My dear brothers and sisters,1
It’s great to see all of your today. Your day is always a special day for me and I hope it is also for you!
We gather to spend time together and especially time with God. So I hope that you have a great day today as we gather for this special time.
And today, as I said before, we celebrate one of the great heroes of the early Church — St. Polycarp. He who was a bishop in Asia in the second century.
And when he was a young man — not much older than some of you are — St. Polycarp was a student and disciple of the apostle, St. John.
So you can see the immediate connection of St. Polycarp with Our Lord Jesus Christ. And when we think about it, it is amazing.
St. Polycarp was able to pray with and learn from people who knew Jesus Christ himself when he was on this earth.
And I’ll bet when Polycarp was your age, he never thought that he could be saint!
But he became one. And you can be one, too. In fact, that’s what God wants for your life and my life. God wants all of us to be saints. To really live as Christians.
So that brings us to the question that is the theme for this Youth Day — “What are You Waiting For?”
If God made us to be saints — to really live as Christians — then what are we waiting for?
This is the basic message in the readings we just heard from Sacred Scripture today. And it is a personal message — what are you waiting for? What am I waiting for? That is a question that only you can answer for yourself and only I can answer for myself.
So it is a beautiful day to really reflect on who we are and what is it that God wants from us? How can we really become saints?
The first reading we heard was from the Book of Sirach. And it’s an interesting reading, I guess the musicians realized that with the sounds that they were making. And somethings were coming from over there — I don’t know what it was. I thought somebody was smoking or something!
Just listen again to what we just heard:
Rely not on your wealth; say not: “I have the power.”
Rely not on your strength in following the desires of your heart.
… Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day.
For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed.
It’s a challenging message. And the passage of the Gospel is also challenging. Jesus says some strong words:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire. …
Now, how are we supposed to understand these words from Our Lord Jesus Christ? As we know, Jesus does not talk that way very often. In fact, it is really strange, or rare in the Gospels that Jesus speaks with such strong words. So why is he doing it?
My dear brothers and sisters, I think Jesus talks this way to us because he just wants to get our attention. He talks this way to us to wake us up.
And you know what that means. I’m not a morning person so, it’s a challenge to get up in the morning. I’m still probably asleep right now.
It’s a challenge. That’s what Jesus is trying to do, to wake us up. He’s trying to help us to concentrate on those bigger questions that I was just talking about: Who am I and what is my life all about? What path should I follow to find happiness?
Because at the end, that is what we are looking for — joy, happiness.
You know, I can share with you — I still remember a little bit of when I was your age. What I remember, among other things, is that that’s when I started to take my faith seriously.
You know, my parents sent me to Catholic schools until junior high school. Then I went to a public high school.
And I realized that it was, in a sense, easy being a Catholic when you are going to Catholic school. But in high school I was, in a sense, on my own. So I started asking myself, “What are you going to do?” Somehow, this same question came to me at that time: “What are you waiting for to take your faith seriously?”
Then different things happened, and I decided to try to go to daily Mass. And that really changed my life. It was a beautiful beginning for me.
Somehow, making that decision — there were many things that were happening in my life at that time, among them that my mother was sick — but everything came together. And that’s probably or for sure the most important decision that I have made in my life.
To take my life seriously.
So, what is happening to you? What are you waiting for to take your faith seriously?
That’s the question that Jesus is asking you today. And he’s asking it to me again today. Because we can always go deeper, always become better friends with Jesus Christ.
Jesus is calling you — calling you today personally.
And waiting implies that we are standing still, that we are expecting something to happen, that we are waiting for someone else to do something.
Jesus is calling you. Follow him.
Jesus wants to walk with you, he wants to show you everyday how to live.
So maybe the practical thing that you can reflect on today is what can you do in order to really walk with Jesus. Maybe it’s just to spend some time quietly — no cellphone on, putting your laptop to sleep. That’s a challenging, isn’t it?
Just sit in the silence of the presence of God and talk to him and talk to him. We all have challenging situations in our lives — Jesus is there! He’s waiting for you! He wants to talk to you! He wants to listen to you!
Maybe just spending some time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Maybe trying to go to Mass and receive Holy Communion more often.
Because Jesus is totally interested in you — in each one of us personally. This is what makes the difference in your life. This is what life is all about — living with God. Totally knowing every day that God has a plan for your life and that he loves you.
It is a beautiful plan. Isn’t this exciting? When we really think that the creator of the universe is interested in me! Even if I am a Laker’s fan. Go Lakers!
Even if that is what is most important for me, or whatever is more important for you — the Oscars this weekend, you know, who cares?
Whatever it is, God knows you and he’s calling you and he wants the best for you.
So hope that today you especially reflect on that. And let me finish, just bringing to your attention the beautiful example of St. Polycarp.
He lived in a dangerous time. When Christians were being killed just for believing in Jesus.
He was 86 — 86 years old, you see I’m still asleep — when the Roman authorities came and arrested him. They said they would let him live if he would simply deny his faith in Jesus Christ. They told him that they would send him to the lions — that he would be killed, or to burn him alive if he refused.
And St. Polycarp said something beautiful, awesome. He said: “Since you pretend not to know who and what I am, then hear me declare with boldness: I am a Christian.”
And of course, sadly, when he said that — they tied him up and they threw him into a fire, where he was burned to death.
My dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the intercession of St. Polycarp today. Let us ask God to give us that same courage today — to know who we are and to be able to say to everyone, “I am a Christian! I am a Catholic Christian!”2
Beautiful words, so what are we waiting for?
Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary for her intercession, especially to accompany us. She is our Mother — just as she was the Mother of Jesus. And she wants to help you like a good mother. So let us always ask her help.
May she help us today to stop waiting and to start following Jesus — to be saints and to really live as Christians.
1. Readings (Memorial of St. Polycarp, Bishop and Marytr, Year A): Sir. 5:1-8; Ps. 1:1-4, 6; Mark 9:41-50.
2. Marytrdom of Polycarp, chap. 10.