Text of Archbishop Nienstedt’s homily at Archdiocesan Youth Day

| September 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

Archbishop John Nienstedt delivers his homily at Archdiocesan Youth Day Sept. 15 (Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit)

The following is the homily delivered by Archbishop John Nienstedt during Mass at Archdiocesan Youth Day Sept. 15 at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis.

“You are salt for the earth, oh people:

salt for the Kingdom of God!

Share the flavor of life, oh people:

life in the city of God!

“Bring forth the kingdom of mercy,

bring forth the kingdom of peace;

bring forth the kingdom of justice,

bring forth the city of God.”

Welcome youth of the Archdiocese! Welcome members of the Body of Christ! Welcome my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord!

Wow! It is awesome to be with you! Hasn’t this been a fantastic day? And Father Michael Schmitz — does anyone get any better than him?! Let’s give him another big hand for the witness of his dynamic faith.

You know, I got the idea for today in Madrid two summers ago. I was there with the World Youth Day pilgrims from the Archdiocese and we had just a wonderful religious experience. But during those ten days, I also vividly remembered being present in St. Peter’s Square for the very first World Youth Day gathering called by Blessed John Paul II in 1984.

I was working in the Vatican Secretariat of State at the time and was asked to be the English language translator at a Vespers service that evening. Little did I know what I was in for. I arrived on the platform and such dignitaries as Mother Teresa and Cardinal Martini, may they rest in peace, were present on stage. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is a big deal!” Within minutes, the youth from Poland entered the square, carrying the World Youth Day Cross. They handed it off to the youth from Rome, where the next World Youth Day would be held.

To be honest, I marveled at the vision that Pope John Paul had in calling this gathering. A longtime advocate of camping and canoe trips with college kids, the Pope saw the deep spiritual potential of calling Catholic youth together for a pilgrimage to strengthen their faith.

But I also recalled in Madrid, and what had escaped my mind since that first gathering in St. Peter’s, is that the Pope wanted World Youth Day to be celebrated every year in the dioceses of the world, even as he also desired that it be celebrated internationally every third year. So, I came home determined to fulfill that vision and voila! — here we are! Thank you for being a part of this historic moment!

In the beginning, I thought well, if 800 of you showed up today, it would be a great success! But here you are — close to 2,000 strong! Wow! Again thank you for coming!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks two questions and gives us a pretty serious challenge. The first question is of a general nature, “Who do people say I am?” It’s a kind of surveying question, “What’s the buzz?” “Who’s saying what?” “How am I perceived?”

The answers Jesus receives are really quite flattering: John the Baptist, Elijah or another one of the prophets — all figures that a person with a devoted sense of religion would really look up to.

But then Jesus gets personal: “But you, who do you say I am?” Peter, speaking on behalf of the others, gives the penetrating answer of faith, “You are the Christ.” In other words, “You are the Messiah. You come from God. You are the Savior of the world.”

The difference between these two questions should be an important one for each of us. For it is one thing to know about Jesus — the time when he lived, what he taught, the miracles he performed, the way in which he suffered, died and rose from the dead. All of that is important, yes, but what is so much more essential is that we know Jesus — personally, intimately and directly.

And that requires that we have an experience of being present to Jesus where we encounter in faith the love and concern that he has for each of us.

A young friend of mine, who was in his first year of college, was having a crisis in his faith life and asked me, “Bishop, what would it take for me to convince you there is no God?”

I told him that was the wrong question because I know that God existed every bit as much as I knew that he was sitting before me. I have been blessed in my life to have had vivid religious experiences of God’s presence to me. To deny that would be for me to deny reality. I know that Jesus lives and that’s why I’ve given my life to share that truth with others.

But I can’t give that experience to you, dear brothers and sisters, because it is a gift that Jesus gives us personally in his own way and at his own time. Yet, I can tell you that such an experience is what Jesus does want for you. So, open your hearts to him. And if you have not had that personal encounter, pray for it. Ask the Lord to give it to you. Invite him into your heart and into your life.

After those two questions had been asked and the answers had been given, Jesus poses a demanding challenge: “If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow!”

This is where St. Peter failed the grade. He didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He certainly didn’t want to suffer and die himself.

You know, I think there’s some of this same sentiment in us, as well. After all, isn’t the age of the martyrs over? Don’t we live in a land of freedom? Who would ever make us suffer for the faith?

Well, my dear friends, the struggle for religious freedom goes on today and we are indeed going to be a part of it, and at times, with great cost. As followers of Jesus, we will be called upon to combat poverty, injustice and oppression. We must actively defend the rights of conscience and stand up against the secularism, the hedonism and the relativism of our times. We must make bold stands on even the most controversial issues of our day — abortion, marriage, contraception — even when it impacts on our reputation or good name.

And that’s where today’s second reading is so helpful. James asks us what faith can possibly mean if it does not result in action. As he says, if I find a person in need, I can’t just greet him and say, “Hey, buddy, have a great day!” Rather, my faith obliges me to do what I can to relieve that suffering or need. Faith in the True and Living God means being willing to make a sacrifice of myself in order to reach out in loving concern to those around me. This is what our faith demands of us and that’s why it is called the Good News!

My dear friends, here at this altar today, Jesus once again offers the total sacrifice of himself to his Father for us. And we are invited to participate in that sacrifice in order to know not just about him, but to know Him and to love Him. And in doing so, we are invited to offer the sacrifice of our own lives with his in a deep personal act of faith. Come, let us follow him!

“You are salt for the earth, oh people:

salt for the Kingdom of God!

Share the flavor of life, oh people:

life in the city of God!

“Bring forth the kingdom of mercy,

bring forth the kingdom of peace;

bring forth the kingdom of justice,

bring forth the city of God.”

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