Mass for Young People in the Diocese of Sunyani, Ghana
Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time – August 17, 2022
Young people of the great Diocese of Sunyani – thank you to Bishop Matthew and to all of you for welcoming me, Father Shantillo and Father Clarke. It is a great blessing for us to join with you in prayer and to celebrate the goodness of God in our lives.
I’m pleased to bring you greetings from young people of the Diocese of Scranton, five thousand miles away, who send you their love – who share your excitement about knowing Jesus – and who promise to pray for you and ask that you pray for them as together we all seek to build the Kingdom of God among us! Thank you for this great opportunity to pray with and for you and your families!
Almost every year since I have been bishop, young people like yourselves have gathered for a special day of prayer and celebration much like you do today. We call the gathering Light the Fire! … Light the fire of faith that God has planted in our hearts at baptism and live that faith to the fullest.
That day has always been a very meaningful day for me and I know it is for our young people. … They reflect on the gifts and talents that God has planted in their hearts and the opportunities that God has given to them as they look to their future with hope. … They share the challenges that they face in a world that doesn’t always appreciate the values of the Gospel of Jesus. … They talk about their fears as they experience division and as they witness violent attacks on innocent lives in our country and world. … And they celebrate their faith, their hopes and dreams and their desire to make the world a better place for themselves, their families and someday their own children.
The young people of our diocese have taught me a great deal at those annual gatherings, just as you are today. Let me share one important lesson that learned and have never forgotten.
Following the closing Mass of Light the Fire a few years ago, a young woman – I’d say about 17 or 18 years of age – stopped to greet me. Listen carefully to what she said. “Bishop Bambera – thanks for being with us. It means a lot to have you here. But can I tell you something about your homily that bothered me?” I said, “Sure.” The young woman went on to remind me that I called the young people who were gathered for the Mass the “future of our Church.” She went on to very respectfully say to me, “Yes, Bishop, we are the future of the Church. But you need to know that we are also very much a part of the Church right now.”
How about those words? I’ve never forgotten them – and I hope I never will. … Do you agree with them? I hope you do! … For you are very much a vital part of our Church right now – today! … And all of the Church – young and old – has reason to hope because of your love, your commitment to serve and your faith in Jesus! … In fact, that young woman’s words were quite providential. Pope Francis shared similar words a few years later to young people like yourselves. He said, “You are the NOW of God.” … NOW – not tomorrow – is the moment for all of us to live our faith and to make God’s love present in our world and in our lives!
Six years ago, I was privileged to travel with young people from my diocese to join with Pope Francis for the fifteenth World Youth Day that was held in Krakow, Poland. It was an incredible experience with over three million participants like you from around the world. For all that he shared during the few days that he spent with us, Pope Francis touched us all with these very real and powerful words. “Young people, we didn’t come into this world to ‘vegetate,’ to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark. … God expects something from you. God wants something from you. … Life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark.”
While he addressed them to young people, Pope Francis’ words speak to every one of us in this cathedral tonight, don’t they? … And why? … Because every one of us seeks something more in life than we can see and touch. That’s why we’re here. … Every one of us seeks to make sense of life, to engage life in such a way that we find meaning and purpose and peace, don’t we? … Every one of us wants to leave a mark in some way so that the world will know that we passed through it and have made at least our corner of it better because of our journey. … And every one of us knows that foundational to all of our hopes and dreams is one thing and one thing only: a relationship with the person of Jesus – a relationship that gives us life through Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection – and a relationship that calls us to make the pattern of Jesus’ life our own as we embrace his mission and proclaim his gospel.
Let’s look at the Word of God for just a moment as we continue to reflect upon the gift of our relationship with Jesus. The passage from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, although written long before Jesus walked our world, speaks to the invitation that he gives to us all who seek to live as his disciples.
The prophet Ezekiel criticizes the rulers of Israel who led the nation to devastation and its people into exile when the Babylonians invaded their land. Tragically, Israel’s leaders – its shepherds – cared more about themselves than they did the people who were entrusted to their care. But through Ezekiel’s prophecy, God brings the rule of the selfish shepherds to an end and promises to raise up new shepherds to look after God’s people: shepherds who will lay down their lives to protect the sheep, shepherds who will seek first safe and bountiful pasture for all the sheep – the poor, the vulnerable, the lost and forgotten driven to the margins of the flock.
For Ezekiel – and ultimately for Jesus – to “shepherd” in the spirit of God is not a position of honor or prestige but a call to serve, to care for, to respect, to extend the love and mercy of God to all. And to “shepherd” is not just the responsibility of bishops and priests!
In so many ways, my friends, through our baptisms, we have all been called by Jesus to be faithful shepherds – to care for the world that has been given to us – to seek those who are lost – to feed and clothe the poor – to protect one another from harm – to live the gospel values of truth, goodness, forgiveness and love – to gather into God’s family those that have wandered away – and to offer hope to those who have lost their way.
When I look out over this cathedral, brothers and sisters, do you know what I see? … I see faithful shepherds! … I see disciples/friends of Jesus! … Unlike so many in our world today who have set aside the message of Jesus and the hope that comes from faith, through your presence at this Mass, I see the commitment that you have made to living your faith. And when I consider your desire to be in relationship with Jesus and with one another in and through the life of the Church – and when I reflect upon my experience of just how selfless you are in your willingness to serve the neediest in our midst – do you know what I realize? I realize that in you, our present and future Church has much reason to hope.
No one would deny that these aren’t easy times. For all of the blessings that we experience in life, life can be filled with challenges, can’t it? But when we begin to look beyond our own suffering to serve a struggling world in need of love, forgiveness and mercy – something that Jesus did on the cross – hope emerges – not only for the neediest among us but also for ourselves.
So how do we best move forward? How do we leave that mark for good in our world? … None of us know how our future lives will unfold – not just in the days and years that lay ahead – but even today, at this moment in our journey of faith. Yet, never underestimate the power of God and how and where God will lead you in life if you but open yourselves to his presence and his love.
So many of you are likely wondering what it is that God is calling you to do with the gifts you’ve been given. … Maybe God is calling you to be a priest or to enter into religious life. I went to college to be a dentist and look what happened to me! … Maybe God is calling you to be a nurse – or a doctor – or a teacher – or to be married and to become a parent. Who knows! … But wherever God is calling you, above all, he is calling you and me and everybody in this cathedral to a deeper relationship with Jesus, to be faithful and to use what he has given you to build up the Church and spread his Gospel.
Pope Francis put it best when he spoke to young people like you at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro just a few months following his election as Pope. “Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! … Go, do not be afraid, and serve. … Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love. … And above all, serve. … Service does not consist of words. … It is the song of your life, it is allowing your life to be identified with that of Jesus, it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, his actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.”
Brothers and sisters, our world is counting on you to go forth and make a difference in our world. … I’m counting on you. … Those who are looking for meaning and peace in their lives are counting on you. … And Jesus is counting on you – to use generously the gifts that he has given to you.
In your own way, my friends, bring Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness to the world in which you live. … Stand up against intolerance and hatred. … Show the world by your example that we are all brothers and sisters. … Break down barriers of selfishness. … Protect this wonderful creation that we’ve been given. Respect it. Treasure it. … Serve the poorest in our midst. … And never forget, as Pope Francis reminds us, that because Jesus lives in you, you are the “now of God,” the Church alive today and our world’s greatest hope!