A few years ago I came across a great series of books entitled, At the Prie Dieu. These are short spiritual books for people living different vocations in the life of the Church, placing each particular vocation into a spiritual context. The first in the series, The Seminarian at the Prie Dieu, spoke about the life of the seminarian, but also tried to draw parallels between the life of Christ and the process of formation by which the man is moulded into a vessel fit to receive the awesome gift of the priesthood. It spoke, rather beautifully, of the seminary as Nazareth – the place where the Lord grew up and learned at the feet of his earthly father, Saint Joseph. For those exploring their vocation, even in the sense of recommitting oneself to the common vocation of holiness demanded by baptism, there is a need to find ‘Nazareth’; to find the place where the Lord is calling us each to, in order for us to be prepared for the mission entrusted to us by him.
For many that place is found, to a greater or lesser extent, in what we have been observing for the past week or so in Rio. For those who have been been born, baptised, catechised, and formed, in the church of the John Paul II and Benedict XVI – and now Pope Francis – Nazareth is found in a particular way in the experience, influence, and enthusiasm of World Youth Day. These phenomenal, global events, are hubs for personal, interior conversion, and for external mission; places where would-be practitioners of the New Evangelisation are confirmed in the faith of the apostles, and sent out to the whole world to proclaim – with confidence, ardour, and articulation – the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is achieved, I would like to suggest, in four key ways: the development of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, in and through the sacraments and life of the Church; a deep longing and desire for the fullness of the Christian faith, without compromise or conditions; an infectious sense of the universal nature of the Church, together with a confident understanding of the role and purpose of the papacy; a reawakening of the universal call to holiness, given to each person in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. World Youth Day and those initiatives born from it, have the potential to instil these four characteristics into the hearts of the young pilgrims, transforming their lives by placing Christ at the centre of all that they do, and allowing them to experience the interior conversion that is required to enable them to become effective and zealous missionaries, proclaiming the apostolic faith with new ardour, new methods, and new expressions.
1. Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ
The intense experience of World Youth Day, with good catechesis at the core, is one that has the potential to open the hearts of young adults to the reality of their baptismal incorporation into Christ. Through a joyful encounter with Christ in the teaching of the Church, the sacraments, in prayer, and in others, the pilgrims are – often for the first time – presented with the opportunity to make a choice to affirm, by their own action, the faith of their baptism. This, as was consistently taught by Benedict XVI, realises the personal relationship with Jesus Christ which is offered through baptism, and in which the reality of the incarnation becomes a living reality in the hearts and lives of the faithful. Such a personal encounter with the Lord is essential for those who wish to put into practice the call for the New Evangelization, because to bring Christ to others, we must first know him ourselves.
2. Desire for the fullness of the Christian faith
World Youth Day has sometimes been unjustly criticised for being a merely ’emotional experience’ of the faith. This is not far from the case. At the heart of the entire pilgrimage is the giving and receiving of teaching and catechesis – formation in the Christian life, in the theological virtues, and guidance for living the fullness of the faith in the contemporary world. In Madrid, for example, the Quo Vadis? group I travelled with met each morning for a 30 minute guided meditation, for Holy Mass, for instructive catechesis, and for Eucharistic Adoration. In Madrid, too, the Life and Love Centre, just as in Rio at the Vivo Rio Centre, provided teaching and faith formation with other English-speaking groups, as a supplement to the smaller and more specific formation given in the individual pilgrimage groups. Young people who have dedicated a significant amount of time and money to attend an event like this are ‘champing at the bit’ for good catechesis. The opportunity to provide this in a extended way duringWorld Youth Day, often instils a real and ongoing desire for deep and lasting formation in the Christian faith; a desire that needs to be met in the pilgrimage itself, and subsequently on return home through courses, teaching, and involvement with those groups and movements that will sustain this new ardour.
Part Two can be read here.