by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I hope that you enjoyed last week’s edition of The Leaven reporting on World Youth Day and chronicling some of the experiences of our local Kansas pilgrims.
It astounds me that the secular press chooses to largely ignore an event of such enormous proportions. This underscores why it is important to read The Leaven and other Catholic publications, as well as to listen to Catholic radio and to watch EWTN. There is so much good happening in the church every day that you will never read, hear or see in the secular media.
Instead, you will be exposed to a steady drumbeat of anything and everything negative about the Catholic Church. If there is nothing new to report, they find a way to rehash old stories.
As the archbishop, I have the opportunity to witness much of the good, particularly with our young people, that goes unnoticed. I enjoy the opportunity each summer to celebrate Mass at Prairie Star Ranch for our camps. I am impressed by the dedication of our staff members who spend the summer trying to help our campers grow closer to Jesus and to love his church.
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass for CYO athletes, coaches and parents. The Mass is part of an effort of the CYO leadership to make certain that our sports programs are not just about producing great athletes, but that they are teaching young people the development of virtues and a deepening of their faith through the experience of team sports.
I had the opportunity to attend the convocation at Benedictine College marking the beginning of the new academic year. Benedictine has record enrollment. The centerpiece of the renewal of Benedictine College has been an intentional effort to strengthen the Catholic faith life and culture of the campus. The convocation speaker, Robert George, a professor at Princeton University, commented that it took him only about 20 minutes being on the campus in Atchison to realize there is something very beautiful and special happening at Benedictine.
We begin this year with 30 young men in the seminary for the archdiocese. Twenty-two of our seminarians were in Madrid, Spain, for World Youth Day. My time with them, during the pilgrimage, reconfirmed for me the depth of their faith and the high caliber of these young men who are discerning a call to the priesthood.
One of the themes that I stressed this summer in meeting with the boards for all of our Catholic high schools in the archdiocese is the essential difference in how we prepare young people for their future in comparison with public schools and the secular world. In the secular arena, the constant question that is posed to young people is: What do you want to do with your life? Young people are taught to think of careers that are based on their interest, job opportunities and the amount of money to be made.
For the Christian, the real question is not: What do you want to do with your life? Nor are the important questions: How can you make the most money? Gain the most fame? What will be the easiest way to get by in the world?
The real question, the only question, for the Christian young man or woman is: What is God calling me to do? The goal of our Catholic schools cannot be simply to prepare our young people for successful careers in the world. Our schools are oriented to helping young people discover God’s plan for them, the special and unique mission that he has for each of them. The goal of the Christian life is not doing what I want with my life, but to allow ourselves to get caught up in God’s dream for us. His dreams are so much greater and more beautiful than what we would devise for ourselves.
Our young people may wind up doing something very similar to their secular counterparts. Many will be married and become parents. Some will be doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, scientists, artists, athletes, mechanics, construction workers, carpenters, pilots, etc.
Yet, their reason for doing what they are doing and their motivation to do it well will be very different. If we see our life as a response to God’s call, then we will find purpose and meaning in what we are doing. Our work will not be just a job, but a means for glorifying God. Our motivation to do our best will be beyond any financial or material incentives.
The Apostles of the Interior Life, the Sisters who serve at St. Lawrence Center at the University of Kansas, conduct a program each year called The Samuel Group. It is for juniors or seniors in college (not just from KU) and other young adults who want to learn how to discern their vocation. Once a month, they meet on a Sunday afternoon for prayer, reflection and discussion on some of the tools and skills that can help a person understand God’s plan for them. Last year, more than 90 young adults participated.
At the end of The Samuel Group each year, the participants write me a letter detailing the highlights of their experience. One young woman wrote the following: “This year, I have had in the back of my mind a quote from St. Catherine of Siena: ‘If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.’ Through my discernment, I will eventually find what I should be and all I can do is hope that I will have the opportunity to set the world on fire.”
From my experience of World Youth Day and my association with the youth of the archdiocese, I am excited about the future for the church and our world. I see an increasing number of young people open to discovering God’s call and allowing the Lord to use them to set the world on fire with his love.