XII WORLD YOUTH DAY
WEDNESDAY, 20 AUGUST, 1997
ADDRESS BY MOST REVEREND SEAN BRADY
It is a great privilege to be asked to help as a Catechist to all of you who are gathered here in Paris to celebrate the 12th World Youth Day. The theme for our catechesis today is: “Jesus lives in his Word”. Recently I visited the tiny, but beautiful, island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. The island of Iona is famous because St. Columcille or St. Columba, made it his headquarters. From there he, and his missionaries, set out to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Picts of Scotland and the English of Northumbria. There is a tradition that Columcille always went to the northern edge of the island to meditate on the Word of God. There he looked out over the Atlantic ocean and its mighty waves. It is said he would never go to the south side of the island because there he would be looking towards his native country, Ireland, and might be tempted to yield to loneliness and abandon his decision to be a pilgrim for Christ. There is also the legend that upon arrival he, and his twelve companions, buried their boat behind the bay for the same reason lest they be tempted to return home.
Nowadays, each year the tiny island of Iona welcomes 100,000 visitors. This year the visitors will be far more than 100,000. This year 1997, marks the 1400th anniversary of the death of St. Columcille and people go there in such numbers to pay tribute to Columcille and to his companions who brought the Good News of Jesus to large parts of England, Scotland and Wales.
Jesus lives in his Word. That same word of Jesus that we are reading today inspired Columcille and his companions to do great things for Christ.
This theme corresponds magnificently with that of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 which is Jesus Christ, the One Saviour of the World, yesterday, today and forever. In our preparation for the Great Jubilee, the year 1997 is being devoted to reflection on Christ, the Word of God. In order to know who Christ truly is, Pope John Paul urges us, especially in the course of this year, to renew our interest in the Bible. In the Sacred Scripture God Himself comes to us in love. God remains with us and shows us what His son, Jesus, is really like. He reveals to us how He plans to save the world. So we take up the Word of God with great love and reverence knowing that it is alive and praying that it will become more active in our lives.
Our teacher is, as always, the Holy Spirit. We ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our prayers this morning, First of all we ask the Holy Spirit to quieten us down because we live in such a busy world. We try and leave our pre-occupations and distractions and worries behind us. We want to really listen to the voice of God that speaks deep within us. We know that He stands at the door and knocks. Many people don’t hear that knock because they are too preoccupied with other things. We all know from our experience of listening to one another how difficult it often is to give each other our full attention. Listening to God is no different. Spending time with God in quiet is not in any way an escape from the struggles of this world. The God we encounter within us is at the heart of the world’s struggles as well. In this listening to God we may encounter painful truths about ourselves. It is better to face them because in that way we become more free to fully serve God in the world.
Our aim in all of this is to discover the secrets of the heart of God and to find out what God wants to say to us. Our aim is to receive help and guidance. We are looking for light in our decision-making and hope in the various difficult situations in which we find ourselves, and strength in the hard choices we have to make. With the light of God’s Spirit we will hopefully be able to see the presence of the Lord, not only in the Word of the passage we have just read but also in our own lives. For God has sent the spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father. When we ourselves are no longer able to pray the Holy Spirit comes to us and prays within us. That is very important and now we call upon that Holy Spirit again: “Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts, guide us. Help us to listen and to hear your voice speaking within us. Pray within us when we are no longer able to pray”.
We begin by recalling the characters in the passage we have just heard. Jesus was there of course. He is the main character. He is at the beginning of his public life. He has spent almost thirty years in the hidden life at Nazareth. There he grew in wisdom, grace and holiness. Then he had moved from Nazareth, which was in Galilee, and had arrived at the banks of the Jordan. For the Jews the Jordan was a holy place. Long ago people had crossed over this river into the Promised Land. Here, God would appear to give His people life. Today’s story finds us at this holy place where John the Baptist is proclaiming the Lamb of God.
Jesus had come to his cousin, John the Baptist, and had asked to be baptised. John tries to make Jesus change his mind saying: “I ought to be baptised by you and yet you have come to me”. “Let it be so for now” said Jesus, “in this way we shall do all that God requires”. Jesus is always anxious to do what God requires. On another occasion he said: “My meat is to do with the will of the One who sent me”.
Sometime previously John the Baptist had come down to the desert of Judea and started preaching. He told the people to turn away from their sins because the kingdom of Heaven was near. People came to him from Jerusalem, from the whole province and from all the countries near the River Jordan. They confessed their sins and he baptised them in the Jordan. When he saw the Pharisees coming to him he said: “You snakes, who told you that you could escape from the punishment God is about to send”.
The other people involved are Andrew and his companion. Both of these were disciples of John the Baptist. The second is not named but is probably John, the author of the Gospel. There are some precise details recorded such as the fact that it was the tenth hour which only someone who was present would have remembered. These details were treasured and caressed by John who had witnessed it all personally and retold it lovingly, as one is wont to retell many times events and incidents which change the course of one’s life. So John, the beloved disciple, was probably there.
Andrew and his brother, Simon Peter, were there, as well as their fellow townsman, Philip, whose name means ‘lover of horses’. These three came from the town of Bethsaida on the banks of the Jordan, north of the Sea of Galilee. Peter and Andrew were fishermen and the name Bethsaida means ‘a house of fish’.
The final character involved was Nathaniel who came from Cana in Galilee, the site of the first miracle worked by Jesus. Cana is not far from Nazareth. Perhaps there was some bad blood between the two towns because Nathaniel’s questions suggests something like that. He asks: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The question suggests that he may have had some negative experience of Nazareth or of some of the people of Nazareth. He seems a bit soured and cynical. A little praise from Jesus works wonders. We call it affirmation nowadays. Jesus said to him: “Here is a real Israelite in whom there is no guile” and Nathaniel is a changed person. The words of Jesus seem to have set him free from his negativity. “Teacher” he answered “You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel”.
What events of significance take place in this Gospel scene? Well, Jesus walks past and John points out Jesus to his companions, to his disciples, as the Lamb of God. The previous day John had indicated Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ and his listeners would have understood this as referring to someone who overcomes and conquers evil in the world.
John is here suggesting to his two friends, his two companions, that now his own task has come to an end. Now they are to follow Jesus and not follow him any longer. It illustrates what John himself was to say later on, “He must increase and I must decrease”. It also shows the great humility of John the Baptist. His two friends take the hint and proceed to follow Jesus. Perhaps it was at some distance. Perhaps they did so rather shyly or sheepishly. In any case, Jesus turned and saw them following him and puts a question to them: “What are you looking for?” It is the first question which Jesus asked in the Gospels. A similar sort of question is found in the beginning of the Old Testament in the Book of Genesis where God asks Adam and Eve: “Where are you?” Of course to ask questions is one of the basic human activities. Questioning begins in childhood and continues in different and deeper ways throughout life. Once upon a time a faith without questions may have been possible but today it is not very likely. The disciples answered the question of Jesus with another question: “Where do you live Rabbi?” Literally they ask, “Where do you stay Rabbi, where do you remain?” St. John used the same word later when he says: “Remain in my love”.
In answer to this questions Jesus invites them to come and see for themselves. They accept his invitation and so began the adventure which was to change their lives. They went with Jesus and saw where he lived and spent the rest of the day with him. They went. They saw. They stayed. During that day they saw and heard enough to convince them that Jesus was in fact the long awaited Messiah. That was the message which Andrew gave to Simon, his brother. “We have found the Messiah”. It was the most exciting discovery that any faithful Jew could ever make. Then Andrew took his brother, Simon to Jesus.
Andrew and John were not content to stay there on their own and keep their call to themselves. Andrew tells Simon his brother immediately. Good News cannot be kept secret. Disciples make disciples. They share the news of the discovery they have made with others. They tell their brothers and their friends and so bring about the vocation of Peter, Philip and Nathaniel. Jesus looked at Simon and said: “Your name is Simon, son of John, but you will be called Cephas”
Even though Jesus says relatively little in this passage he does in fact dominate it in an extraordinary way with his question: What are you looking for? and his invitation / command to them to come and follow him. The authority with which Jesus changes the name of Peter is quite remarkable. And the remarks of all the others are about Jesus. “There is the Lamb of God” says John the Baptist. “We have found the Messiah” says Andrew. “We have found the One whom Moses and the prophets wrote about” says Philip. Even Nathaniel’s question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? is of course a reference to his hometown.
“Seek and You Shall Find”
This passage is about the search for God and the search for Jesus Christ. The key phrases indicate this very clearly: What are you looking for?, Come and see, we have found the Messiah, We have found the One Moses wrote about. It is interesting to note that the first question in the Old Testament is that addressed by God to Adam and Eve, Where are you? The first question in the New Testament in St. John’s Gospel is: What do you desire? In each case it is God who is asking the question. It is God who is coming in search of us.
Sometimes this search fails and must be set right. Then we discover that our search for God is rooted in the fact that God first seeks us out. Out of sheer goodness God created us. God created us to have us share his own blessed life. For this reason, at every opportunity, God draws close to us. He calls us to seek Him and to know Him and to love Him with all our being. He calls all people together into the unity of His family which is the Church. To accomplish all of this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son. In His Son, Jesus, and through Jesus, God invites us to become His adopted children. He invites us and calls us to be heirs of His blessed life.
That is the drama that is being enacted in this Gospel. Jesus invites Andrew and John to say exactly what they want. It is the first question to any would-be follower. What are you looking for? Yes, they were searching. They were on their way to hear John but John pointed them towards Jesus. Then they discovered Jesus in fact searching for them. The searchers discover that they in turn are themselves being sought.
Every religion is a search for God. Christianity is slightly different in the sense that it is not just a question of our seeking God. Instead God comes in person to us, not only to speak to us but to show us the road by which God may be reached. It begins with Jesus taking flesh and becoming one of us.
When they found Jesus, Andrew and John had to make a decision. Would they accept this invitation to come and see or not? For that they needed faith. Faith is our response to God who comes in search of us. That response must be freely given. God has far too much respect for us to try to manipulate us. Andrew and John, Simon Peter and Philip all put their faith in Jesus. From that simple dialogue began the adventure that changed their lives. That adventure took them far from the banks of the Jordan. It took Simon Peter for example to Rome, to the banks of the Tiber, to suffer and die like his master, on a cross on the Vatican hill.
“Come and see”, This is an invitation to all of us to experience Jesus directly and immediately. It is a call to begin a journey in faith. Going to see God’s dwelling place involves leaving one’s own. There comes a moment in every life when the child must leave home and begin to make his/her way as an adult in the world. One must, in a certain sense, cut oneself off from the sheltered security of the small familiar world to adventure in the other greater world. So also the Christian journey involves, not just once but frequently, a pulling away and separation from the familiar, from the known.
Beneath this story we have the whole theology of vocation. We get an understanding of how one can be called to be a disciple of Jesus. It can be brought about by human factors. For the four disciples the important factors were friendship, they were friends. Three of them were from the same town, they were pursuing the same ideals as the disciples of John the Baptist. Simon and Andrew were blood brothers. There were human factors involved but God had taken the initiative. The key words “seek” and “follow” describe the essential attitudes of every disciple. To follow Christ indicates that we take the means which we have decided are necessary to bring us to Christ. The words “they find”, “they see”, and “they stay”, describes the reward for someone who follows Christ.
Jesus makes his first disciples his friends. He begins a new phase in his life. And this touches us all very closely as we too have been called, we believe ourselves to be called, to make the joyful discovery of Jesus as our Friend and Master. Jesus calls all who would listen to him, to follow him. He expects them to live out his teaching in their everyday lives. Living out his life and teaching means accepting Gospel values.
Jesus said: “Seek and you shall find”. The fact is that many sought Jesus in the Gospel, even some of his relatives, without finding him. Jesus said: “You will look for me but you will not find me because you cannot go where I will be”. He is saying that those people will discover too late that he is Saviour of the world and then they will seek him in vain. The short time that he stays with them is the only time of salvation on offer to them.
Some people fail in their search for Jesus because they seek only their own gain. He warned about this in his Gospel. “I am telling you the truth. You are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles”.
The search for God and friendship with God is not an easy one. We need to use all the helps that are available to us. We need to make sure that we are searching in the right place. Just as the Israelites saw Moses come down from the mountains with tablets of stone, so we need to see the signs of God’s call to friendship.
One such tablet is nature. The human eye sees God’s grandeur in creation. The universe invites a sense of wonder in the human heart.
A second such tablet is Sacred Scripture. Sacred Scripture indicates what we are to believe and what we are to do in order to achieve friendship with God. Through it we learn to meditate, to contemplate and to pray.
The third such tablet is the love which Christians have for one another. Friendship with God is connected with the friendship we experiences in the body of Christ, the Church. That friendship comes from Baptism and from Eucharist. It comes from ministering with one another and working to build up God’s reign on earth.
The last tablet is prayer. Friendship with God means surrendering to God’s love, in loving conversation with God. This can only happen if we allow God’s Spirit to move our hearts and enter into peaceful communion.
The second important point is that we search for God where God is to be found. There is an eastern parable which describes God as playing ‘hide and seek’ with humanity. According to one version God asks the angel for advice about the best place to hide. “Go to the farthest star” one said or “Try the depth of the sea” and somebody else suggested some inaccessible cave or some faraway desert. One other angel suggested that God might find the best disguise among the poor. Eventually one very wise angel came up with another idea: “Hide at the centre of human experience where the heart meets reality. Hide yourself at the cutting edge where people share their lives.” According to the parable that is the solution that God chose.
God is found through following the light and the guidance and the call that leads us into mystery. To find the strength and the courage for that journey we sometimes need to be set free. We sometimes need to be awakened to the wonder of our own existence. Maybe that is what Jesus did for Andrew and John on that first afternoon. That conversation lasted a long time. Perhaps Jesus revealed to them the wonder of their existence and the wonderful love God had for them.
God is also to be found in the darkness that is sometimes unavoidable along the journey through life. That need not overwhelm us, discourage us, or dishearten us provided we remember that darkness is never the whole story. We are never abandoned or alone in those shadows. God is to be found in the questioning which comes up in life. We saw how the disciples were questioned by Jesus. They didn’t know how to answer. They were trying to make sense of their experience, so they answered with another question: “Lord where do you live?” They were saying that this was far too complicated a business to discuss here on the side of the road. So they wanted to go aside to a quiet place and talk.
God is most certainly to be found by walking side by side with companions along the road to life. We have already seen the part which Andrew and John the Baptist played in bringing others to Christ. We are not meant to travel alone. Faith flourishes when people become members of a community. There are many such exciting communities all around us here today in the Church. Above all, especially God is found in the house of the Church. It is the place where the Spirit continues to guide the friends of Jesus. There, vast numbers of people find food for their journey every day and guidance by listening to the Scripture, they get strength and energy by being nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ.
God is found through adoration and prayer. God is found through giving. We are here for others, especially for the many wounded of our world. Anyone who tries to care in any way is not far from the Kingdom. And at the evening of life, says John of the Cross these will be judged by love.
I want to give God thanks for this great assembly of young people. I give praise to God who not only speaks to us in Jesus Christ but also seeks us out and comes to us in person to look for us and to show us the road by which God may be reached. I give thanks for the coming of Christ into the world which proves that our God is a searching God and I want to praise God who loves each one of us so much as to send his only beloved Son into the world so that we may have light and may not perish. I thank God for the John the Baptists and the Andrews in my life who have, in various ways, pointed out the Lamb of God to me and who have pointed out that Jesus is in fact living next to me in the brothers and sisters with whom I share my daily existence. I ask for light to see how God loves me forever. God is found by following the guidance and the advice that leads us into mystery when I ask from God the strength and the courage for that journey. I ask that God would awaken each one of us to the wonder at our own existence. I ask God to give each one of us the light that will take us through the darkness that is unavoidable along the journey. I ask for light to see God’s plan more clearly, a plan which aims to make each one of us His beloved daughter and son, and to have us share His eternal happiness forever. I ask God to let us see how we are considered His special possession, so special that our names are written on the palms of His hands.
I pray that in all our struggles, with studies or with relationships, with our mood and our decisions, with our hurts and disappointments we may be sustained by enough faith to continue the search.
Lord, we thank you for your invitation to come and see where you dwell. We ask you for the grace to remain in your love so that we may be able to come and see at the end of our earthly life the place you have gone to prepare for us in the bosom of the Father.
I think that through this passage God wants to tell me that the answer to my deepest yearnings and strongest desires is not something but someone, a person, Jesus Christ. So today, I realise that like everyone else I too am searching for Jesus Christ. No-one else or nothing else will satisfy my deepest desires. He alone has promised us life to the full.
Today God wants to tell me that Jesus is the reference point for an answer to the big questions in life. God is telling each one of us not to be afraid. “Do not be afraid” he says to Mary and to Joseph and the disciples. He is telling us not to be afraid to draw near to Jesus, to come and see where he dwells and to speak with him face to face as we would talk with a friend. He is telling us not to be afraid of the new life he is offering, not even of the demands it will make.
God also tells me that He loves me, and that I am precious and valuable to Him. If I remember that and imprint it on my memory, and on my heart, then my pilgrimage will have been well worthwhile.
Then how does this Word relate to my life? The discovery of Jesus by those four disciples brought a lot of changes into their lives, symbolised by Peter having his name changed. Andrew and John had a change of master, they were no longer disciples of John the Baptist. Nathaniel was changed from a cynical sort of person to a great believer who made a fantastic act of faith.
This Word challenges me to continue to grow in my relationship with Christ and that often means to change; the effect of grace in our lives is to change us. It means facing reality and confronting the struggles, great and small. It means seeing that the kingdom of God is here as well as hereafter.
Today God is constantly inviting me to come and see where Jesus lives. He invites me to stop looking for happiness in illusory desires, and to stop searching for fulfillment where it cannot be found.
This passage is imploring me not to be afraid to meet Jesus and to cross the threshold of his house and to speak to him face to face as one would talk to a friend. This passage tells me that it is along the paths of daily life that I can meet the Lord. I can and must meet the Lord in my own house because I can be sure that Jesus will come looking for me there in the first place. So I must certainly can and must meet the Lord in the person of those with whom I live.
I think he is inviting me to look at my life, and specifically to examine:
MY HOME: How do I get on with my parents, brothers, sisters, family? Do I do my fair share of work, and invite my family to pray with me?
MY WORK OR STUDY: How do I get on with others, and what or who influences me, and whom do I influence?
MY RECREATION: Does my recreation create me, or does it leave me exhausted, tired, frustrated, worried, unhappy? How do I treat others, and how do they treat me?
THE PLACE I GIVE GOD: Do I accept His invitation to “come and see”, or do I block or hinder or forget God’s invitation. Do I respect God’s name, God’s day, God’s house. How do I react and behave in each case.
God invites and challenges me to look at my life and see one area in it where I am trying hardest to hear His voice, and one area where I am doing my best to block out His voice.
Today Pope John Paul urges each one here to be an ambassador for the Messiah you have found in this dwelling, the Church, so that many more young people, people of your age, may be able to follow in the footsteps of Christ. May the Virgin Mary who is a model for every disciple, help you to find her son at every moment of your life and to follow him.