I preached this morning at the opening Mass for Catholic Christian Outreach's annual Christmas conference, attended by more than five hundred young people. Here is the text of the homily.
Pope Benedict seems to have come up with a new phrase—new to me, anyway. In a recent talk, he spoke of "faith fatigue."
He suggested that we suffer from faith fatigue when a number of things get us down: that regular churchgoers are growing older and fewer; that the recruitment of priests is stagnating; and that scepticism and unbelief are growing.
But in the face of those discouraging signs, the Holy Father was very quick to mention that he finds remedies for faith fatigue. He mentions first the Church in Africa, with its "joyful passion for faith."
"None of the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here, none of the oft-encountered sense of having had enough of Christianity, was detectable there, he said.
Not surprisingly, the second remedy that the Pope found for faith fatigue was "the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid," which he called the "new evangelization put into practice."
In particular, he found five things about World Youth Days that point towards a new, more youthful form of Christianity.
The first thing he mentions is "a new experience of catholicity, of the Church's universality." Pope Benedict sees this when people who have never met one another, know one another, despite different languages and cultures. "Shared faith and a common liturgy … unites us in a vast family. At World Youth Day, we recognize that "it is a wonderful thing to belong to the worldwide Church, to the Catholic Church, that the Lord has given to us."
The second is the generous spirit of service and sacrifice that goes along with the general chaos of a WYD. (Well, the Pope didn't mention the chaos—I added that bit.) He says this readiness to give oneself is ultimately derived from meeting Christ, who gave himself for us.
The third mark of a more youthful faith is adoration, which he calls primarily an act of faith.
The fourth is the Sacrament of Confession, which has more and more become a central part of WYD. This healing sacrament awakens in us the positive force of the Creator, to draw out of our sin, upwards to Him.
Finally, Pope Benedict points to joy. Faith leads to joy, he suggests, since only faith gives me the conviction that it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.
I have quoted at great length from the Pope's remarks, which he made in his end-of-the-year meeting with his collaborators at the Vatican. The first reason is that they are proof of the central thing that St. John proclaims in today's first reading: the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
Despite our stumbles and struggles, despite our own inconsistencies and those of others, the light is shining. As we prayed in the opening prayer, God has dispersed the darkness of this world by the coming of Christ, the Light. Like Simeon in the Temple, we have seen salvation shine—a light that banishes all fear.
My second reason is simply that everything the Pope said about World Youth Day—except his mention of the near-disaster when the storm struck in Madrid—applies to our days together this week. All the optimism Pope Benedict felt at WYD he would feel if he were able to be with us; Rise Up is no less a remedy against faith fatigue.
If you have experienced that already, or know it to be true, let's rejoice together. If you are attending for the first time, then bring your own faith fatigue—your doubts, darkness, and fears—and allow these days to be a lasting and perfect remedy.