Joy and Hope
January 24, 2009
Let’s point young people to the Lord Jesus
On Thursday afternoon, Jan. 15, we watched with amazement as a seemingly-doomed flight of a U.S. Airways jet miraculously landed intact on the Hudson River and all the passengers and crew were quickly rescued from what seemed like certain death.
The following day, The Sacramento Bee’s headline declared it was a “‘miracle’ landing.” God’s providence certainly spared the life of all those onboard Flight 1549. We recognize his merciful hand in the skillful, daring ability of the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger. The captain did a remarkable job of landing his plane in the most unpredictable of circumstances. More than luck, he applied the skill and knowledge gained over years of training, practice and dedicated flying experience.
God’s providence was already at work in this dedicated pilot during the many years that he devoted himself to doing his job well. The years of routine training and practice gave him the skill, confidence and courage to do an amazing job on that fateful Thursday afternoon.
As we prepare to celebrate Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 25-31, the amazing feat of Jan. 15 serves as a stunning metaphor of what we hope Catholic education will do in the lives of our children and young people.
A couple of Sundays ago, the first reading, from the first book of Samuel (I Sam. 3.3-19), related to us the call of Samuel the prophet. The prophet was one of the extraordinary individuals in the Jewish Scriptures but in the reading we heard Samuel is a young boy serving in the temple of the Lord under the tutelage of the wise caretaker, Eli. He hears the voice of the Lord calling to him in the night but does not recognize who is calling him. He keeps bothering Eli and Eli keeps sending him back to bed. Finally, the elderly Eli realizes that the Lord is calling Samuel and he instructs the young boy how best to respond to the Lord’s invitation.
How important is the care and understanding of Eli? His wisdom and guidance helped Samuel to discover the Lord’s voice. Under Eli’s care the young Samuel would grow with the Lord’s wisdom and grace into one of the great prophets of Israel. Though years of instruction, practice and devoted service, Samuel would eventually do extraordinary and amazing things as a prophet of the Most High God.
How many of our young people are like the young Samuel? They are a restless, challenging, probing generation. Are we able to be the Eli in their lives? Are we willing to be Eli for them?
Like Eli, this means we ourselves must first be familiar with the Lord’s wisdom and ways. We must also be patient and understanding with our youth as was Eli with young Samuel. Along with being patient and understanding, we must also be clear and firm about sharing our Catholic tradition of prayer and service with them so that they can come to recognize the true call of the Lord echoing in their own hearts and minds.
This responsibility is primarily in the hands of parents, but our pastors, teachers and catechists also serve an important role in fostering and nurturing the prophetic, Christian calling in our children and young people. This is the vital mission of both our Catholic schools as well as our religious education programs.
We also point them to the goodness, truth and strength of the Lord Jesus. This is what John the Baptist does for the two young disciples in the Gospel we heard on that same Sunday (Jn. 1.35-42). The young disciples were initially following John. They were most certainly baptized by him but John does not keep them to himself. He points them to Jesus. We must do this too.
In both word and deed, we should point young people to the Lord Jesus. That means that we must first be good disciples of Jesus. We need to be good parents, good priests, good teachers and good role models. Even more than this, young people need to see that all we do is because we are good, faithful, attentive disciples of the Lord Jesus. It also means that our Catholic schools should primarily be schools of discipleship.
In that same Gospel, the Lord Jesus himself shows us some valuable lessons on how best to attract and mentor young people in the ways of Christian discipleship. The first thing that Jesus does when he sees the two young disciples following him is to ask them a question. He begins a dialogue: “What are you looking for?”
He begins by trying to hear them and understand them. In answer to their own question, he invites them to “Come and see.” He invites them join him at his home, to share a meal with him. Little by little, day by day, the two young people grow to become disciples of the Lord. As we read further on in this story, they themselves would begin inviting others to know the one whom they had come to know and love.
This is what we wish for all our young people who study in our Catholic schools and who attend our religious education programs. We hope and pray that they expand their knowledge and develop their talents so that they are confident and able disciples of the Lord Jesus in whatever path they choose.
Like the pilot on Flight 1549, we hope that in a moment of crisis the faith that they have learned well and routinely practiced will give them the confidence, courage and grace to hear the Lord’s voice and find their way to his presence.