Six years ago, an old guy got up in front of half a million people at Randwick Race Course and said this:
I was looking back at old World Youth Day 2008 paraphernalia, and came across the homily he delivered on that cold Winter day, read it again this morning and wondered how many people in that crowd of tired, dishevelled pilgrims heard those words and felt thunder in their heart.
These are not simple, flighty questions. His words carry gravitas, not because of the title he had at the time he spoke them, but because they knock deep into the depths of the listener’s heart, asking them to dig a little deeper, to reflect about what they are really doing with their lives, and what value they are bringing to a world that is thirsty for meaning.
Admittedly, I was incredibly distracted during his homily at the Final Mass and I didn’t catch them at the time. It felt like gale force winds would tear down the altar at any moment, and I was distracted by all the musicians who were less than a few metres away from me.But here are some of his words, nonetheless. Six years later, they are still as inspiring and important as ever:
Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure? Are you living your lives in a way that opens up space for the Spirit in the midst of a world that wants to forget God, or even rejects him in the name of a falsely-conceived freedom? How are you using the gifts you have been given, the “power” which the Holy Spirit is even now prepared to release within you? What legacy will you leave to young people yet to come? What difference will you make?
Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished – not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships. Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.
The world needs this renewal! In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns in a desperate search for meaning – the ultimate meaning that only love can give? This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings: it reveals our dignity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. It reveals humanity’s sublime calling, which is to find fulfilment in love. It discloses the truth about man and the truth about life.
The Church also needs this renewal! She needs your faith, your idealism and your generosity, so that she can always be young in the Spirit! In today’s second reading, the Apostle Paul reminds us that each and every Christian has received a gift meant for building up the Body of Christ. The Church especially needs the gifts of young people, all young people. She needs to grow in the power of the Spirit who even now gives joy to your youth and inspires you to serve the Lord with gladness. Open your hearts to that power! I address this plea in a special way to those of you whom the Lord is calling to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Do not be afraid to say “yes” to Jesus, to find your joy in doing his will, giving yourself completely to the pursuit of holiness, and using all your talents in the service of others!
You can read the full homily on the Vatican website.