Steve Angrisano tried every imaginable way to convince his toddler daughter that she would be safe and dry inside their car as it glided through their local carwash.
He would ask her to pretend that it was a “bath” for their car.
He would attempt to distract her by pointing out the rainbow-colored soapsuds and cool machinery.
Still, Angrisano’s daughter would have a major meltdown every time she entered the noisy tunnel of water-squirting hoses and monster brushes.
Then one day, the 2-year-old came up with the cure for her phobia all on her own. The terrified child shouted to Angrisano, as they were moving through the carwash: “Daddy, just look at me!”
“I realized that what she was saying wasn’t, ‘Dad, take a look at me.’ It was (rather), ‘Keep looking at me, because as long as you’re looking at me and I’m looking at you, I can tell that everything’s OK.’”
It occurred to Angrisano that the eye lock between father and child was reminiscent of the unblinking and protective gaze that God the Father trains on each of his beloved sons and daughters. We need only trust in his tender care, said Angrisano, addressing 2,300 teens and youth leaders gathered at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Oct. 23 celebration of World Youth Day.
“We have a God who desiresto know us and love us and be a part of our everything,” Angrisano said. “The secret to life, I think, is allowing your being to magnify the Lord.”
Eroding that trust is when “bad stuff” happens that we can’t control. Seeds of doubt are sown that cloud the reality that “we have a God who is bigger than all those things,” Angrisano said.
In human beings’ never-ending quest to fill the “God-shaped vacuum” that only God can occupy, we are seduced by fleeting pleasures and the secular world tries to convince the frustrated masses that God doesn’t exist.
“No one in the universe can tell you that they can disprove God. No one, no scientist on earth, has ever seen matter created,” Angrisano told the young people. “Where did (life) come from? No one can answer that question!” he said, affirming the best and only answer to the mystery: God made us.
“When you look at this world, can’t you just tell that we’re different?” said Angrisano, inviting his audience to take a minute to revel in just how extraordinary it is to have been made in the image and likeness of God.
The proof is stacked against our being merely random “accidents” of nature, he insisted.
“There’s no other creature in the universe that we’ve ever discovered that will look up at the sky and decide whether to bring an umbrella or not because it might rain. We alone reason,” Angrisano said.
“We create games like football and basketball; we create movies and dance and music. And do you know why? We are the only creatures in the universe that create not (just) for food or communication or for shelter; we create for the joy of creating. We make up useless things like movies and games because we remain in the image of the Creator and experience the joy of creating. We remain a little bit like God!”
Witnesses of faith, trust
Angrisano said his own faith had been uplifted by encounters with individuals who maintained their trust in God, even in times of tragedy: His former church parish in Littleton, Colorado, lost four teenagers on April 20, 1999 – the day two teenage gunman stormed Columbine High in a shooting rampage that took 15 lives.
Angrisano, a Catholic musician, was humbled by the strength of the bereaved parents who asked for his help in planning their children’s funeral Masses, and by one particular survivor of the massacre: a girl shot multiple times after answering “yes” when one of the shooters asked her if she believed in God.
“She is a miracle,” said Angrisano, noting that none of the bullets pierced the young woman’s pericardium – a medical miracle, based on her x-rays. The survivor currently is a police department advocate for victims of violence.
“All things work together for good, and even in a tragedy God makes amazing things happen,” Angrisano said. “People ask me today, ‘Why won’t God do big miracles like the ones in the Bible?’ I just want to say, ‘He does!’”
Be ‘the tax collector’
The attendees, representing grades six through 12, hailed from 66 Catholic schools and parish schools of religion.
After lunch, they were invited to browse a fair of Catholic exhibitors, ask questions of Teen CROSS members dressed as Catholic saints and attend the breakout sessions of their choice from a list of topics that included how to dig deeper into the Mass, the mediocrity of relativism and how to discern if one is being called to the priesthood or consecrated life.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond celebrated the concluding Mass from an altar flanked by two wooden crosses inscribed with some of the attendees’ personal intentions.
During the homily, Archbishop Aymond urged the teens to always go to the Lord with their sins like the humble and repentant tax collector in the day’s Gospel from St. Luke.
Admitting our sins is never “a bummer,” the archbishop said, because God never tires of forgiving us, no matter the size of our misdeeds.
“Is there something that you have done in the past that you are carrying around? We are asked to let go of the past and give it over to God as we confess it,” said the archbishop, reminding the teens to look to the saints for guidance on navigating the human struggle.
“Every sinner,” he told them, “has a future where they can draw closer to God.”
The annual event is coordinated by the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Beth Donze can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.