Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Light the Fire Youth Rally – 2018
Jeremiah 1:1,4-10; Romans 8:31b, 35, 37-39; Matthew 28:16-20  

This is a pretty awesome gathering of young people, isn’t it?  …  Of course it is.  However, you might call it awesome for a very different reason than I might call it awesome.  …  You might call this moment awesome because you’re here celebrating your faith with your friends and hundreds of other young people from the eleven counties of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania that make up the Diocese of Scranton.  …  I call it awesome because I see in all of you the Church – very much alive and vibrant.  …  I call it awesome because of something that I learned eight years ago at the very first Light the Fire Youth Rally that I ever attended.  Let me tell you about that.

A young woman came up to me following the mass and she said to me, “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 the Church.”  She went on to very respectfully say to me, “Yes, Bishop, we are the future of the Church.  But we’re also very much a part of the Church right now.” 

I’ve never forgotten those words – and I never will.  You very much are the Church.  And all of the Church – young and old – have reason to hope because of your love, your commitment to serve and because of your faith in Jesus!  …  The key to that hope is that you – and all of us – need to care for the gift of faith and continually give it a voice – a heart – and life!

Today’s gospel is taken from Saint Matthew.  You might find it a bit familiar.  It is often proclaimed on Ascension Thursday.  As the risen Jesus is about to leave this world and ascend into the heavens, he addressed his disciples with these words:  Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.

There are two very important messages that Jesus offers as he prepares to leave this world:

The first message of Jesus is a message of hope and encouragement.  “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.”  No matter how life unfolds, with its joys and disappointments, its challenges and fears, know that you never go through life alone.  “I am with you always.”

The second message is a call to action.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”  Jesus gives us the assurance of his presence – not only to give us peace and consolation – but to equip us for mission – to equip us to do the work of God in our world and throughout our lives – to help us be the Church!  So teach the world about Jesus.  Show them who Jesus is with your love and service.

These words of hope and responsibility are words – more than any – that I hope you sear into your hearts throughout your entire lives.  God walks with us always – and calls us to build his Church by providing the same hope and encouragement that we’ve received to others.

Some of you may know that the Diocese of Scranton is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year.  We’re 150 years old!  …  That’s even a few years older than me!  …  And we’re celebrating this anniversary because countless numbers of faithful people down through the ages have made Jesus’ words of hope and responsibility an integral part of their lives – just like you and I resolve to do today.

Essentially, we’re here today because people like you and me believed with all their hearts that Jesus was with them – loving them and helping them face each day with hope.  …  We’re here today also because those same people realized that because of Jesus pledge to walk with them, they had a responsibility to share the good news of his life and love with others.  …  Simply put, because of such committed lives, the message of the gospel – the good news of Jesus – was brought to this portion of Pennsylvania and, in time, the Diocese of Scranton was founded 150 years ago.

Let me put this in some perspective.  In 1793, just seventeen years after the founding of the United States – a French colony was established on the banks of the Susquehanna River between Wyalusing and Towanda.  Within that colony, was found the first verifiable presence of the Catholic faith in what is now the Diocese of Scranton.

Thirty-two years later in 1825, an Irish born missionary priest by the name of Father Jeremiah O’Flynn used his own savings to purchase property where the first Catholic church within the territory of what we now know as the Diocese of Scranton would be built.  The church, placed under the patronage of Saint Augustine, was erected at Silver Lake in Susquehanna County.  Mass is still celebrated in that church today!  …  Who’s here from Bradford or Susquehanna Counties?

From the time that Father O’Flynn first settled in Susquehanna County, the Church in northeastern and north central Pennsylvania began to grow steadily.  It was served by missionary priests from the Diocese of Philadelphia and several religious congregations.  Religious sisters also came to this area.  They cared for the poor and the sick and they especially helped to establish Catholic schools and parish religious education programs to educate young people yourselves and to help them grow in their faith.  Finally, 150 years ago, Pope Pius IX established the Church situated in the 11 counties of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania as the Diocese of Scranton.

And all of that, my brothers and sisters, was possible ONLY because of what we learned from Saint Matthew’s gospel that I referenced a few minutes ago.  …  We are here today, celebrating our faith, first, because the risen Jesus is with us!  …  And the Church has grown and continues to give hope and life to countless numbers of people because faithful souls like your great, great grandparents and many others were so touched by Jesus that they, in turn, shared their faith and love with others.

So that’s how we got to this day in our history as a Diocese.  …  But it prompts a question.  …  Where do we go from here?  …  How does the Church continue to grow and flourish?

I think you know the answer.  It’s pretty simple.  …  It’s found, once again, in those words from Saint Matthew’s gospel.  …  “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world.”  …  Jesus is here!  We have all we need!  …  But remember that there are other words in that gospel that we all need to embrace as well.  …  “Make disciples of all nations.”  …  If the Church is to grow, you and I have a responsibility to make that happen.

So, what about you?  What are you going to do to build the Church of Jesus?  …  What are you going to do to ensure that the life, ministry, love and service that are a part of this local Church today continue for 150 more years?  …  Every one of us who has ever believed in or felt the presence of Jesus in our lives and in our hearts has a role to play in the building up of the Church.

Some time ago, Pope Francis told a large gathering of young people like you to seek “the grace to be annoying.”  Listen to his words.  “There are backseat Christians, right?  Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal.  Today we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us all this apostolic fervor and to give us the grace to be annoying when things are too quiet in the Church – the grace to go out to the outskirts of life.  The Church has so much need of this!  Not only in distant lands, …  but in our cities, they need this proclamation of Jesus Christ.  So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of apostolic zeal.  …  And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord.  Onwards, as the Lord says to Saint Paul, ‘take courage.’”

So, my friends, “take courage.”  Give the risen Jesus room in your hearts.  …  Share the good news of Jesus – today – through your love and service of the people God places in your lives.  …  And continue to be the Church for years to come!