By Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
Young people who know they “belong to Jesus” are aglow with special traits that inspire their peers and others to believe that they, too, are “priceless,” said Archbishop Gregory Aymond, speaking to 2,000 ’tweens and teens assembled at the Morial Convention Center for the Oct. 22 celebration of World Youth Day.
“Who do you belong to?” Archbishop Aymond asked the sixth through 12th graders, offering a few signposts that tell us we are in the presence of people who are grounded in their own worth as a beloved son or daughter of God.
Such individuals cherish and nurture their unique gifts – and do not envy the gifts of others; always try to see the good in their neighbor; stand up for the bullied; “hunger” for God’s Word, Body and Blood through their participation in Mass; and rarely succumb to the daily onslaught of peer pressure.
You belong to Jesus
“My sisters and brothers of the young church, you’re here today because you belong to Jesus,” the archbishop said. “You and I (are) imperfect – we sin, sometimes we go astray – I certainly do, we all do. But we’re so precious in the eyes of Jesus, we’re so priceless in his eyes, that he wants to forgive us and heal us and help us to change,” he said.
“Even when things aren’t going well, even when we mess things up, we know that we can go to this God who still calls us priceless and beloved.”
In the event’s keynote address earlier in the day, Dr. Ansel Augustine, the former director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Office of Black Catholic Ministries who is now serving in campus ministry at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, said young people need to slow down and cherish their unique, God-given beauty.
“Each and every one of y’all, whether you believe it or not, is a gift,” said Augustine, offering the World Youth Day attendees three catch-phrases to tell themselves whenever they question their worth: Shut Up; Quit Tripping; and Start Living.
“Shut Up” reminds us to avoid getting sucked into the din of social media and negative speech, and spend quiet time with God each day.
“It’s easy for us to listen to other voices that are around us, Augustine said. “It’s easy for us to post on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook; we get the ‘likes’ and the attention, yet we still remain unfulfilled. We want the next thing; we want the next ‘like’; we want to post the next picture. Whatever happened two seconds ago is old news.”
“But I’m here to remind you that Christ loves you throughout and he gives you the attention you’re looking for throughout,” he said, recalling how many of the “voices” after Hurricane Katrina insisted that New Orleans either wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – come back.
“But guess what? Next year we celebrate 300 years (as a city),” Augustine said. “People will tell you what you can or you can’t do, but guess what? Because God put that dream in you, it will come to fruition in his time – but you have to listen!”
Avoid self-doubt, be patient
Augustine also admonished the young people to “Quit Tripping” – to trust in God even when things don’t seem to be working out. Augustine said he experienced a lapse in trust over the course of many years when his incarcerated older brother failed to respond to any of his mail.
“I thought there was something wrong with me,” said Augustine, whose heart was moved when he finally received a card from his brother: Not only did his brother apologize for ignoring Augustine; he and 10 fellow inmates had been baptized as a result of Augustine’s correspondence and prayers.
“You never know how God is going to use you,” Augustine said. “In this world today, we want stuff immediately, but always trust that God is working on your life. Don’t let your contradictions keep you from your calling. You may think you can’t, but God thinks you can; you may limit yourself, but God knows that you are limitless.”
Use your life well
To “Start Living,” we must first “take off the blinders and see each other as an equal child of God,” said Augustine, explaining the last of his three tips.
“That’s hard, because the world out there labels us – it puts limits on certain people and tells us who is of worth and who’s not,” he said.
As a result, Pope Francis is continually reminding us of the dignity of human life and of the need to go out into the margins to find our struggling brothers and sisters, Augustine said, adding that there were many young people “right outside” the doors of the Convention Center that would happily trade places with anyone in the audience that day.
“You are blessed to be here,” Augustine said. “The question is, what are you going to do with that blessing?”
World Youth Day is sponsored by the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office and Teen C.R.O.S.S. Office director Joey Pistorius said 14 parishes that had never attended World Youth Day before, or had not attended in years, participated this year.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.