Youth Reflection 1
“Life is a great gift of a certain period in which each one of us faces the challenges which life brings: the challenge of having a purpose, a destiny, and of striving for it. The opposite is to spend our lives on the surface of things, to ‘lose’ our lives in futility.” St. JPII
My teenage years were filled with a hidden sense of inadequacy and a very low sense of self-worth. There was an interior emptiness, an un-named fear, a quiet sense of despair – a “spiritual desert” which separated me from life’s realities. I had hoped that my love of books and school would dissolve some of these un-named burdens, but the sciences were only able to answer the matter of the universe and not the fundamental questions which held my uncertainties. I wanted solid answers to give me a real sense of meaning, hope and security. Why do I exist? What happens when I die? How am I supposed to live? What is my purpose?
For me the path to the answers for these fundamental questions which shape all our lives, took me on a journey around the world in service of the needy and the forgotten as a Catholic Missionary Nun. I spent 13 years gifting the best days of my youth: Bandaging the rotting limbs of lepers in the out stations of Papua New Guinea’s jungle; Counselling young women who were abuse victims in the over-crowded cities in the Philippines; Serving food to the homeless in Washington DC in the blistering winter evenings; Singing for the lonely and forgotten elderly in the nursing homes of Italy; Taking communion to the sick and isolated who were homebound in Ireland; Educating and inspiring youth around the world to know their dignity and worth as young people made in Gods likeness and image, while challenging them beyond their doubts and the fears that plagued them to aspire for the Truth. The Truth that all young people long for has a name and a face: It is Jesus. To find Him begins with the choice “to seek Him”. To seek Him means to put your faith into action. Faith in action is simple: It means to reach out, make a connection and help others in imitation of Christ.
“Too many young people do not realize that they themselves are the ones who are mainly responsible for giving a worthwhile meaning to their lives. The mystery of human freedom is at the heart of the great adventure of living life well.” St. JPII
Youth Reflection 2
One of the characteristics of the present times in which we live is the general loss of ideals.
Ideals are those things which are noble, worthwhile and valuable for our lives. Such ideals could include being a good man or a good woman; being a worthy professional or an honest worker.
An ideal is aimed at evolving towards perfection for which our Lord teaches: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48)
There is no ideal more excellent than the desire to be a saint, an imitator of Jesus Christ. Striving towards an ideal dignifies us and makes us fully alive. Authentic ideals edify us bringing joy to all because great ideals serve others.
Jesus is the summit of all ideals to whom we must tend towards with all our strength. We must work for Him to reign in our intellect by truth; in our will by goodness; in our sensibilityby beautyand in our nature by grace.
Re-echoing the challenge of Pope Francis I urge you:
“Dear young people: do NOT be MEDIOCRE; the Christian life challenges us with great ideals… show by your life that it is worth giving your time and talents in order to attain high ideals… it is worth recognizing the dignity of each human person, and worth taking risks for Christ and His Gospel.” (Pope Francis WYD, Rio)
Youth Reflection 3
As a first generation born Australian to migrant parents, the meaning of being catholic has evolved from being ‘an automatic part’ of my cultural and social makeup to one of personal conviction- it is a patrimony I chose to defend. Catholicism defines so much more than our cultural and social identity. Why? Because Catholicism defines our Mystical Identity.
Being Catholic changes the very essence of who we are; Through our baptism, we are transformed from being merely creatures of God into beloved members of His very own family. Our entry into the Church through the sacraments of initiation leaves a permanent mark on our souls. Baptismremoves the stain of original sin; Confirmationopens our hearts in new ways to the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit; and the Eucharist, each time we receive it, transforms our hearts to be even more like our Heavenly Father’s.
Living out our Catholic faith means so much more than sending our kids to a certain High School or praying at a certain mass on Sunday. Living our Catholic faith is bigger than naming your children after the saints or getting a giant tattoo of Our Lady and the holy rosary on your arm.
In the richness of our catholic culture, history and tradition, our Heavenly Father never ceases to invite us deeper into His eternal love. The Father has chosen us as members of His Son’s Mystical Bodyto come home to Him- through community, through truth, through the communion of saints. Being Catholic is more than a way of life; it’s a call to Love; a pathway to eternal life.
Youth Reflection 4
It’s hard for us to trust in the slow work of God. Maybe it’s so hard for us because we have no monopoly over it; it’s unpredictable and seemingly so slow.
We are always in a rush and quite naturally we are impatient for results, impatient to reach a solution or the end without a single delay. We have become conditioned to controlling almost every aspect of our lives to suit our wants and our needs. Perhaps therefore the work of God in us seems so slow, because it’s not done on our terms, or the way we want it.
It’s these intermediate stages which we want to skip right past that often matter the most. Progress dictates we pass through some stages of instability in order to reach the unknown or something new. Maybe our environment and the technologically savvy advances which have enhanced our comfort have something to do with this. It seems like we have lost sight of the fact that these intermediate stages may take a very long time and that they matter a lot.
We have lost the sense of value that comes from suffering. Anything difficult or painful is avoided at any cost and too many shortcuts are found to remedy a situation or an outcome. There is a value in accepting the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. What is that value? That value differs for us individually because of how unique God’s work in each of our souls is. (ie. Grace and circumstance acting on your own good will). We must give God the benefit of the doubt in believing that His hand is guiding us, we must trust in the slow work of God.
Youth Reflection 5
We all must deal with the pain of death because it’s very real. It’s a reality that no one can escape since it’s a certainty each of us share. Death is the final enemy of mankind and even though it feels shocking or terrifying we will all experience it. How do we deal with this uncomfortable fact?
We should not be afraid. We believe that Christianity is the ultimate defiance of death because we believe in the Easter victory; We believe in life everlasting; We believe in a God who walked through the enemy lines; We believe that our loving God will walk with us triumphantly through the shadow of death.
We Christians make peace with death because we can look it in the eye and say “we win”! We were made for life and deaths days are numbered. Death is not a finality- death is a beginning, the beginning of an eternal life. Death is the hope of a glorious reunion with all those faces we miss so much and the comforting fact that we do not face death alone. God is walking with us and we have an army of loved ones waiting for us and cheering us on right near the finish line.
Youth Reflection 6
Recently I was looking over pictures of my time as a missionary in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. I can still hear the sounds of the place, the call of the birds, the gentle rush of water in the nearby falls, the smell of burning wood in the open fires made and the taste of sweet coconut juice.
One picture stood out amongst them all, it was a picture of myself and Joana, a 19-year-old teacher’s aide with leprosy, we were standing arm in arm blanketed by the tremendous jungle that surrounded us. No matter how magnificent that jungle was, Joana’s smile by far outshone it.
Joana taught me the meaning of true Christian joy. She showed me that true joy does not depend on your circumstances changing, true joy depends on us changing. It was her sense of gratitude that impressed me. She was grateful for the gift of her life and grateful for this disease which challenged her to face her demons and discover her true beauty and worth. It directed her eyes above the complacencies of this world, and I guess it was that sense of gratitude that unlocked her huge contagious smile.
Joana taught me that true joy is not about when life is going perfectly. True Christian Joy is when you are loved perfectly even when your life is a complete mess. True joy is something that comes from the never ending, overwhelming, reckless love of God for us! We must give thanks to God constantly in prayer and in all situations. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said it best: “Gratitude to God is to accept everything, even my problems, with joy.”
Youth Reflection 7
In the light of the present crisis in our Church, a lot of people young and old have asked me: “Sue, why are you still Catholic? and What are you going to do?”
My response to each of them is simple. “I’m going to keep going to Mass. I’m going to keep on praying. I’m going to pray for the healing of the victims in this crisis; I’m going to keep supporting my local priest and I’m going to continue serving in my Parish; I’m going to keep evangelizing.”
I am Catholic because I want to have a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In every crisis of the Church’s history it’s time to get back to basics: We need to pray. We need to preach the Gospel in our everyday lives. We need to serve the poor, the unwanted, the forgotten. We need to deliberately and consciously imitate Jesus in every aspect of our ordinary daily lives.
The world needs Christ and the Church needs renewal more than ever. We need to share the hope of the Gospel which starts with us choosing to transcend the ugliness of recent events and living everyday by the Gospels precepts. Why am I not leaving the Church now? Because now is game time.
When I was baptised I was anointed a priest, prophet and King and so were you. It’s time to send the world a clearer message more than ever that: “Jesus Christ came so that we may have life and have it to the full”. That’s what this is about.
Youth Reflection 8
Most of us have the idea that showing up to church is ‘enough’. We almost fall into a routine especially in times like Lent, Easter and Christmas where we ‘have to’ show up to get the ashes; to go to mass on Easter Sunday; to wave the palms on Palm Sunday and yet do we ever take advantage of these times to allow God to draw near to us?
God is not afraid of our mess. He doesn’t care how messy our lives are with all our self-constructed walls of stress, anguish, anxiety, loneliness, heartache and fear that separate us from Him. God is not afraid of our mess because in the midst of all our chaos, He wants us to draw near to Him.
We need to become still in order to hear Him talk to us. He will speak to our hearts and help us see that if we’ve been living in a way that hasn’t been working for us that we will put our hand up and say “I have changes to make” or if we have been following Him from a distance that we’re going to say “God I have to draw nearer to You”. We have a God who loves us so much that He would rather die than live an eternity without us. Let us begin Lent well by drawing near to Him, He is waiting to walk beside us, to be our companion:“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”Book of James 4:8
Youth Reflection 9
The question “Who am I?” is one that each person asks themselves repeatedly throughout their life. We often define and redefine ourselves by our accomplishments; Our net worth; Our marital status; Our physical stature and at our very core we can define ourselves by our faults and our failings; Our incapacities and difficulties.
Yet beyond our own definition of who we are there is something more that is not shifting or changing. I guess what we need is a shift in our perspective.
We need to realise that the very foundation of our identity is found in relation to God. Who are we? We are precious to God. What are we worth? We are worth dying for. We often fall into that error and scrupulosity that we must earn the love of God because we think that we are not good enough. Do we know why God loves us? God answers us simply in Isaiah 43:1, “You are mine”.
If we are not finding our identity in relation to God, then we are going to go looking for it elsewhere and when we look else where we begin to think of our faith as just one of those many things, we do on the side separate from our core.
We should keep our gaze raised high knowing that when we ask ourselves “Who am I”? our Eternal Father without recourse loving responds, “You are mine”.
Youth Reflection 10
Sometimes in our petitions and prayers to the Lord we are met with a deafening silence that doesn’t always hold the answer or solution we want or expect. The cross of Christ should be a constant reminder to us of the value of silence because it shows us that God speaks through silence. As Jesus hung nailed upon the cross, afflicted by the hatred of His own people; abandoned by His disciples; beaten and abused by order of an unjust judgement; denied by His closest friend; falsely accused by power hungry leaders and sold with 30 pieces of silver, His lamented suffering caused by Gods silence led Him to cry out to His Father in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
How many times have we felt ‘forsaken’ by the Fathers response of silence? Like Jesus we all must be confronted by the mystery of Gods silence. We are living in a time that does not nurture silence and recollection, a silence which is key in Christian Revelation since it is an important expression of Gods Word. Perhaps we focus too much on our own agony and the darkness that Gods silence presents us that we miss the importance and value of the mystery of being confronted by silence. We always have to look to Christ’s example on the Cross and remember that in our moments of darkness God speaks, in order to hear Him we must listen interiorly.
Youth Reflection 11
I walked the streets of Kings Cross on Wednesday with a group of parents from both our primary and high school. We followed a man called Rob Holt who had been living on the streets and had given up entirely on life. His struggle with alcoholism and addiction was his anaesthetic to numb the pain of his loneliness, his fears and the rejection of the world.
Rob’s story was one of the most extreme I have ever heard- his pain, his life choices, the consequences, the loss of his ideals, the loss of self, the loss of hope shocked me to my core. Rob tried everything this world could offer but he remained utterly unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
What then brought him back to life from the brink of absolute destruction? What brought him back was the kindness found in simple human conversation, a conversation which opened to several more over the years. These conversations restored Robs dignity because he was finally being treated like a human being again and not a number or a problem that needed to be ‘fixed’.
When I think of Christ in the Gospels, I think of His conversations with tax collectors, prostitutes, the righteous, His disciples, His mother Mary and many more and it’s easy to see that Christs’ conversations were deliberate acts of love.
They always spoke the truth, they always were full of compassion and they reflected how He loves us intentionally. We too can be intentional in loving our neighbour through the simplicity of a conversation that reflects the Divine present in us.
“Sometimes it is heard, I have tried everything, and nothing fulfils me. Be alert, that is not true. You have not tried everything. You need to go to the source that can quench your thirst: If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink, Jesus said. All who have tried know what truth is.” (St. JPII)
Let us begin!
Youth Reflection 12
More than often now we are replacing silent time with screen time. What does that mean? Think of this common scenario: You’re in the self-service line at woollies and the place is a buzz with movement and noise. There are a few people in front of you and so you pull out your phone to check your social media.
Nothing wrong with that right? “Scroll down”- “double tap to like”- check out what everyone is up to. We’ve all done it. Studies have shown that young people are spending an average of nine hours of their day on their phones; gaming, live streaming you name it.
The young more than often avoid awkward silence and lulls in conversation like the plague, why… perhaps because of “gap time” which is described as the time when we must wait, aren’t busy, or are just standing or sitting around. “Gap time” has spread into almost every part of a young person’s life because of the separation that occurs as they choose screen time over gap time. In the past these gap times were times to converse, think, pray, and reflect (There were no gadgets around to distract them.)
Nowadays, almost all our gap time is taken up by scrolling through social media, watching Netflix, or texting. All that time for personal reflection that is so crucial for our mental wellbeing and which is naturally built into our lives, is now gone. As humans we need gap time, we need quiet time to think, pray, and listen to ourselves and God.
We all need time with our thoughts, to reflect with silence on our lives in order to nurture a spirit of gratitude. To numb out our ‘gap time’ and not cultivate it in ourselves and in our young by example is to our detriment.
Youth Reflection 13
In the depths of our hearts we have a restless longing for love that we try and fill with a million different things which each have a limit or an end to: money, pleasure, Instagram, relationships and so much more. St. Augustine put it so perfectly when he said, “You made us for yourself oh God and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
I find that no matter how great our experience of love in this life is, nothing can fill it. Our hearts were made for a measureless love greater than this universe, and even though it’s logical to suppose that the things of this world will never fill our hearts, we continue to fill them any way with things we think complete and fulfil us.
There is a question Jesus asks each heart and it takes several forms. He stands in front of each of us and asks, “What are you looking for? What are you trying to find? What do you seek?” They are fundamentally the same question with a universal answer simply because, the one who asks the question is the very fulness our hearts are longing for. He IS the answer.
Youth Reflection 14
As wonderful as goals are and as hard as we work to accomplish them- life happens. Sometimes our expectations to be accomplished, to be an achiever or to be fulfilled do not meet up to the reality we face- those many moments where we allow our frustration and feeling like ‘I am not in control’ to get the better of us.
Personally this is a daily struggle for me, looking into those areas of my life and holding up expectations that do not live up to reality like: Holding on to a particular friendship that I know is not healthy; Having the last say in a disagreement; Setting up unrealistic goals for myself which fail as soon as they are thought up.
Some times these struggles are a little deeper: Dealing with failed relationships of friends and family and having to pick up the pieces of confused teens who blame themselves for the breakup; The constant drama of miscommunication with others; The secret feeling like I am never doing enough or I am never enough as well as those days where I wanted my prayers to be perfect and to be counted and yet, not having the ‘right’ words to say.
The most beautiful thing about this reality of ours is that God works within our mess- He prefers to enter our moments of trepidation, enter our doubt, enter our uncertainty, enter our vagueness and enter our insecurity to work on us, not as we want or expect but as He sees is beneficial for our greater good. We should be grateful and give God due glory because, in the mess of our lives we have the grace to see that we are not alone in this world!