is calling one of you in this room today to be the next Francis Xavier. God created each of you to be a saint; to do some special task no one else can do. The Church needs men and women who are willing to live their faith radically and heroically, and carry the Gospel into every corner of the earth.
Most of us, however, won’t be called to preach in a foreign country, or smuggle the Gospel into North Korea or Iran. Most of us will work in the mission fields of our homes and schools, our sports teams, jobs and friends. And the work will be just as demanding as it was for Francis Xavier, even if the people and places look familiar. The mandate Jesus gave us to preach the Gospel will demand a different kind of journey — a spiritual journey out of ourselves.
Two thousand years ago, St. Paul wrote to his followers, “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). Those are strong words. It’s easy to mistake what he meant. It’s easy to assume that he feared God’s punishment. But Paul actually meant something very different. If we don’t share our faith with others, we begin to lose it ourselves. That’s what Paul feared. The seed of the Gospel is restless. It never sleeps. It’s always either growing or dying in our hearts, and it only grows if we witness Jesus Christ to others by our example and our words.
A lot of Catholics are embarrassed to talk about their faith. We may know that the Church calls all of us to holiness and to make the world around us holy, but we often try to wriggle out of actually doing it. It’s easier – and much more comfortable — if we don’t make a big deal about our faith in public. Even if we know a lot about our faith, even if we’re fully convinced by it, we tend to worry about other people’s reactions.
Part of the problem is that self-consciously “religious” people sometimes give religion a bad name. Sooner or later we all meet a difficult priest or a pompous televangelist or a gossiping volunteer. They’re often the first people to talk about how important religion is to them. But the best witnesses to the faith usually talk less and act more. Then when they do speak, their words are very powerful.
Atheists won’t be the biggest challenge to your missionary lives. You’ll spend a lot of time with people who are very familiar. They’re your friends and family, your neighbors; people you respect in the community. For many, their desire for God has grown cold. They may go through the motions of belief, but they no longer make Jesus and the Church central to their lives. Many just walk away and do something else on Sundays. Or they may stay involved for selfish reasons, but their relationship with Jesus leaks away.
If your friends and family don’t encounter a living Jesus Christ through your words and actions, then you’re doing them a disservice.
Some people may treat you badly. You may work for a boss who demeans your religious faith. Your friends may laugh at you or think you’re strange because you claim to love God. Your own family may try to dissuade you from a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Jesus didn’t promise anyone an easy life.
But whether you face the toughest atheist or the kindest agnostic or the most miserable Scrooge, no example of sincere faith will ever be wasted. If you act out of genuine love for God and others, your patience and persistence will move hearts.
Humility is the most essential virtue for a missionary. We talked yesterday about the need to journey with each other as disciples and instruments of God’s mercy. Baptism makes us saved, and that’s vitally important for our own salvation and the salvation of others; but it doesn’t make us better than anyone else. Our lives in Christ need to be oriented outward, not inward. Mission work entitles nobody to be self-righteous or complacent about God or religious truth. Our efforts should gain disciples for Jesus, not for us.
And nothing valuable is possible without prayer. When you get home, most of you will be riding high on the excitement of your trip here to Rio. You’ll be eager to share your experiences with anyone who wants to listen. That’s a very good thing, because others need to see and hear how these days changed you.
But in a few days, or a few weeks, the excitement will wear off. School or work will make the same old demands. Life will go back to the way it was before World Youth Day. Re-entry into our everyday routines can be very challenging. And the devil will try to steal your energy and joy. That’s why prayer is so important.
If you commit yourself to daily prayer — to carving out some silent time every day to be alone in prayer in the presence of Jesus Christ — then the enthusiasm that you feel here in Rio will put down roots in your heart, and grow into the kind of zeal and conviction that no one can ever take away from you.
The daily activities of life – the chores, the studies, the work – all have meaning. They’re the exact places where God wants you to begin your missionary life. You’ll be judged not on your good intentions, but on your good actions with the people around you. Friendship is vital to a healthy life. So take the time to strengthen old friendships and form new ones here at World Youth Day. Life is very rich and never lonely if you have friends with whom you can share your faith.
And there’s another crucial group of people that I want you to pursue: the poor. Rio de Janeiro has millions of poor people. But the poor are everywhere, including the United States and every major North American city. If we open our eyes and try honestly to see them, we will. A lot of people talk about justice and equality for the poor today, but words and good intentions are cheap, and how many of us actually know any poor people?
Serving the poor with our hands and our time, working among them on their behalf – this is one of the most powerful ways we can deepen our encounter with Jesus Christ and prove that our Catholic faith is more than just beautiful words.
I want you to be credible witnesses of God’s Son. To do that, you need to be committed, mind and soul, to Jesus Christ, to his Church and to the great body of truth that the Catholic Church teaches.
A Jesuit from Philadelphia once told me a story about taking a group of young people from an American university to do service work in El Salvador. They came back again and again for several years. Eventually, they finished a beautiful complex of houses for the poor. They were all very proud of their work. But the priest noticed that the local people were not attending the Catholic mission church they’d built.
As it turned out, many of the people who directly benefited from the better living conditions created by the Catholic service team had chosen instead to worship at a Pentecostal church. While Catholic students were building homes, the Pentecostals were preaching the Gospel.
I’m not suggesting that we should cancel Catholic service trips. Concrete, material aid to the poor is a key part of our faith in Jesus. But as Pope Francis has said, the Church is not just another humanitarian NGO. If we don’t bring the poor to know and love Jesus Christ even as we provide for their material needs, then we’re betraying our own baptism and not doing the poor any good. If we can’t help a man quench his thirst for God, then any work we do on his behalf loses some of its most important value. If we think we’ve done enough by writing someone a check, we’re mistaken. Truly getting to know someone and sharing our experience of faith can fundamentally change a person’s eternal destiny.
Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to “emerge from yourselves” to bring the love of God into the lives of others. He’s asked Christians to go out to the margins of society as Jesus did. No matter what good things we give to people, if we don’t also give them Jesus Christ, then we’re selling them short.
Baptism is the root of who we are as Christian believers. It’s also the cornerstone of the Church as a community of faith. For each of us, now and throughout our lives, being a missionary is not just an option. It’s a duty; but even more importantly, it’s a privilege beyond price.
Everyone who wants to follow Jesus Christ is called to preach the Gospel to the world. Your joyful witness touches and changes others, often in unforeseen ways. So don’t be afraid; never be afraid. God is calling you and me and all of us here today to “set the world on fire” with the love of Jesus Christ.
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