Whenever we perform an act of authentic, Christ-like love for someone, the healing impact of that love might not be fully recognized by the giver or the receiver until much later in life.
In Jesse Manibusan’s case, he assumed he was just doing his job as music minister at his Texas church when he invited a 12-year-old congregant named Griffin to join the choir. Although the boy declined Manibusan’s offer, he shyly asked if Manibusan might train him to be the choir’s roadie – an assistant responsible for uncoiling the electrical cords, setting up the instruments and packing them up at the end of each Mass.
“That kid Griffin helped me for three years!” said Manibusan, relating the story to more than 2,000 teens and adult youth leaders gathered at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Oct. 27 for the daylong celebration of archdiocesan World Youth Day.
After Griffin’s family moved out of state, the teen dropped out of Manibusan’s life until he received a phone call from Griffin, who had recently graduated from college. Griffin’s news bowled over the choir leader: Manibusan’s earlier act of faith in him had inspired the young man to become a Catholic youth minister.
Youngster steps out in faith
“It was a courageous, compassionate moment of heroic humility that made that happen,” Manibusan said, recalling how 12-year-old Griffin had summoned up the courage, in the midst of familial disarray, to seek ways to help the church – to keep using his God-given gifts as a participator in his faith, not just a spectator.
“That’s how God revives us: in the simplest of ways; that’s how ‘God’s CPR’ works,” Manibusan said at the 27th annual gathering of New Orleans’ young church, sponsored by the archdiocesan Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office.
“We are perfectly imperfect disciples,” Manibusan said. “But the good news is that we’re called to be transformed every day, holier every day. We fall down; we fail; but we will rise in Jesus. By the grace of God’s love and forgiveness and the sacrament of reconciliation we are made whole.”
Throughout the day, youth were asked if they knew “CPR” – an acronym for “Christ, our Protector and Redeemer.” Manibusan told his young audience that the boundless, unblinking mercy and love of Christ – humanity’s ultimate first-responder – has made itself known to him time and again as he pursues his very public ministry as a Catholic speaker and musician, while suffering regular bouts of depression, doubt, timidity and fear.
Manibusan, who as a child aspired to be a rock musician – and perhaps even the fifth Beatle – said he adamantly resisted his mother’s recruitment of him, at age 9, to sing and play guitar for the church choir. He eventually gave it a shot, discovering that his musical gifts not only were aiding his fellow parishioners in their Sunday worship but were also transforming lives in two forgotten groups: nursing home residents and teenage offenders at a local juvenile hall.
“I didn’t plan on being a Catholic ninja,” Manibusan chuckled, noting he began to feel Christ’s love working through him when the nursing home director told choir members that their music had caused a formerly bedroom-bound woman to dance and sing with her peers.
At the juvenile home, a resident who initially griped about the choir’s presence pleaded with the group to return, because when they played, the resident said, “It’s like we’re almost home. It gives us hope. It gives us life.”
“I didn’t see God working (at the time), but God was right there, working his CPR,” Manibusan said. “God (works for us and through us) under the radar most of the time, not with fireworks. God does it while we are sleeping, when people are loving us, affirming us, encouraging us and not giving up on us. God’s doing it when we’re getting second and third chances.”
Go out and ‘make a mess!’
World Youth Day, which also included a fair of Catholic exhibitors, enabled participants – sixth through 12th graders from 76 Catholic schools and parish youth groups – to select the breakout sessions of their choice from a list of 13 topics, ranging from how youth can evangelize via social media, to how popular music sometimes blurs the line between truth and lies.
Maggie Sauter, a Mount Carmel Academy junior and a member of the youth group at St. Pius X in New Orleans, said the seminar entitled “Dating in Freedom,” presented by lay missionaries Lamar Edwards and Stephanie Deutsch, “amazed” her.
“It helped me understand everything that I’ve been taught about ‘Theology of the Body’ better because it was from the perspective of a man and a woman. It kind of gave us an inside view of what (girls and boys) think, how we think and why we think that way,” Sauter said.
“(Edwards) explained how the man thinks, how he feels about women, and how he has to learn how to respect and give them dignity as the daughters of Christ they are,” Sauter said. “And (Deutsch) told us how we, as women, need to use our sensuality in a positive way, so it can help us build a better friendship (with a male friend) before we get into a relationship.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond spent the whole day with his beloved “young church,” eating lunch with the teens in the Convention Center food court and leading two breakout sessions of his own: one challenging high school seniors to fit their Catholic faith into college life; the other focusing on the important ministry of adult youth leaders.
At the concluding Mass, Archbishop Aymond urged teens to follow the example of the Gospel’s humble and contrite tax collector, who recognized his need for forgiveness and healing, rather than that of the condemnatory, arrogant and attention-hungry Pharisee.
“I invite you this week to know CPR – Christ who is our protector and our redeemer,” the archbishop said, asking each young person to examine themselves by holding a mirror in front of themselves, with Jesus at their side.
“As Jesus holds that mirror in front of you, say ‘Jesus, help me to see myself as you do.’ And then listen to Jesus,” Archbishop Aymond said. “He will tell you something like this: ‘I see in you a lot of goodness; I see in you every time you’re willing to go the extra mile for someone else; I see in you every time that you take up for someone who is being bullied in your class and in your school; I see the times you are honest and good,’” he said, adding that Jesus says “I love you” to his children, even in their sinfulness.
“The Lord Jesus invites you – he doesn’t condemn you, he doesn’t even tell you what those weaknesses are – he lets you and me admit our weaknesses to him,” the archbishop said. “He says, ‘Not only do I forgive you, but I ask you to celebrate my forgiveness in confession because that’s an opportunity for us to be rejoined in an even closer way.’”
Archbishop Aymond concluded by echoing the message of Pope Francis at the recent World Youth Day in Brazil: Share the Good News of Christ’s healing forgiveness with others.
“Pope Francis said, ‘Go out and make a mess in the world! Go out and live your faith!’” the archbishop said.
“Tell others that Jesus has forgiven you and loves you. Tell others that Jesus has reminded you of your gifts and (of your) goodness. Go out and make a mess – and you willmake a mess – and make this world a better place by your witness!”
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.