by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
From Feb. 8 through Feb. 24 at Asbury University located in the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky, tens of thousands participated in a spontaneous revival.
It began with a few students who, remaining after a chapel service, continued to pray and praise the Lord throughout the night. By the time of its conclusion on Feb. 24, more than 50,000 people had descended upon this small Christian college to participate in what has been dubbed the Asbury Revival, with tens of thousands more participating via social media.
The Asbury Revival touched particularly Generation Z (16-25 years old). A seminary professor, Tim Beougher, summarized the impact of the Asbury Revival on its young participants: “God marked this outpouring with: 1) a tangible sense of peace for a generation with unprecedented anxiety; 2) a restorative sense of belonging for a generation amidst an epidemic of loneliness; 3) an authentic hope for a generation marked with depression; 4) a leadership emphasizing protective humility in relationship with power for a generation deeply hurt by the abuse of religious power; and 5) a focus on participatory adoration (worship) for an age of digital distraction.”
Many other groups across the country responded by providing opportunities for prayer and adoration. On his weekly radio show, Cardinal Timothy Dolan interviewed one of New York’s young priests, who, inspired by what was happening in Asbury, organized in his parish throughout Lent continuous eucharistic adoration.
I was encouraged to learn of this eruption of the Holy Spirit touching the hearts of so many young people in our country. I do not believe it is a coincidence that this spontaneous revival occurred in the midst of a three-year pastoral initiative by the Catholic Church in the United States to foster eucharistic revival.
What our secular society has been offering our young people for a pathway to happiness has been a disaster. It is also not a coincidence that as the younger generation has become less religious with an increasing number identifying as agnostics or atheists, they have experienced epidemics of anxiety, loneliness and depression.
The secular formula — offering continuous opportunities for banal entertainment and experiences of pleasure while eliminating the protection of moral boundaries — has not resulted in joy and inner peace. As the late Pope Benedict XVI observed, our secular world is good at providing many opportunities for pleasure but is incapable of fostering abiding joy.
We should not be surprised at the harm we inflict on our young people, when we encourage them that it is healthy and normal to define themselves in a way contrary to their biological sex or even conceive themselves to be an animal, an entirely different species. Certainly, we must have compassion for those who may suffer from such psychological confusion, but we do them a tremendous disservice when we pretend dangerous delusions are healthy or even heroic. This is a cultural insanity that, whether intentional or not, results in grave harm to vulnerable youth.
We have been created to be in communion with God. The longings of the human heart cannot be satisfied without experiencing his merciful, consoling and healing love. We also need healthy familial relationships and virtuous friendships. No amount of mind-numbing pseudo-entertainment can substitute for communion with God and healthy families and friendships.
This past Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the installation of Abbot James Albers as the abbot for St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. The Asbury Revival spanned a couple of weeks, when many young people — as well as some of their elders — were touched by God’s grace. In our Catholic tradition, we are blessed to have the Benedictine revival that began in the sixth century and continues to this day.
What a blessing for our archdiocese to have St. Benedict’s Abbey where Our Lord Jesus is worshiped and adored each day. The monks of St. Benedict strive to follow an ancient rule of life that seeks to glorify God through a balanced life of prayer and work.
Of course, monastic communities are not perfect societies because, like the church in general, they are composed of members who are recovering sinners. Yet, we have centuries of evidence of how Benedictine monastic communities have not only enriched the church but the larger society.
Not just Benedictines, but men and women religious in general are a great blessing to the church. Recently, a new religious community of Sisters arrived in the archdiocese — the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Two of the Sisters will be serving St. Michael the Archangel Parish and School. A third Sister has joined the team in our archdiocesan marriage and family life office. If you meet any of these Sisters, you will be captivated by their joy.
Our archdiocese has been blessed throughout its 170-year history with amazing religious Sisters, Brothers and priests. Religious life well-lived elevates the life of the entire church. Religious Sisters, Brothers and priests remind all of us by the witness of their lives to place God first in our hearts and, secondly, to praise Our Lord in the way he most desires by striving to be vessels of his love to others.
Every sin replicates the original sin of the parents of the human race. The original sin in the Garden of Eden was a rebellion against God, an effort to push God out of our lives and to make ourselves our own gods. Sin was disastrous for Adam and Eve, and it is disastrous for their descendants today.
During these final days of Lent, I encourage you to experience your own personal revival by taking advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation. Through that sacrament we lay aside the idols — the false gods — of our lives and restore Jesus to be the Lord of our hearts.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will anoint the efforts of the church in the United States to foster eucharistic revival. We also need to pray for a religious revival in our nation. A democratic society can only endure if it has a majority of virtuous citizens. Communion with God — friendship with Jesus — is the antidote to the pandemics of loneliness, anxiety and depression that grip our affluent culture.
Let us also give thanks for the consecrated religious men and women in our Catholic Church who provide us with flesh-and-blood examples of the tried-and-true path to happiness and holiness.
Come Holy Spirit, come and renew the hearts of your people with the fire of your love!