My dear young friends,
Tomorrow week, when you board your plane in Belfast bound for Madrid, you will undoubtedly feel a great buzz of excitement and expectation. The fund-raising has been successful; your preparations are behind you and you will be looking forward to sharing a full week of religious and cultural events with other young people from every corner of the world. It promises to be an enriching week of catechesis and discovery, sharing experiences, making new friends and deepening your faith.
Each of you has been given a pilgrims pack which includes a special gift from Pope Benedict XV1 – a copy of Youcat or Youth Catechism, especially designed for young people and offering a contemporary explanation of the Catholic Faith. This 300 page guide presents the faith to young people in a user-friendly and refreshing way. The questions are direct and honest, at times tough; the answers are straightforward, relevant and compelling.
Recognising your importance to the future Church, Pope Benedict was not content to just send you a most useful gift. He obviously thought the event and the presence of so many young people there warranted him coming in person. He is due to arrive on Thursday week and do you the honour of being with you until the following Sunday, when he will celebrate the Final Mass of the Event with you and the over 1 million young people expected to attend. It should be a spectacular occasion, expressing the universality of the Church united under the care of the Bishop of Rome, their shepherd.
The scene described in the Gospel of today’s Mass is rather different. Peter is at the centre of events as usual. Jesus chose him to lead his infant Church but that did not prevent him from making mistakes. Abraham Lincoln, the US President, was once asked after a meeting with government ministers why he had been so quiet. He replied, “You know sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt!”
Peter was never that careful. He was impulsive and had to speak. He declared that he would never deny his master only to choke on his words and weep bitter tears as the cock crew. In today’s gospel we find him stepping out boldly until his fear and doubts took control and he began to sink. On other occasions he had to be told to put away his sword and to be reprimanded for falling asleep on the job.
We’re told Peter acknowledged his weakness and failings and experienced the forgiveness of Jesus. His gifts and generosity were acknowledged in his choice as leader and he gave his life in every sense in the service of his Master and His work. Tradition tells us that at the end of his life Peter was fleeing from the city of Rome and the persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Nero. He was stopped in his track by a vision of Jesus coming towards him and going into the city “Quo Vadis?” Peter asked. “Where are you going, Lord?” Jesus answered “To be crucified a second time.” Peter understood what he was being asked to do so he returned to face his own crucifixion.
My dear young people, you have lived the early part of your life during a difficult time in the history of your Church. There have been grave mistakes and unpardonable failures on the part of ministers of the Church. As usually happens, none of these have been short changed in the telling and no mercy has been shown to sinners. The winds have been strong, the sea tossed and heavy and Peter’s boat has had to battle hard to keep afloat. It was little wonder that those on the boat were terrified; and that many began to doubt, took fright, and thought they were sinking.
The world is full of good and evil, success and failure. We are all mixtures of the weak and the heroic. Peter could represent us all in that respect. Like him our hearts may be in the right place; we may have good intentions but we may need God’s forgiveness and the steady hold and guidance of the Lord’s hand to keep us afloat and moving in the right direction. Every time Peter fell he rose again and he ended up giving his life to the Lord’s work and accepting death as a cost in the process.
“Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.” A young man went to sea to learn to be a sailor. One day, when the sea was stormy, he was told to climb to the top of the mast. The first part of the climb was fine; he kept his eyes fixed on the sky. But half way to the top he made a mistake. He looked down at the stormy waters, grew dizzy and was in danger of falling. An old sailor called out to him, “Look back to the sky, lad! Look back to the sky.”
Storms come, storms go. Storms are always a part of life. Be aware of that but don’t make the mistake of thinking it is best to abandon the boat. Don’t be drowned in the sins of others. Look to the sky. The Lord is there, he will take your hand and guide you. You are young and you feel strong, so take your life and use it well. Go to Madrid. Represent your country, your diocese, your parish and your family. Hold the hands of your brothers and sisters of all races. The Lord, if you listen, will calm the wind and teach you how to build a better world. If you don’t do it, it will not happen. The future is in your hands. God will forgive you your mistakes, if you look for forgiveness, and he will teach you how to redeem and rebuild the world. Then you will want to cry out “Truly, you are the Son of God.”