Twenty Seventh Sunday of the Year – Year A: 08.10.2023
What an absolute joy to be with you in St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen this Sunday evening! An evening to celebrate Youth Ministry in the parish that has a long established practice and experience in this arena.
My hope is that Graiguecullen/Killeshin might offer a template for other parishes to follow, at a time when connecting with young people is paramount to the gospel message. I realise Blessed Carlo Acutis is being held up for you as an example of what is possible when young people prioritise their faith and practice of that faith.
Our gospel introduces the theme of absentee landlordism! Yes, we’re back in the vineyard again, the third Sunday in a row, and this evening’s visit centres on an absentee landlord and the issue of justice around tenancy. As we gather to pray on this Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, let’s give an account of the current lease we all hold on life and pray for forgiveness for any breaches to that lease agreement …
There was a phrase that did the rounds during our seminary days, it came from the South American and African continents, it was simply called having “a preferential option for the poor”. I want to propose and break down a new phrase this evening, calling it “a preferential option for youth ministry”.
The parish of Graiguecullen/Killeshin does youth ministry well. I realise this is very much stating the obvious! Graiguecullen/Killeshin certainly stands shoulder high not only in our diocese but also in the country in this regard. And its not that other parishes are not tryng and experimenting, but it just seems harder to put such a ministry in place and let it stand the test of time. What happens when the young people go to post-primary school, go to college, get married, settle down, move away etc??? I compliment Fr. John and the Youth Ministry team for making this “preferential option for youth ministry” possible. Of course they are building on very solid foundations laid by Fr. PJ Brophy, Fr. Seán Kelly and others, who were equally pioneers in this arena.
As we synodally reflect on faith structures in the future that will stand the test of time, those that have youth as a focus will certainly flourish. There is no doubt about that. Let’s for a moment think back to World Youth Day. While it was not possible for us to be present as a diocese this time, the images that came from Lisbon last August were of young people everywhere, gathering in large clusters, waving national flags and loudly singing. Doing just what young people do best!
Those who were present in Lisbon spoke of crowds that sometimes seemed overwhelming, filling tube trains and narrow streets. In a different setting you might have felt anxious, conscious of the risk of confrontation. Remarkably there wasn’t one act of disturbance from the 1.5M young people throughout the week! Instead of closing in on themselves, groups reached out to other groups, inviting encounter, exchanging gifts.
I gave wristbands from my significant stockpile to someone travelling for the very act of exchanging those little gifts. World Youth Day, like our own experience in Krakow in 2016, seems to have been turned into a sacrament of friendship, sweeping up the locals, too, in this peaceful tsunami. We know the experience, of course, was by its nature brief and intense, that’s why it is often asked what will happen to the young people when they return to their home parish?
I meet young people at Youth 2000 Summer and Christmas Retreats, at Camp Veritas Summer festivals, at many other youth conferences, the atmosphere like at Lisbon or in Krakow is always great, but it’s the perennial question how can that experience be grafted onto the DNA of the local parish? Not an easy question, having this “preverential option for youth ministry”.
To recognise context is important, in a church that has been seriously stained by those who took advantage of the young, the very young, the very people who should have been cared for, were horrendously violated. And this is something we as Church leaders, as priests, as religious, as people of faith will always carry with us. Today with safeguards, policies and practices in place, the Church was never more ready for youth ministry. We begin in small steps. I like the Graiguecullen / Killeshin Model where there are three particular youth outreaches, each with a particular demographic focus: GK Juniors – hands up! GK Seniors – hands up! GK Adults – hands up!
Does every parish have to do youth ministry? It doesn’t, but perhaps one parish in every cluster might specialise in it, and invite the other local clergy to be part of its outreach. The days of competing are well past, “I’m for Paul, I’m for Apollos”, we are all for God! It is time now to become really co-responsible for the young people in all our care.
I realise the life of the young Carlo Acutis has been held up to you as a young man with jeans and sneakers who one day will be a Saint. Carlo was born on May 3rd, 1991. I checked up my diary to see what I was doing that particular day! It was a First Friday in May. I was on house calls all morning, visiting a secondary school in the afternoon and preparing for a Marriage Preparation Course that evening. I looked it up, because Carlo is our generation.
He was a young lad, into everything young lads like – soccer, coding, gaming, cycling, friends. He also had a deep faith, loving the Mass, Adoration, Confession, Our Lady and reaching out to the Poor. Using his computer programming skills he built websites to tell the stories of the great Eucharistic Miracles, so that more might learn about them and change their life. Sadly Carlo died at the age of 15 from a galloping leukaemia. People have been very touched by this young man, who lived too short a life. No different than Donal Walsh or at a more local level Heather Cowan, for whom last month nine young people here received an award in her memory.
In tonights gospel of the vineyard the son is not respected as that gospel line comes back to haunt us: “They will respect my son”. Two thousand years ago another Father sent His Son. That Son wasn’t respected either, ending up on a wooden Cross, but His Kingdom, like the vineyard, continues to grow because of the commitment of good people of faith, like the many young people we are celebrating this evening.
May we all have this “preferential option for youth ministry” and may St. Clare, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Fiacc and Blessed Carlo Acutis help make it a deeper reality in all our parishes. Amen.