On April 23, I had the privilege to spend the day with 700 high schoolers at our archdiocese’s “New York Catholic Youth Day” event. It was great to see our young people come out with their communities and families for a day marked by great joy, hope, and enthusiasm amidst all that is happening in our world.
But as I was preparing my talk to our young people, I found myself asking, “What is the biggest challenge the Church faces today?” Is it perhaps lack of respect for all life from conception until natural end? Is it the rise in depression or the high suicide rate? Is it the shootings, stabbings, and violent crimes occurring in our city and across the nation? Is it the war in Ukraine? Confusion about identity and sexuality? Relativism? The legalization of marijuana in many states? Subjectivism? Sexism? Utilitarianism? Racism?
As I was starting to feel overwhelmed by all these problems, I came across the words of Jesus to his disciples at the end of the Gospel of St. Mark: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). There was the answer! The biggest challenge that the Church faces today is the lack of evangelization!
Have we taken our Lord’s words to heart? Over and over, we have heard that we need to move from “maintenance to mission.” Finally, it hit me: one of the greatest prophets and saints of our times had warned us that this was the case. In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”), St. John Paul II told us that:
Evangelization is the most powerful and stirring challenge which the Church has been called to face from her very beginning. Indeed, this challenge is posed not so much by the social and cultural milieux which she encounters in the course of history, as by the mandate of the Risen Christ, who defines the very reason for the Church's existence: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). [Veritatis Splendor, paragraph 106]
As I spoke to our young people, “breaking open” the Word for them, it was clear to me that they were hungering for more. Many of us, like the first disciples after Jesus’ resurrection, are still “mourning” and “weeping” with all of the things that are going on in our hearts, families, communities, and world. We need to “refocus”, stop thinking of all of the bad, and start living in His Resurrection Power! What would happen if we were to start proclaiming His Word more fervently and living it out, not just in thought but also in deeds? St. John Paul II used the word “urgent”:
It is urgent then that Christians should rediscover the newness of the faith and its power to judge a prevalent and all-intrusive culture. As the Apostle Paul admonishes us: “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful words of darkness, but instead expose them...Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:8-11, 15-16; cf. 1 Th 5:4-8).
It is urgent to rediscover and to set forth once more the authentic reality of the Christian faith, which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent. Rather, faith is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. [Veritatis Splendor, paragraph 88]