My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
It’s great to see you all! I hope that you are having a wonderful day. I guess you had to get up early in the morning. That’s good, no?
But it is a beautiful day! What a great day to celebrate our faith in Jesus and our love for God and the world that he created!
Last week I was in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico where I had the beautiful privilege to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis. I’ve kind of invited him to come to youth day, but he said that he’s busy this year. Maybe next year.
It was a joyful Eucharistic celebration of life and hope. There were about 350,000 people attending Mass, a little more than youth day. But it was a beautiful celebration and you can really see that the Church is a beautiful family.
During his visit to Mexico, Pope Francis had a meeting with young people and he said to them:
"You have asked me for a word of hope, and the one word I have to give you —it’s actually kind of two words in English — Jesus Christ. When everything seems too much, he said, when it seems that the world is crashing down around you, ..., draw close to him and please, never let go of his hand; please, never leave him. Hand in hand with him it is possible to live fully..."
So today, I'm bringing to you the Blessing of Pope Francis for you and your families and his words of hope! As it is the theme for our gathering today #hopebound!
In today's Mass, as we are asking God for his blessing and renewing our hope, it’s interesting that we had some strong, challenging readings. Didn’t we?
We heard that sad and powerful story about Lazarus and the rich man.
And some of you gave me some questions about this story. Some things you wanted me to talk about in my homily. So I’m going to try to do that but before that, let me share with you a powerful experience that I had a few weeks ago.
I went to visit the Juvenile Detention Center in Sylmar. There are about 200 young men and women, 18 years old and younger. They are in prison for different reasons and obviously they did something wrong. It is very sad to see so many young men and women in prison and most of them having long sentences, including life sentences!
We had a Mass and then I visited some of them —the ones who cannot go out of their facility. Among them, there is one whose first name is Carlos. He's 17 years old and he is facing 35 years to life in prison.
To my surprise, I learned that he has written several letter to Pope Francis and even more surprisingly the Pope has responded to his letters! I told him that he is very lucky and that I'm jealous because I have never received a letter from the Pope!
What am I supposed to make of that? I guess you guys are happy that I haven’t received a letter from the Pope. I keep trying. Maybe next year — maybe next year I can show it to you.
In the last letter that Pope Francis wrote to Carlos, he’s telling him and all the others at the detention center that he’s encouraging them to spend time with Jesus in prayer, especially the Sacred Scriptures and the sacraments. And by being good and merciful to one another.
Carlos is a normal young man, just like any of us. He obviously made a mistake. But he said to me that he was at peace and looking forward to, hopefully, a reduced sentence and to get out of prison. He said that he owes his peace to Jesus, because he has started a relationship with Jesus, and also his parents because they go and visit him every week.
So today, let us keep Carlos and all the others in the detention center in our prayers!
My brothers and sisters, Jesus is our hope and as the first reading of today's mass reminds us: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord."
We can trust God because we can trust Jesus. Jesus is true, he is real. You can trust your life to him and find joy and peace — that joy and peace that we all are looking for! Just as Carlos did.
Now, the story of Lazarus and the rich man is a story about the true meaning of our lives.
The rich man in the story — he has it all. He has everything going for him. He’s got fine clothes and his table is overflowing with good food and good things to drink. He lives in a big house.
And poor Lazarus, he has nothing. He is so poor, so hungry, he lives on the streets outside the rich man’s house. And all he wants is some scraps of food from the rich man’s table. But the rich man never gives him anything.
So they both die — and, as we heard, the rich man is punished in hell. And Lazarus goes to heaven.
So why was the rich man condemned? Not because he was rich, but because he was selfish. Because he didn’t share what he had, because he didn’t pay any attention to someone who was suffering right outside his door. The rich man had everything! Except the one thing he needed. He didn’t have love.
And love means mercy. It means when we see someone who is in need, we have to reach out to them.
So Lazarus is a sign of everyone we meet, and especially those who are poor and those who are hurting. So the question for all of us today is: How do we respond? Is our heart open? Do we give to others? Sometimes it’s not money or food or things that people need. Sometimes they just need to feel that they are “worth” something, that somebody cares about them.
So Lazarus is the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant, the poor person, the prisoner.
But Lazarus is also the kid in your class that you don’t pay attention to. The kid who is not cool or the kid who is different. Everybody matters to God! And that means everybody should matter to us.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, let us ask for the grace to be brave and strong and do not ever treat anyone badly.
So what do you think? Can we do it?
Yes, because as Pope Francis told the young people in Mexico: "Because, like you, I believe in Jesus Christ. And it is he who continually renews in me this hope, it is he who continually renews my outlook. It is he who continually invites me to a conversion of heart. The Pope said, Yes, my friends, I say this because in Jesus I have found the One who is able to bring out the best in me."
So I don’t know about you, but I’m trusting my life to somebody. Jesus Christ. And I’m sure that that’s what you do — or want to do — too.
And as we know, Jesus promised us that if we believe in him, if we follow his example and live the way he teaches us to live — we will know happiness and joy and we will live forever, even after we are done living here on earth. That’s his promise!
Can we trust him?
We sure can.
So let’s remember two things — One, trust in Jesus and stay close to him. Learn about his teachings and his life by reading the Gospels. Talk to him all the time in your prayer. Come to him often in the Eucharist where he is present in his Body and Blood, his Soul and Divinity. Jesus Christ, second person of the Blessed Trinity is our brother, perfect God and perfect man.
And number two — first trust in Jesus — and number two: love, mercy. It’s a beautiful way to live. Try to do good to every person you meet. And try to look for ways to help people in need, people who are like Lazarus in our world.
After my visit with Carlos, he sent me a thank you card. And he hopes that we can visit again when he’s free. I just learned last night that Carlos was finally sentenced to a total of six years and a half — and that he has already served about two years and a half. So I am looking forward to see him soon.
And finally, let us all remember that we have a Mother who loves us in heaven — Mary our Blessed Mother — just as we have a mother who loves us on earth. And let’s ask Mary our Blessed Mother Mary to watch over us and to help us to trust Jesus, her Son, and to live by love and mercy.
1. Readings (Thursday, Second Week in Lent, Year C): Jer. 17:5-20; Ps. 1:1-4, 6; Luke 16:19-31.