Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia offered encouragement to campus ministers this week, assuring them their mission “matters eternally because each human soul you touch is immortal.”
“For every Rich Young Man who turns away from Christ, there's another young woman or man who longs for something more than this world can give – something deeper, richer and lasting,” he said in his Jan. 10 keynote at the Catholic Campus Ministry Association's national convention.
“A single fruitful encounter with Jesus Christ can engage the deepest aspirations and change the entire course of a young adult’s life.”
The archbishop's comments were book ended with reflections on the relationship between 16th century Saint Thomas More and his daughter Meg. The saint formed his daughter well, and she herself was a model of courage and conviction.
“The importance of forming intelligent, committed young adults, as Thomas More inspired and formed his daughter, is the same today as it was then. Because most of you here today work with young people at a decisive time in shaping the direction of their lives, you have one of the most vital missions in the Church.”
Archbishop Chaput told the ministers that despite their differences, they share one vast pastoral problem, America's post-Christian pop culture.
He said this new culture “complicates” the task of evangelization, but that despite this, “too often in the Church we’ve held on to the same institutional patterns of organization, the same methods of preaching and teaching that worked in a religion-friendly past.”
A renewal of Catholic life is “crucial” to convincing young adults to “open their hearts to the Christian faith, the archbishop maintained.
The Church must be presented to young adults “as the living presence of Jesus Christ,” he said, and “not merely as an institution or a collection of moral rules.”
Archbishop Chaput used the Gospel account of the rich young man, who was too attached to comfort to follow Christ, to critique the naiveté of the Second Vatican Council's assumption that the “visible Church would serve as a lamp, drawing the modern world out of darkness into God’s light.”
At the same time, he said that while there are many examples of the “rich young man” on campuses today, there are also young people who do yearn for truth.
“Young people want to make a difference. And therein lies our reason to hope. Regardless of distractions and obstacles, detours and traps, young people in every age do resonate with a longing for greatness, which means they can be reached,” he said.
“The idealism, striving and seeking in the hearts of so many young adults instinctively order them toward God. No matter how black the darkness is, no matter how deep the cultural confusion, no matter how ignorant persons are of the Creator who made them, young adults at their core long to give themselves to Someone higher than themselves.”
Archbishop Chaput reminded the assembled campus ministers that their task is not merely to bring young people to “religious activities,” but to “the beauty of interior silence that enables a person to hear the will of God and entrust his or her life to Jesus Christ.”
Eucharistic adoration was offered as a central means to bring young adults to the beauty of prayerful silence.
The archbishop also exhorted his listeners to count success not only in the number of persons attending activities, but with a focus on conversion of life, “a disciplined focus on the needs of others,” and “an ongoing hunger for knowing and doing God's will.”
Archbishop Chaput concluded by encouraging campus ministers to reflect the love of Christ, as did St. Thomas More to his daughter.
“Our job is live what we preach, and to preach...the good news of Jesus Christ to the young adults we serve. God loves us with the tenderness and zeal of a father. We need to reflect that same love to others. No one is immune to the power of being loved, least of all the young.”