Thursday, December 9, 2010

Benedict XVI Address to Pupils at St. Mary's University College, Twickenham, England - September 17, 2010

[I came upon this marvelous address that Pope Benedict gave to Catholic school students when he visited Great Britain. I think it speaks to all of us.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Dear young friends, First of all, I want to say how glad I am to be here with you today. I greet you most warmly, those who have come to Saint Mary’s University from Catholic schools and colleges across the United Kingdom, and all who are watching on television and via the internet. I thank Bishop McMahon for his gracious welcome, I thank the choir and the band for the lovely music which began our celebration, and I thank Miss Bellot for her kind words on behalf of all the young people present. In view of London’s forthcoming Olympic Games, it has been a pleasure to inaugurate this Sports Foundation, named in honour of Pope John Paul II, and I pray that all who come here will give glory to God through their sporting activities, as well as bringing enjoyment to themselves and to others.

It is not often that a Pope, or indeed anyone else, has the opportunity to speak to the students of all the Catholic schools of England, Wales and Scotland at the same time. And since I have the chance now, there is something I very much want to say to you. I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. He loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you. And by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness.

Perhaps some of you have never thought about this before. Perhaps some of you think being a saint is not for you. Let me explain what I mean. When we are young, we can usually think of people that we look up to, people we admire, people we want to be like. It could be someone we meet in our daily lives that we hold in great esteem. Or it could be someone famous. We live in a celebrity culture, and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?

When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue one limited goal and ignore all the others. Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.

Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love. You all know what it is like when you meet someone interesting and attractive, and you want to be that person’s friend. You always hope they will find you interesting and attractive, and want to be your friend. God wants your friendship. And once you enter into friendship with God, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.

In your Catholic schools, there is always a bigger picture over and above the individual subjects you study, the different skills you learn. All the work you do is placed in the context of growing in friendship with God, and all that flows from that friendship. So you learn not just to be good students, but good citizens, good people. As you move higher up the school, you have to make choices regarding the subjects you study, you begin to specialize with a view to what you are going to do later on in life. That is right and proper. But always remember that every subject you study is part of a bigger picture. Never allow yourselves to become narrow. The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious or ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding of the world. We need good historians and philosophers and economists, but if the account they give of human life within their particular field is too narrowly focused, they can lead us seriously astray.

A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints. I know that there are many non-Catholics studying in the Catholic schools in Great Britain, and I wish to include all of you in my words today. I pray that you too will feel encouraged to practice virtue and to grow in knowledge and friendship with God alongside your Catholic classmates. You are a reminder to them of the bigger picture that exists outside the school, and indeed, it is only right that respect and friendship for members of other religious traditions should be among the virtues learned in a Catholic school. I hope too that you will want to share with everyone you meet the values and insights you have learned through the Christian education you have received.Dear friends, I thank you for your attention, I promise to pray for you, and I ask you to pray for me. I hope to see many of you next August, at the World Youth Day in Madrid. In the meantime, may God bless you all!

"Putting our best foot forward"

Christmas day is less than two weeks away, the day when suddenly our churches will be filled to the rafters with many that we only see once a year. We’ll have to get to Mass early in the hope that we can find a parking space and be able to sit in our regular seat (or even get a seat). We may, honestly, feel a bit inconvenienced or even put out by all of this. Yet, this an opportunity for us to “put our best foot forward” and make an effort to welcome those whom we do not normally see in the hope that they will become a regular part of our Sunday worship.

I often wonder who these “guests” in our midst may be. I know that some are relatives and friends that are visiting families for the holidays. There certainly are a lot of young people, some of whom are home from college, some not. But most seem to be people and families that are part of the local community. I wish that we could see them all every weekend. I wish every church had to add Masses to the weekend schedule in order to fit them all. Yet they are not here for reasons that may fall into following categories :

- Atheists or agnostics, non-Christians, former Catholics, and Christians who do not share our Catholic faith who are attending Christmas Mass with family or friends;

- Catholics who have stopped attending Mass because of a particular incident involving some representative of the Church (normally a priest) who did something to outrage the person or their family, often connected with a baptism, funeral or wedding;

- Catholics who have stopped attending Mass because of outrage over the abuse crisis or the closing of a parish;

- Catholics who have issues with Church doctrine and teaching;

- Catholics who have been to too many bad liturgies with awful preaching, terrible music, indifferent or even sloppy celebration by the priest and other ministers;

- Catholics who have felt less than welcome by others in the church or even been discouraged from attending Mass regularly;

- Teenagers and young adults who just see no relationship between the Mass and the issues that they are facing in life or the manner in which they have chosen to live their lives;

- Catholics who simply fell out of the habit of going to Mass. They miss Mass one week and then come back for a few weeks and then they miss Mass some more and as time goes by, they just stop going. They have other things to do that demand their or their family’s time instead of Mass and, besides, they can “pray to God on their own, they don’t need to attend Mass to do so.” Yet, Jews and Christians gather on the Sabbath to worship - not to pray. "To pray" can be done anywhere, anytime and hopefully those who claim to pray anywhere, anytime are in fact doing it. Worship on the other hand, while incorporating dimensions of prayer, is fundamentally an act in which we are called together to offer fitting service to God.

I’m sure there are other categories that I have missed but I think you get the picture. In light of all of the various categories and all of the reasons why people do not come to Mass, any effort to try and invite and encourage people to “come to the table” can seem a bit daunting. Yet, if I may use another cliché, I think the best way to do this is “one step at a time.” And the first step is to provide a welcoming community filled with people who by our actions and words say, “We are so glad you are here.” So, this Christmas, let a smile, a handshake, and a word of greeting be our Christmas invitation to come join us again.
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