by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past weekend, we had our annual “Quo Vadis” retreat for young men who are discerning God’s will for them and are open to a possible call to the priesthood.
We had more than 80 retreatants. With more than 20 of our current seminarians assisting with the retreat, we had more than 100 young men spending a weekend in prayer and reflection, seeking to know God’s will for their lives.
In previous years, we were ecstatic to have as many as 50 young men participate in the “Quo Vadis” retreat. Having 80 young men serious about growing in their prayer life and learning how to listen for God’s voice was amazing!
Just a month ago, we had 62 young women participate in “Love’s Reply,” a discernment retreat for women. The retreat was organized by our archdiocesan vocation office. Nine communities of religious Sisters helped to conduct the retreat.
Also, in December, I concelebrated a Mass with City on a Hill young adults community as a prelude to their annual City Lights Gala. City on a Hill is a beautiful young adult ministry serving Catholics in the Kansas City metropolitan community. City on a Hill sponsors men’s and women’s small groups, where young adults grow in their understanding of our Catholic faith and their prayer life. I have met several young adults who have moved to Kansas City because of City on a Hill.
Around the same time, I participated in the St. Lawrence Center’s Divine Winefest — the annual fundraiser for our Catholic campus ministry center for the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The evening included beautiful testimonies from KU Catholic students about the deepening and the growth of their Catholic faith through the ministry of the St. Lawrence Center.
The Holy Spirit is doing something beautiful in the hearts of our young people. In my conversations with young adults, many have become disillusioned with what the world is offering. In a culture that promotes the pursuit of pleasure as the highest priority, many young adults recognize this is not the pathway to authentic joy.
Recently, I was in a conversation with a man who was about my age — in other words, old — and grew up in a Catholic family. He shared that he did not really believe in Jesus and the Bible. He preferred to think of God as just pure being. He did not believe in a God of revelation or, for that matter, a God who had a personal interest in him.
This is becoming a more common philosophy in a society where more and more people identify themselves as spiritual but not religious. In my opinion, this is a great impoverishment from our Christian belief in a personal God who has revealed himself to us and desires for us to have a friendship with him. When we reject a God who reveals himself to us, then God is reduced to simply what the human mind can imagine or conceive. We make God in our image, a god who is designed to make us comfortable, not invite us to greatness.
Our secular culture protests against Nativity scenes. It prefers that Christmas be reduced to a time of holiday parties and gift-giving that stimulates the economy. Even in watching the menu on self-described family channels, Christmas is mainly about romance, finding the right person to kiss under the mistletoe.
It is true that Christmas is about an amazing romance story. It is about a God who is the Creator of the cosmos and reveals his beauty in nature. Yet, this God reveals himself even more powerfully through the Bible as a God of goodness, tenderness and mercy.
The true meaning of Christmas is the God who ultimately reveals himself in the Word made flesh. The Lord of lords and King of kings chooses to become a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary and to be born as an infant in the impoverished circumstances of a stable, a cave, an animal shelter in the insignificant hamlet of Bethlehem in Judea.
Christmas is about a God who seeks us and pursues us, entering into our humanity so that we can share in his divinity. This is the greatest love story ever told.
The word “Bethlehem” actually means “house of bread.” In the Christmas crèche, the crib for the baby Jesus is a manger — a trough where animals eat. We celebrate Christmas this year in the midst of three pastoral initiatives for Eucharistic Revival. For Catholics, this Christmas especially reminds us that the Jesus born in Bethlehem, the Word made flesh, is available to us as a spiritual food in the Eucharist.
I feel sorry for people who believe that God is an impersonal, eternal being, who has no real interest in human beings. With this concept of God, it is no wonder rates of anxiety and depression are skyrocketing in our society!
The good news of Christianity is a God who seeks to be in communion with us and desires friendship with us. Christians embrace a God who seeks us out and desires to communicate with us. Christianity believes in a God who is interested in every aspect of our lives and who has a plan and unique mission for each of us.
The young men on the “Quo Vadis” retreat, the young women on the “Love’s Reply” discernment retreat, the participants in City on a Hill, and the students at the St. Lawrence Center give me great hope for the future. These beautiful and amazing young adults understand the true meaning of Christmas, the greatest romance story ever told!