World Youth Day… and the difference a sermon makes….

In our last post written here we begin to describe the weakness of “happy clappy” Catholicism or the kind of Catholicism often served up at events like World Youth Day. I would like to follow this up with a comparison of two sermons. 

Before I do I would like you to recall that 60% of WYD pilgrims are 19-34. So in reality we are not thinking of “youth” in quite the same way we use the term in the United States. In reality WYD is mostly aimed at young adult Catholics. These are grownups.  The men are the same age as the soldiers we send off to fight our wars.  When I was in that age group I was making life and death medical judgments as a newly minted doctor, medical house officer and critical care fellow. I got married and became a father. In this age group we find policemen, and people starting businesses, mothers, and teachers, so we are not talking about someone’s first communion class.  

So how is this group preached to? What are they exhorted to do? Let’s take a look. If one goes to visit here one can see the full text of the homily at the opening mass of WYD given by Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta, the Archbishop of Rio di Janero.  Now there is nothing “wrong” with this homily. It is very much like a homily one might hear preached in the United States. But I would like to highlight a few points. Again this is not to criticize, but rather to point to a certain style. There is nothing In the words that one could disagree with, but something seems missing.  After some initial greetings the homily tells the pilgrims:

“We must bring to all corners of the world the youthful enthusiasm of the young Christian who seeks to unite the witness of an authentically Christian life with the social consequences of the Gospel.”

And “We are called to be protagonists of a new world. I’m sure you will do this in your cities and countries. The world needs young people like you!” We should also note that we are to say “Here we are, Lord! Like Matthew, are also ready for the consequences of YES to God, full of challenges and joys.”

We should also realize “Jesus the Master invites us to swim in deep waters, the waters of our baptism. And this beautiful international gathering in the heart of the Year of Faith, is a favorable time to renew our commitments to the Christian community. We are called to live our faith deeply; in a time of so many questions and changes we must exude the enthusiasm and consistency of one who is led by the action of the Holy Spirit.” Finally we get a little more specific when the Archbishop says “We have many barriers to overcome and injustices. Let’s build bridges instead of walls and obstacles. The world needs you to be in this city a witness to solidarity, sharing, and acceptance of the love of Christ the Redeemer. This is the time to awaken confidence and hope as they become attitudes towards the light of tomorrow.”

Now through all that we are exhorted to enthusiasm, and joy and commitment and to live our faith deeply. All well and good, but what about this is specific. How do I know if I am living the gospel with enthusiasm? In fact why is the gospel important? What does it get you?  Now contrast this homily with a homily by St Jose Marie Escriva founder of Opus dei. The whole work can be read here .

A few highlights:

“This, and no other, is the aim of the Church: the salvation of souls, one by one. For this reason the Father sent his Son, and now I am sending you out in my turn. This is the origin of the command to teach his doctrine and to baptize, so that the most Blessed Trinity may live in men’s souls in grace. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.

In those simple and sublime words that conclude Saint Matthew’s gospel we find the obligation to preach the truths of faith, the need for sacramental life, the promise of Christ’s continual assistance to his Church. You cannot be faithful to Our Lord if you neglect these supernatural demands: to instruct in Christian faith and morality and to frequent the sacraments. It is with this mandate that Christ founded his Church. Everything else is secondary.”

Or this:

“We cannot forget that the Church is not merely a way of salvation; it is the only way. This is not a human opinion, but the express will of Christ: he who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. This is why we assert that the Church is a necessary means of salvation.” Of course we need to recall: It is a matter of common knowledge that those who suffer invincible ignorance of our most holy religion but carefully observe all the precepts of the Natural Law which are engraved by God in the hearts of all men, and want to obey God and lead an upright life, can obtain eternal life through the efficacious action of divine light and grace.

Finally we have:

God alone knows what goes on in the heart of each man, and he does not deal with souls en masse, but one by one. No one on this earth can make a judgment about the eternal salvation or condemnation of any individual.

Let us not forget that conscience can be culpably deformed and harden itself in sin, resisting the saving action of God. That is why it is necessary to spread Christ’s doctrine, the truths of faith and the norms of Christian morality. That is also why we need the sacraments, all of which were instituted by Jesus Christ as instrumental causes of his grace and remedies for the weaknesses that ensue from our fallen nature. Finally, that is why we need to receive frequently the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

The awesome responsibility of all the Church’s members and especially of its shepherds is made dear in Saint Paul’s advice: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and in the name of his coming and of his kingdom: Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”


Now This seems pretty clear to me. St. Josemaria Escriva is reiterating the teaching that we must preach Christianity because it is the ordinary means of salvation for human beings and in fact given our sinful natures we will likely fall into mortal sin without the aid of the Church’s moral teaching and the grace afforded by the sacraments.  In fact there is urgency to this. If I delay men may lose their salvation.

Now I ask the reader for which message are youth likely to take risks, and face the challenges of a culture which by and large hates Christianity? Which one sounds closer to what the holy martyrs would have believed In the Roman Circuses? Would it be Saint Josemaria Escriva’s or Archbishop Tempesta’s? I think the answer is self evident, but if you were wondering how young people see it, take a look at the next post by my son Thomas, who is an expert in young Catholics as a young man who has spent the last 4 years being very observant in a Catholic School. In the meantime I leave you with this “mini sermon” from St Josemarie Escriva:


It is we, men walking in the street, ordinary Christians immersed in the bloodstream of society, whom Our Lord wants to be saints and apostles, in the very midst of our professional work; that is, sanctifying our job in life, sanctifying ourselves in it and, through it, helping others to sanctify themselves as well. Be convinced that it is there that God awaits you, with all the love of a Father and Friend. Consider too that, by doing your daily work well and responsibly, not only will you be supporting yourselves financially; you will also be contributing in a very direct way to the development of society, you will be relieving the burdens of others and maintaining countless welfare projects, both local and international, on behalf of less privileged individuals and countries.
Friends of God, 120

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