Homily for Youth Mass (Bendigo, Australia)
Four years ago, a young man made an international headline because of his surprising move to give up his very promising career and entered the seminary to become a Catholic priest. Chase Hilgenbrinck, a very promising soccer-player who made it to the Major League Soccer in 2008 (the New England Revolution), let go of his celebrity-status and joined the Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in northern Maryland. His decision caught many by surprise except those who knew him.
Because Chase did well in the Sports Arena, he became a celebrity. As a celebrity, he became, famous and popular. As a celebrity he could have gathered millions of followers now in his Facebook and twitter if he didn’t sacrifice his passion for soccer to pursue his dream to become a priest.
He has no regrets so far, as it seemed. Few months ago, his former teammate caught up with him and one of the things he said really made me appreciate him all the more. He said: Looking through human eyes, it seems impossible that I would leave behind everything that I knew and everything that I worked for. But when I look with the eyes of faith and I realize that there’s so much more to life than the game, I realize just how blessed I am to be in a seminary.’
Friends, you might have heard his story or have read it somewhere, but it’s worth repeating. Stories like Chase’s, always inspire us, especially for young people of today who may have all the ideals in life but are also caught up with the many detours, distractions and diversions along the way.
Chase realized that there is more to life than the game. Good on him. Jesus in our gospel would also have the same wish for the crowd who had followed him. Yet as he said in the gospel: ‘You are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.’
But Jesus here is calling them to faith in him, ‘to believe in the one [the Father] has sent.’ He is sort of saying: ‘Following me is more than just getting the bread that you need for free. Following me is much more than just getting something out from me. Following me means accepting me as one of your circle of friends and allowing me to form a big part of your life.
This is what Jesus wants to tell the crowd in today’s gospel. And he is reminding each one of us here and now this same invitation: to be his friend.
The good thing is it’s always God who makes the initiative to reach out to us. As a Jesuit priest wrote: ‘We will never find God, but surely He’ll find us first.’ He is calling us to be his friends, and as any friendship entails, it has to be two way, meaning we have to do our part as well to meet God half-way so to speak.
But how? That is the question.
Pope John Paul II, in his homily given at the 10th World Youth Day held in Manila Philippines in 1995, would answer this question for us. The late Pope said:
‘Beloved ones, sisters and brothers: build your lives on the one model that will not deceive you! I invite you to open the Gospel and discover that Jesus Christ wants to be your “friend” (Cf. Jn. 15: 14). He wants to be your “companion” at every stage on the road of life (Cf. Lk. 24: 13-35). He wants to be the “way”, your path through the anxieties, doubts, hopes and dreams of happiness (Cf. Jn. 14: 6). He is the “truth” that gives meaning to your efforts and your struggles. He wants to give you “life”, as he gave new life to the young man of Nain (Cf. Lk. 7: 11-17), and gave a whole new future to Zacchaeus who was dead in spirit through ambition and greed (Cf. ibid. 19: 1-10). He is your “resurrection”, your victory over sin and death, the fulfilment of your desire to live forever (Cf. Jn. 11: 25). Because of this he will be your “joy”, the “rock” on which your weakness will be turned into strength and optimism. He is our salvation, our hope and happiness and peace.’
To grow into friendship with him though demands of us an attitude of gratefulness to God for taking care of us in all our needs as we can reflect on our First Reading today. We need to thank him everyday and every Sunday when we go to mass for his gift of himself as the bread from heaven that sustains us in our Christian journey. To become a real friend of God, not just in theory but really in our practical life, means we must stop living ‘the aimless kind of life that pagans live’, as St Paul would tell us in our Second Reading today.
And I can tell you, if you have this sense of friendship with God, you can tell him everything because you can rely on him on everything. One way to do this is by writing a journal. And it is just amazing every time I read my journal, the experience comes back to me. And it is always a consoling experience, or a healing one even. I have to admit though, that yes, God is my friend now, but I am not the very faithful of friend. Sometimes I would tend to do my own thing by not allowing him to play his part, but it always comes up either bad or a failure. I can sense God saying to me: ‘I told you so.’
So as we continue our celebration of the Mass today, let’s pray that we now open ourselves more to friendship with God. Because it is by this that we can come to realize that there is more to life than just eating, or drinking, or becoming popular. Life is walking alongside with our real and the most dependable of friend, Jesus Christ.