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2nd Maronite Youth Convention

Address of the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr Luigi Bonazzi

Ottawa, May 17, 2015

 

I have been asked to meditate with you on an affirmation that is a bit mysterious, that might seem directed at others and not to each of us: “I chose you…”  It  is the echo of the words Jesus expressed in a moment of intimacy and truth, to his first disciples, the Apostles: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (Jn 15,16).

To understand this affirmation well, we can translate it and express it in the following way:  “it is not you who do things for me but I who do them for you; not you who gives something to me but I who give everything to you…”

They are thus words that produce a healthy shock if they are well understood, and a 180-degree change in perspective:  I thought I was the one doing a lovely gesture for God – this is how we normally think; instead, it is God who does everything for me.

This was, for instance, the shocking experience of Moses. He wanted to help his people, liberate his people reduced to slavery in Egypt. A great deal of good will and many good intentions, but in the end he had to escape, because the Pharaoh was looking for him. Indeed he had killed an Egyptian. The story tells us that Moses found refuge in the Sinai desert and remained alone as a shepherd for 40 years. But the Lord sought him out, called him and said to him: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt, I have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians…” (Ex 3, 7-8). Moses, who thought that it was he doing things for God and his people, became aware that au contraire it was God who was caring for him and his people. He understood that he had understood nothing about God. But once Moses was purified of his own presumption of being the one to save the Israelites, once he understood who he was and who God was, God once again places his full trust in him: “Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10). Moses fills himself completely placed in God’s hands and sent out not for his work but for the work of God.

This same discovery and experience touched another great figure in history, Paul of Tarsus. As a zealous Jew, he thought he was giving glory to God – that he was the one giving glory to God – by persecuting the Christians. But God awaited him patiently and on the road to Damascus showed him the truth of things, which produced a total change of perspective in Paul, all the way to making him say: “(But) whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ” (Phil. 3:7).  Put another way, what for him could not be renounced previously, now became trash, because the knowledge of Christ took on absolute primacy. His earlier judgments and assessments paled before the encounter, the knowledge, the fullness of Christ.  Paul describes his encounter with Jesus in this way:  “But when (God), who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me…” (Gal. 1: 15-16).  Once again, as with Moses, the initiative begins with God: “he set me apart”… “he called me” … “he was pleased to reveal” …

I would wish that on this day, perhaps not foreseen by us but ever foreseen by God, an encounter should take place for each one of us, like the one that occurred for Moses and Paul. An encounter that will open our eyes and make us discover – to our great surprise – that Someone has always gazed upon us and thought about us, Someone who is always thinking about us and accompanying us.

Dear friends: the fundamental thing we have to discover – and here we enter into the heart of Christian life – is that even before our search for God, there is God looking for us. God always precedes us. In fact, the essence of the Christian message does not lie primarily in the commandment to love God but in the invitation to allow ourselves to be reached by His redemptive Love through Jesus, in the gift of the Spirit. In fact, it is God who has loved us first: it is absolutely His totally, freely-given initiative, infinitely merciful. We can only love Him in return. The apostle John puts it very well: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins… We love because he first loved us (1Jn 4:10-19).  “Lo proprio de Dios es hacer, lo proprio del hombre es dejarse hacer, (It belongs to God to fashion, and it belongs to man to allow himself to be fashioned)” an old and wise Jesuit father used to say to me. How true this is!

Dear friends: this is the great discovery we have to make and the fundamental grace to ask for: to open our eyes and see the presence of God in our lives– with our intelligence, our heart, with all our self.  God, who is Love (see 1 John 4:16). God who is Father, a Father who accompanies us, renews us and guides everything toward our good (see Romans 8:28). To discover, or better, to rediscover that God is Love is the greatest adventure of modern man. Is it not perhaps because we do not know God – God, who is Love – that in this world of ours there are many things, which are ugly and sad, that we do not like, that make us suffer?

Pay attention: Jesus did not come only to speak to us and to show us with his life that God is Love. He came to give us his love, to allow us to partake of the love of God. He placed this love – his love – in our hearts: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

Yes, dear friends, not only is there human love in us, that noble sentiment that is capable of great things but also able to turn inwards, on itself, and to become paltry and selfish. On the day of our Baptism that same love of God was seeded in us, within us. We were baptized in “name”, that is in the Love of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We must welcome this love, nurture it heeding the Word.  We must make it grow with prayer and by partaking in the Sacraments, in particular the Eucharist and Confession.

What happens if we welcome God’s life and grace and allow them to grow? What happens is that we become – ever more – like Him. And so, like an iron bar in the fire, even as it maintains its “metallic” nature, it acquires the thermal “properties” of the flame and transmits them to the surroundings in which it finds itself (in fact, it becomes incandescent, emanating light and heat), so do we, if we are “lit” by the Charity of Christ that the Spirit spreads in our hearts, become capable of spreading His same love. Indeed we can love “like” Him (see John 13:34), for it is the Lord himself who loves in us (see John 15:1 – 6): this is why our charity becomes capable of producing the same effects of His love (see John 14:12). For this reason whoever encounters us, should encounter Him in us.

Here lies the vocation and the mission of every disciple of the Lord: to grow conforming to him (see Philippians 3:10), in order to witness and communicate the Gospel to others (see John 17:20 – 23).

In particular, Christians, you young people, are called to be – with Christ and in Christ – “salt of the earth” (see Matthew 5:13).

Yes, in the world of young people in which you live, crossed by great lights and disquieting shadows, enriched with extraordinary possibilities and threatened by grave dangers, you are called to be evangelical “salt” (Matthew 5:13). However, and you already know it, to carry out this mission you must acquire a clear Christian maturity. You even know the secret for acquiring the capacity to receive and add evangelical “taste”: to place yourself in Jesus’s school and allow His Spirit to transform us. Only in this way can we become credible witnesses of the Father’s love and make it visible in choices and attitudes, in the way we welcome people and place ourselves at their service, in that faithful respect of God’s will and of His Commandments.

As “salt of the earth”, you are called, in particular, to preserve the faith that you have received and to transmit it to others intact. As you have been constituted heralds of the Gospel and sentinels to defend the Christian vision regarding God and man from the assaults of a secularized culture, allow me to indicate three great “mystifications” that are infiltrating the mentality of many young people and leading to grave problems:

The misinterpretation of the concept of sin, which is no longer considered a mortal poison about which God has written with impassioned love: “avoid it!” On the contrary, it has been sold as a “prohibited good” by an intrusive and despotic lord-and-master. As a consequence, transgression is exalted as an emancipatory and self-affirming gesture: “step out of line if you wish to be yourself.” But beyond these sneaky ideological trappings, what remains true is that sin is an evil that generates evil, and its false promises of a “life in the fast lane”, it inevitably leaves ashes and ruins in its wake. It is your task to proclaim the truth frankly (cfr. Ephesians 6:20) and, staying close to the Lord’s teachings, to call good, good and evil, evil: always and everywhere, at any cost.

The confusion between freedom and spontaneity. The slogan that gets around in many youth circles goes something like this: “do as you wish and let yourself be transported by what you feel.” In this logic of “yes, if it pleases you,” “no, if it is going to cost you,” what is missing is authentic discernment.  The will is missing and one’s decision is entrusted to the shifting winds of emotion and circumstances.  In this way, by acting as “freemen” we become slaves: for freedom, true freedom, is the handmaid of grace and is played out (finds itself) in living in truth and love (see Ephesians 4:15). It is thus, at the same time, a gift of God and man’s gain: in any case, it demands toil and perseverance, but it pours an ineffable fullness into the hearts of those who are faithful to it.

“It’s been a while that I have stopped running after myself and have begun to look for Jesus,” a girl wrote me. And I answered her: “then Freedom has truly entered your house (see John 8:31-36): make room for it and invite others, that they might also be enamoured of it!” Then I added, quoting St. Augustine: however, remember that “you will be free if you make yourself a servant; free from sin, a servant of justice.”

The hedonistic falsification: pleasure sold as happiness. We are dealing instead with two very different realities. Pleasure gushes forth from a satisfied desire. In general, a “sinusoidal” path characterizes it: it starts from an internal request, arrives at satisfaction, experiences a temporary diminishment of need and then, punctually reappears in a new request. It thus follows the dynamism of a swing and is constantly changing: and this renders it unstable and short-lived, like a lit match whose flame lasts for only the briefest period. Moreover, pleasure is not compatible with pain: suffering has the power to shut off the valve of emotional fuel and thus turn it off. Satisfaction is thus not happiness. On the contrary: the search for pleasure, which is legitimate if lived according to God’s will, becomes negative when it is transformed into idolatry: it thus becomes an alienating addiction and capsizes in its opposite: anguish. This is what always happens with polluted pleasure, gathered in the brambles of sin. Joy, instead, flows forth from an accomplished good. It is a flower that blossoms from a single/unique root: the will of God, sought and lived. Joy doesn’t fluctuate, going up and down; on the contrary, it can be represented by an ascending line, in continuous progression: not only does it not go away, but it grows evermore, every day. It is like a fire that no one and nothing can put out: on the contrary, difficulties end up feeding it and making it grow.  Moreover, joy possesses a unique and divine privilege: it can continue to shine in the heart of a person, even when his or her existence is visited by pain. With the same clarity, we have also to say that joy demands courageous and lasting choices. Jesus assures us that he will offer the fullness of his joy to those who follow Him (John 17:13): let us allow Him to maintain that promise! The Saints unanimously attest to the fact that, that is how things end up, if you remain faithful to the Gospel.

I conclude. Dearest young people: don’t resign yourselves to “insipid entertainments, to passing fashions and reductive plans.” Have the courage to dare: make your way towards the Infinite! “Dream, but in freedom!’ Plan, but in truth!” Remember: it is Love that gives you taste, because we do not become salt on our own. It is charity, poured into your hearts by the Spirit (see Romans 5:5) and lived above all in your communities, which will make you apostles and witnesses of the new millennium. Love – the summing up of the Gospel (see Romans 13:8-10), and the “heart” of the Church (see NM I, # 57) – is in fact the glad news that you’ve been called to seed, to spread the Kingdom of God and build a City of man: for “civilization is to love one another” (Raoul Follereau). Man in fact cannot live without love. Therefore, tell everyone, in deed and words: God loves us immensely! It is precisely this announcement that makes it possible, despite everything, to bet on love, because – you know it – we would not be able to love now had we not already been loved. To those young people, satiated but with a spent soul, who refuse to “salt” their sentiments with evangelical truth, repeat with St. Augustine: “no one tells you: do not love. Never let this happen! You would be lazy, dead, detestable, miserable, if you did not love. Love but watch what you love.” Yes love Love, for there you will find everything, beyond what you can ask or think (see Ephesians 3:20).

Dear Friends: I wish you to be the “protagonist” of a splendid adventure, of which God himself is the author. Open yourselves to receive – every day – the Love of God. If you will let the Spirit of Jesus perform in you, He will write in you a glorious history, capable to produce a push towards what is better, in the years to come. The world is longing for this.

In this month of May I entrust you, one by one, to Mary. May the Virgin of Nazareth, the model of all young people, teach you to be true disciples of Jesus, and with her maternal love, may she bless you and always accompany you.