They felt impelled to speak of their encounter with the risen Jesus whom they had come to call affectionately, the Lord.
In many ways, the Apostles were ordinary. None could claim to be the perfect disciple. They failed to recognise Christ (cf. Lk 24:13-32), felt ashamed of their own ambition (cf. Lk 22:24-27), and had even denied him (cf. Lk 22:54-62).
Yet, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, they were transfixed by the truth of Christ’s Gospel and inspired to proclaim it fearlessly.
Emboldened, they exclaimed: repent, be baptised, receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:37-38)!
Grounded in the Apostles’ teaching, in fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread and prayer (cf. Acts 2:42), the young Christian community moved forward to oppose the perversity in the culture around them (cf. Acts 2:40), to care for one another (cf. Acts 2:44-47), to defend their belief in Jesus in the face of hostility (cf Acts 4:33), and to heal the sick (cf. Acts 5:12-16).
And in obedience to Christ’s own command, they set forth, bearing witness to the greatest story ever: that God has become one of us, that the divine has entered human history in order to transform it, and that we are called to immerse ourselves in Christ’s saving love which triumphs over evil and death.
Today, we think of those pioneering priests, (religious) sisters and brothers who came to these shores, and to other parts of the Pacific, from Ireland, France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.
The great majority were young – some still in their late teens – and when they bade farewell to their parents, brothers and sisters, and friends, they knew they were unlikely ever to return home.
Their whole lives were a selfless Christian witness. They became the humble but tenacious builders of so much of the social and spiritual heritage which still today brings goodness, compassion and purpose to these nations.
And they went on to inspire another generation.
Think also of your own grandparents and parents, your first teachers in faith. They too have made countless sacrifices of time and energy, out of love for you.
Supported by your parish priests and teachers, they have the task, not always easy but greatly satisfying, of guiding you towards all that is good and true, through their own witness – their teaching and living of our Christian faith.
Today, it is my turn.
For some of us, it might seem like we have come to the end of the world! For people of your age, however, any flight is an exciting prospect.
But for me, this one was somewhat daunting! Yet the views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous.
The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia’s forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendour of Australia’s natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days; these all evoke a profound sense of awe.
And drawn into silence, into a spirit of thanksgiving, into the power of holiness, we ponder.
What do we discover? Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.
Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought.
And there is more. What of man, the apex of God’s creation?
Every day we encounter the genius of human achievement.
From advances in medical sciences and the wise application of technology, to the creativity reflected in the arts, the quality and enjoyment of people’s lives in many ways are steadily rising.
All of us, young and old, have those moments when the innate goodness of the human person – perhaps glimpsed in the gesture of a little child or an adult’s readiness to forgive – fills us with profound joy and gratitude.
Yet such moments do not last. So again, we ponder. And we discover that not only the natural but also the social environment – the habitat we fashion for ourselves – has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss.
Here too, in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are, and distort the purpose for which we have been created.
Examples abound, as you yourselves know. Among the more prevalent are alcohol and drug abuse, and the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the Internet as entertainment.
I ask myself, could anyone standing face to face with people who actually do suffer violence and sexual exploitation “explain” that these tragedies, portrayed in virtual form, are considered merely “entertainment”?
There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth.
This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives.
Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made “experience” all-important.
Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.
Life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose (cf. Gen 1:28)!
Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are.
It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy.
Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.
Christ offers more! Indeed he offers everything! Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life.
Thus the “way” which the Apostles brought to the ends of the earth is life in Christ.
This is the life of the Church. And the entrance to this life, to the Christian way, is Baptism.
On the day of your Baptism, God drew you into his holiness (cf. 2 Pet 1:4). You were adopted as a son or daughter of the Father.
You were incorporated into Christ. You were made a dwelling place of his Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19).
Baptism is neither an achievement, nor a reward.
It is a grace; it is God’s work. Indeed, towards the conclusion of your Baptism, the priest turned to your parents and those gathered and, calling you by your name said: “you have become a new creation” (Rite of Baptism, 99).
In your homes, schools and universities, in your places of work and recreation, remember that you are a new creation!
Not only do you stand before the Creator in awe, rejoicing at his works, you also realise that the sure foundation of humanity’s solidarity lies in the common origin of every person, the high-point of God’s creative design for the world.
As Christians you stand in this world knowing that God has a human face – Jesus Christ – the “way” who satisfies all human yearning, and the “life” to which we are called to bear witness, walking always in his light (cf. ibid., 100).
But what of our social environment? Are we alert to the signs of turning our back on the moral structure with which God has endowed humanity (cf. 2007 World Day of Peace Message, 8)?
Do we recognise that the innate dignity of every individual rests on his or her deepest identity – as image of the Creator – and therefore that human rights are universal, based on the natural law, and not something dependent upon negotiation or patronage, let alone compromise?
And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies.
How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?
God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity.
They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable.
Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises.
Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is to bear witness to this reality that you were created anew at Baptism and strengthened through the gifts of the Spirit at Confirmation.
Let this be the message that you bring from Sydney to the world!
More of the Pope’s World Youth Day homilies and speeches will be published in coming weeks
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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