The Church in Los Angeles is young and growing.
Each year in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles we baptize about 60,000 infants — far more than any other diocese in the country.
Of course, baptism is the beginning of a journey, not the end.
The Church’s mission is to walk with these young families and their children and to help them grow in their faith and follow Jesus with joy and courage and work to build this world into the kingdom that God wanted for his people.
I was reflecting this past Sunday on the Gospel passage of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish.
At the center of the miracle is a young boy; some translations call him a “lad.” We do not know how old he was, but he had heard the call of Jesus and followed him to that grassy mountainside to listen to him.
Unlike many of the 5,000 adults who had followed Jesus there, the boy had come prepared — he brought along some fish and bread, in case he got hungry. This boy offered all that he had to Jesus and his apostles, and Jesus used his gifts to perform a miracle that revealed the power and mystery of the Eucharist.
For me, this boy with his loaves and fish is a sign of the importance of young people in the Church.
Our God is a God who takes the lives and gifts of young people seriously. Think of the stories of Joseph and Samuel and David and Daniel in the Old Testament. Think of the child Jesus, teaching in the Temple.
“Let the children come to me,” Jesus said.
This must be the goal of all our pastoral plans and programs for young people in the Church. What must we do to bring young people to Jesus? How can we help them to hear his call in their lives and to follow him?
This is what we are trying to do with City of Saints, our annual festival of prayer and praise for teens and young adults, that will be held this weekend, August 3-5, on the UCLA campus.
What is always moving to me at City of Saints is to see so many young men and women who are so happy to be Catholic and living their faith with joy and dedication.
There is deep concern these days about young people drifting away from the Church or becoming indifferent to the faith.
I share that concern. I am especially troubled about the growth of the so-called “nones,” those who do not affiliate with the Church or any other religion. According to studies, one-third of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) describe themselves as either atheists, agnostics or believing in “nothing in particular.”
This will be a crucial conversation at the upcoming meeting of the world’s bishops that Pope Francis is convening in October in Rome. I have the privilege of being one of the five bishop delegates to the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, along with our Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron.
My hope for the synod is that we will explore new ways to proclaim and explain the Church’s teachings to our young people, especially our teachings on marriage, the family and sexuality. We also need to understand and address the dominant mentality in our society, which is shaped by science, technology and a mechanized and consumeristic approach to life.
But our young people also need a new witness to the power of the Gospel. Christianity is a way of life, not a code for conduct. The Church is entrusted with the Word of life — which is not a “word” but a divine Person, the Son of the living God.
What the Church teaches only makes sense — it only has power to change lives — if we know who God is and who he made us to be. So we need to continue to do everything we can to lead our young people to the encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls them to come to him.
And we need to hold up the example of the many young saints who have inspired the Church down through the centuries. Pope Francis has announced that he will canonize one such youth, Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, during the synod.
I will be praying during the synod for the intercession of my favorite saints, St. José Sanchez del Rio, the 13-year-old martyred during the persecution of the Church in Mexico.
St. José Sanchez used to say: “Always follow the smallest wish of God.” That is the secret of life for all of us — to live as God wishes us to live.
Let’s make that our prayer this week. Pray for me and I will be praying for you.
May Blessed Mary, Mother of the Church, watch over us and guide us as we seek new ways to bring our young people to Christ.