Catechesis - 20th World Youth Day
Wednesday, 17 August, 2005
Rheinwiese II / Lager DPSG
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East” (Mt 2:2)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Our presence here is no accident. We come here with a deliberate purpose and intention in response to the invitation of our beloved late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. You and I, together with this wonderful huge company that surrounds us, have set out on a personal journey under the rubric “We have come to worship him” taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel (2:2).
The Magi were quite clear about the purpose of their journey. They were not simply tourists on a sort of sight seeing mission. The passion of their hearts and their lives were caught up in this quest. They, as we, are seeking for meaning, for truth, for the reason of their existence. “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage” (Mt 2:2 NAB). These eastern astrologers used everything at their disposal to help them in their quest, drawing on the best sources of wisdom they could find. We notice that they come from the non-Jewish world, precisely where is not stated, simply “the East”. These Gentiles do not have the marvelous richness of the Torah, or the prophets, - the Holy Book, but what they do have – nature - they use to the full. They are astrologers, we could say a sort of parallel to scientists of our own day. They study the skies and the movements of the heavenly bodies. With rigor, they follow their discoveries, setting out to follow the star. In the Gospel text “the star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary his mother” (Mt 2:9-11). In this we find a first lesson about our quest for the truth. It is a wonderful but demanding venture. We cannot imagine that such a journey across barren and dangerous desert lands did not call for sacrifice.
Deep in the heart of each one of us is a hunger. We are “seekers,” looking for that which can satisfy this deep hunger. A starving person will do almost anything to find food or drink. The strength of our hunger puts us at risk, and we need to be on guard that we do not become lead astray by the false offerings that the world holds out to us as the meaning of life. You know, as I do, all kinds of people who get sucked into the traps of an endless quest for pleasure, for new and ever more exciting experiences (thrill seeking), a yearning for power that can lead to using anyone and anything in our path to attain it, the lure of material things, and even the noble quest for knowledge, when it turns in on itself. I once saw this absolutely horrid slogan printed in large letters on a sign in a lunchroom of a large and prominent business enterprise: “the one who dies with the most toys, wins”! Our perennial temptation is to fall in love with the gift, and forget the giver.
All of these things of life that so attract us, and especially the good and beautiful things, a work of Rembrandt, Beethoven’s fifth symphony, Mozart’s Requiem, or a rare and wonderfully aged wine, etc. where did they come from? Good as all these created things are in themselves, of themselves they cannot satisfy. And there is one simple and profound reason why this is so. We were made by God and for God. It is only in the discovery of God that we find that truth and happiness that our hearts seek. Many centuries ago a brilliant and passionate seeker of the truth, one of the truly great minds of our human family, I am referring to St. Augustine of Hippo, wrote in his famous Confessions, “oh heart forever restless until it rest in Thee.” And St. Augustine knew what he was talking about. His quest had brought him through many winding and often painfully erroneous paths, including dalliance with heresy, before he was lead to the discovery of the truth of the Catholic faith. Accompanied by the unrelenting prayer of his saintly mother Monica, Augustine found himself in Milan, where listening to the preaching of the saintly Bishop Ambrose, he returned to the garden of the house where he was staying and took up the writings of the Apostle Paul and was smitten to his core by the grace of conversion.
The life of the Church is full of stories of lives of a similar kind. Closer to our own time, and right in this country we have the witness of the brilliant and learned young Jewish woman, Edith Stein, who is presented to us during this WYD for our special attention. Born into an orthodox Jewish family in Wroclaw, Poland, Edith turned away from her Jewish faith and embraced atheism for a while. Her profound thirst for knowledge led her here to Germany to Gottingen where she studied philosophy, psychology, history and German. Under the influence of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, she embraced the study of philosophy fully, earning her doctorate in that discipline. Through the influence of a friend, the widow of a philosopher of her acquaintance, Frau Reinach, Edith became attracted by Christianity. After reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila, she came to a turning point in her life. She turned to the Catholic faith, receiving baptism in 1922. Some years later, in 1934 in Cologne she entered the same order as St. Teresa, the Discalced Carmelites. Then came the dreadful years of the Nazi horror, and though a professed Carmelite religious, because of her Jewish origins, Edith had to flee Germany and found refuge in the Carmelite house of Echt in the Netherlands. She had with her the manuscript of her work Aus dem Leben einer Jüdischen Familie – Life in a Jewish Family. While there, she wrote her powerful work “Die Kreuzeswissenschaften” (The Science of the Cross). With her sister Rosa, who had also converted to the Catholic faith, Edith was arrested on August 2, 1942 and deported by the Gestapo to Auschwitz. There she was put to death on August 9, 1942. From one of her unpublished writings we have this splendid thought that seems to summarize her courageous quest for truth and her commitment to it: “Do you want to be totally united to the Crucified? If you are serious about this, you will be present, by the power of His Cross, at every front, at every place of sorrow, bringing to those who suffer comfort, healing, and salvation.” (Edith Stein. Life in a Jewish Family 1891-1916; An Autobiography. Transl. Josephine Koeppel, O.C.D., Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 435)
Our minds, like that of Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, canonized saint, are full of curiosity. Perhaps we have not yet followed with intellectual rigor the search that she made, but one way or another we run up against the situation in which we find that our intellects alone cannot disclose the answers we seek. Reason, wonderful as it is, cannot break through these barriers. At different levels you have likely already met something of this questioning? Why the Tsunami that destroyed so many innocent lives? Why the genocide in Rwanda? Why the Shoa – the Holocaust? Why so much killing and hatred in the world? Why do innocent people sometimes have to suffer so terribly? And at a more intimate personal level, if we have lost loved ones, where have they gone? Where is this place of eternal life? Why am I here in this world? What am I here for? Who am I? The temptation in the face of these great questions of life is often to simply try to run away from them. But if we find the courage and the grace to stay with these questions, to explore them, our seeking leads us from all the thousands of “why’s” to the greater question of “who”?
It is not in abandoning ourselves to irrational nihilism that we move forward. Nor is a stubborn refusal to admit that our rational and intellectual pursuits, splendid as they may be, are limited going to bring us what we seek. When we have the grace and courage to accept the gift of faith, and allow its brilliance to enlighten our reason, then we come to perceive the truth. There is no enmity between faith and reason. Story of Monsignor Giussanni at the Berchet School in Milan.
The wonderful and consoling truth is that just as human beings are searching for God, sometimes in strange and unusual places, God is bending down to us with infinite tenderness and compassion. The book of creation reveals God to us. If we look at the world and all of its wonders, and especially at the wonder of the human person, we come to see that these splendors are not accidents. To turn again to our friend, the holy bishop of Hippo, we hear:
“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky . . . question all these realities. All respond: “See, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is a profession. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them all if not the Beautiful One who is not subject to change?” (St. Augustine, Sermo 241, 2:PL 38, 1134)
When we begin to consider the human person, we uncover in the depths of every culture and every time a longing for infinite loveliness, for happiness, for fulfillment. The Ode on a Grecian Urn. The story of humanity shows us the human capacity for wonder, for truth and goodness, especially moral goodness, for freedom and the work of conscience. In a word, we discover the soul at the centre of our being as a sort of “seed of eternity” in the language of the catechism. Reflecting on our existence, we know that we did not make ourselves, and we do not constitute the goal of our own existence. There is a reality outside of ourselves from which we came, this reality is our first cause, and also our final end, a reality “that everyone calls God”. (St. Thomas Aquinas catech #34)
God does not abandon us to stumbling round endlessly in our quest. The light of revelation breaks in upon our darkness, the double darkness of sin and ignorance, opening us to the splendor of the truth. This light comes to us as a person, the person of God’s only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, the fullness of the truth is given to us