College students seek to encounter Christ
Sometimes sitting in the front is good, and sometimes sitting as far back as you can is good. On my recent trip to SEEK2019, a gathering in Indianapolis of some 17,000 Catholic college students, I had the opportunity to do both.
For the daily celebration of the Mass, I had a front row seat. In this seat, I was blown away by the responses of the students to the prayers. When the presider said, “The Lord be with you,” there was no whispered response. “And with your spirit” thundered as if shot from a cannon. I could also hear singing of all skills joining in one voice to praise God. So, sitting in the front has some real advantages.
But on the last night of the conference, I decided to do something completely different. I sat as far in the back of the hall as I could. The hall was so large that I was told, on more than one occasion, that it was a quarter of a mile from my seat to the main stage. I am not sure how true this is, but the presenter on the stage looked tiny. Thankfully, there were lots of big-screen monitors to help those sitting far back see what was going on.
As I sat there in that back seat, I could not help but become reflective about the future of the Church. I could not help but be filled with hope as I saw students from every walk of life gathered as a community preparing to be leaders in a Church that is currently in crisis. These are young people, who despite what they read about bishops and priests, still trust us enough to ask if we have a moment to talk with them about a problem they are having. These are the young people who kneel before the Blessed Sacrament on a cold cement floor for hours and then claim that their lives have been changed by the experience. These are the young people who beat me to the chapel at 6 a.m. for a holy hour. And these are the young people who, without complaint, waited up to an hour to go to confession.
It is discouraging to hear about the criminal and sinful past of our Church. It is hard to remain faithful when it appears that our leaders are anything but faithful. It is hard to support a Church that at times seems more concerned with appearance than with actually living the hard Gospel truth. And finally, it is heartbreaking to witness the faithful walking away because they have just had enough.
But from time to time, we get to sit in the back row and we get to see the future revealed in front of us. There is much our Church needs to do to clean house. There is much our Church needs to do to restore trust. There is much our Church needs to do to recapture our mission of spreading the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But from the back row, I could see why Jesus tells us often to be not afraid…17,000 young people just accepted their mission to go and set the world on fire with the good news of Jesus. This is a good thing. This is a reason to have holy hope.
Father Wilfred Labbe
Director of Campus Ministry, Diocese of Portland
Pastor, Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord, Old Town