OPENING OF THE XX WORLD YOUTH DAY ON 16 AUGUST 2005 IN BONN - TEXT
Sermon by Joachim Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne:
1st reading: 1 Sam 3:1-10
"The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord." – "We have observed his star at its rising, and have come."
The light of God, my dear young friends, reaches us humans in many different ways. God's light reaches Samuel at a time where expectations are low. Eli, the high priest, has become old and frail, messages from the Lord are few and far between, and visions are rare. It is a time similar to the age we are experiencing in Europe: few big ideas, few truly challenging visions, few public figures to offer us guidance, and no more than a weak light to accompany us on our journey. This is true for the life of the Church, life in society, and for many individuals. Young people, above all, find it difficult to find a clear direction, as their vision is often obscured by unemployment and profound fears of the future. In addition, the noise created by the multitude of opportunities available today makes it difficult to recognize the voice of God among all of the other voices calling to them.
Yet in the Church, which in Europe appears to grow ever older, God is untiringly calling out to us. He will not let us sleep when we close our eyes from exhaustion because of our many negative experiences. He will not let us rest when we have fallen asleep, tired of dealing with all the opportunities open to us. He will not stop calling out to us, calling us by our name as he called to Samuel, and calling upon the uniqueness of our lives, by our talents and skills, by our weaknesses and our failings.
He calls us through the desire of young people for something greater; He calls us through people whose credible lives inspire us and wake us up; He calls us through events such as this; He calls us through our astonishment at His creation; He calls us in the silence and solitude in which we open our lives to Him; He calls us through the highs and lows of our lives; He calls us through His Word, which we read and hear again and again; above all, He calls us in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the sacraments, in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Sometimes it takes us a long time to find people that can help us understand what He is saying. Even the aging Eli needed time to recognise the voice of God, which did not speak to him, the experienced man of God, but to someone else: a young person called Samuel.
But there are also other, older, experienced people that have woken usand continue to awaken usto the voice of God. One such person was Pope John Paul II who, despite his advancing years, woke young people up and never tired of drawing their attention to the voice of God. And so, this Pope speaks to us today from another place: if the Lord calls you, then stand up and say: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!’
Let us allow ourselves to be encouraged by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, not to answer the Lord as we might like to answer by saying: ‘Listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking!’ No, let us instead open our lives to the voice of God whichwhile often quiet and unassumingnever stops talking to us.
Is it not wonderful that God gives us so many opportunities to listen to His voice, that He remains patient, even if we keep falling asleep, and eventually lets us meet people that help us hear His voice and answer His call?!
Dear young people, you are all Samuels, the people who hear the voice of God in the heart of our good old Church. It is you who keep the Church young. Pope Benedict XVI said: ‘The Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised His followers. The Church is alive: she is alive because Christ is alive, because He is truly risen’ (homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI given on the occasion of the mass marking the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome on 24 April 2005).
The lamp of God is not yet extinguished. And this week you are showing the whole Church and the whole world that the Church is alive and that young people are willing to listen to God: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!
And then there were the three astrologers from the East who set out on a long journey to find the Lord. Tradition has it that they were kings. Despite their affluence, possessions, and power, they were still able to set out and go in search of something. They were able to do so because they were awake to the signs of the time, to the signs in their life that God had given them. In sharp contrast to the sleeping Samuel, to whom God made His voice heard in the silence of the temple, God showed Himself to the astrologers in the form of a star. This star spoke to the three kings, their awareness of reality, and their desire for something greater.
But the three astrologers didn’t find what they were looking for immediately. They too covered much ground, experienced highs and lows, and passed over seas and though deserts, and made many encounters before they found their way to the Lord. Their real willingness to set out and their dogged determination not to give up the search kept them going: Where is He, the new One whose light, whose star, we have seen? Where is He in our world, in our lives? Where and how can we find Him among the sea of bright and attractive images in the world and among all the suffering and need that people have to endure. Where is He?
And this is why they set out, left their familiar environment, faced the unknown, and came. They came as they were, with their talents, skills, and treasures, but also with their insecurities, fears, questions, and desires. They came. And that, my dear young friends, is what you too have done in large numbers: you have come to seek and find the New, the Completely Different, the Christ. You have come from over 160 countries around the globe; you have come to our Europe, to our country, where Christ is not always easy to find and where one can easily lose sight of the star because the heavens above us have become so bright with the lights of advertising and the market, and because we so often turn night into day, making it difficult for us to see the stars.
But we in Germany will not be your ‘Jerusalem’, your Herod, or your scribes, who knew where the Christ child was, but did not themselves set out to find Him, preferring instead to stay in their towers of power and knowledge. No, we in Germany want to walk with you, want to set out with you, want to seek and find with you, want to let ourselves be guided by the star that God has shown us, and want to go with you to Bethlehem to find Christ: the God who became man, the God who is not distant and cold, but comes so close to us that He is a child, a human being.
Together with you, we want to watch for the signs of light that God sends us today in our Church and in our life. We don’t want to stop questioning and searchingwhere is He? even if we meet people who do not have our best interests at heart. Together, we will meet Christ this week both in the Holy Masses and big events, and in small groups and the stillness of our intense, personal encounters with Him.
Thank-you for coming, for following the star that was the invitation sent out by our Holy Father, for answering the call as Samuel did, and for deciding to follow a similar path to that of the three kings.
This week, we will see and experience what the Church is: the people of God on the move and the body of Christ, as the second reading so impressively described it. The body of Christ: in the unity of the body and the variety of its limbs; the body of Christ: in the variety of vocations and ways in which we search for God; the body of Christ: in the freshness and originality of young people.
We all rely on each other because no-one can walk the path of life with Christ and with God alone, we all need a large community for the path of faith and vocation. As a well-known prayer in Germany says, ‘God did not give anyone everything, nor did He give anyone nothing.’
Wherever the networks of hate, violence, terrorism, and disaster, and the networks of a purely economic globalisation become all-powerful, the importance of the network of salvation and peace grows. This network covers the global Church and includes all Christians (even those of different religious denominations) and all people of good will, who are on the way to God either within a religious community or outside it.
My dear young friends, we all need each other; we all need both our small, personal world and the global nature of the Church. And the global Church needs the talents and skills of every one of you. Let us strengthen one another in faith, hope, and love. Because the lamp of God has not been extinguished; His star continues to shine today, and He is waiting to be found by those who set out and come to seek and find Him. Him: Christ, the God who became man and walked among us.
Once again, welcome to this celebration of our faith! Amen.