Part of my role as Mission and Outreach Support Officer has been to provide opportunities to prepare the way of the Lord in the lives of our young people across the Diocese and to support young leaders to do the same. Although ministry with young people can seem like a mammoth task in these modern times, where many activities and events are constantly competing for our attention, I have had the great privilege of journeying with young people in our diocese for over two years and witnessing how their faith has grown and flourished amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This period has been fraught with great anxiety, uncertainty, and unforeseen challenges, but many were able to remain joyful in the midst of all of this and wait expectantly through uncertain times with hope.
Last week I participated in a Mystagogical Reflection with a group of young people in the Pastoral Placement Program. It has been a process that they have become accustomed to, being introduced to it by Sr Louise Gannon. It has been inspiring to witness the way the word of God comes alive through this process and speaks directly to their heart. Their reflections have been a reminder of how the ancient word of God can speak the truth today, and how a genuine encounter with Christ can be facilitated by the Holy Spirit through their engagement with scripture. The scripture reflection was from Luke 3: 1-6
…’A voice cries in the wilderness;
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.’
As we were moved to focus on the quote above (Luke 3:4-6), the theme of “wilderness” spoke to a ‘spiritual wilderness’ that we had all experienced over the past two years. One of isolation, loneliness, setbacks and even despair. The passage then goes on to ensure that “…all mankind shall see the salvation of God.” It was indeed a comfort to reflect on the shared experience that through moments of doubt and isolation, we had the lens to see hope in the presence of Christ, who walks with us, as one of us. Staying connected to Christ, and each other, was a real gift during times of lockdown. The group were inspired to examine their lives, to bring them to the light of Christ and to change what needed to be changed to experience the fullness of life in relationship with and in imitation of Jesus.
As Christmas fast approaches, as we reflect upon the nativity, we can draw a parallel in the arduous journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the Roman Census. The discomfort and fear Mary and Joseph experienced as she was nearing the time of giving birth to Jesus, must have been very challenging. The setback of being told that there was “no room at the inn” and the only offer of a stable to birth Jesus, the king of kings, could not have made sense. The holy family were not spared from an experience of the wilderness and yet nothing could prepare them for what was to follow: the birth of the saviour of the world.
To trust when the odds feel against us, and to hope when you might not be able to see a way ahead, is a gift. The gift is faith. The birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God instils hope and offers salvation for us all at any moment. It is also an invitation to call others into this experience and into this profound relationship that we were created for.
Our late Bishop Bill gave some inspiring words of wisdom and encouragement when he led Sacred @ Seven at this time last year (an hour of music, scripture and adoration; an initiative of the Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People, DCMYP). He challenged us as young people to be courageous and invited us to consider how we might be like John the Baptist and witness to people. He asked us how we might walk amongst the people outside the church walls…
The question I am most asked in my role as Mission and Outreach Support Officer is: Where are the young people?
In truth young people are everywhere! They are in our schools, universities, TAFE, workplaces, sporting fields, pubs, music festivals, virtual communities, volunteering with organisations that promote social justice, and in our homes. One of the most wonderful parts of working with young people in our diocese is when new people join our community. Preparing the way of the Lord is sometimes as simple as an invitation. Making someone feel welcome to join us and allowing God to do the rest.
The University of Newcastle Catholic Society needed a Treasurer and Asher Jintoorkar courageously agreed, not realising that his life would change forever. Asher responded to another invitation for weekly mass on campus and felt comfortable enough to stay behind for a chat with students and chaplains. Asher was eventually asked if he would like to become Catholic and he started the preparation needed to become a full member of the Church; the RCIA process. He chose Fr Camillus, the university chaplain to be his Godfather and continues to grow in faith. On the relevancy of Faith today Asher shares:
“Faith is relevant because many things in the world change but the Christian faith does not. There is a lack of serious conviction amongst people where people tend to go with the crowd…It is important in the world today to have conviction regarding moral matter as it is our moral compass that we should try not to go against.”
In March this year, Morgan Owens responded to a social media message on Facebook to attend “Pints with a Purpose.” This event run by the DCMYP is a talk from a guest speaker which takes place in a pub. The idea is that many people would not feel comfortable going to a Church to listen to a speaker, but could listen to the same speaker in a casual setting. The guest speaker, Tinah Tohi, shared about how her faith helped her cope with her son’s terminal illness. It was also a story about how the Catholic faith helped her son to cope with his illness. At the time, Morgan was grieving over the stillborn death of her firstborn baby girl, Eden, and was in need of something, she just wasn’t sure what that was. As a mother she felt drawn to Mother Mary which is why she responded to this talk. It was this encounter that led Morgan to realise that it was God that she needed and she immediately began the path to becoming a Catholic. After this event, Morgan attended the Full of Grace Collective Women’s Ministry founded by Pastoral Placement Participant, Natalee Bonomini, who Morgan chose as her Godmother. Here she was surrounded by faith-filled young women who were able to journey with her as she grew in faith and fervour. She was able to see how Mary led her to Jesus through being with other young mothers who shared faith and prayed the rosary together. Fr James Odoh was able to accompany Morgan through the RCIA process and she was able to celebrate multiple sacraments on the one day, including her and her daughter’s baptism, her confirmation, her first Holy Communion and the convalidation of her marriage as a Catholic Sacrament. She also celebrated Eden’s one year anniversary. There was not a dry eye in the Church that day and I felt privileged to be in attendance.
These stories are just two of the many inspiring stories of hope that have happened over this year. They demonstrate what can happen when we prepare the way of the Lord, even if it is as simple as a welcoming invitation. Asher and Morgan are now witnesses to Jesus and examples that we serve a God who keeps pursuing us.
I challenge you as Bishop Bill did to be courageous and to be the living witness of Christ. We have something so incredible to offer the world, and that is Jesus. This Advent season let us join together to wait in joyful anticipation for Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus in our hearts and our world.