The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on August 19, the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, during the diocesan Young Adult Mass, at St. Agnes Parish in Arlington.
Something new and hopeful is happening everywhere — surely, within this diocese and also beyond it. Young Catholic adults in large numbers are looking for Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Within a number of our parishes, like St. Agnes here, young Catholic adults are gathering for the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice with enthusiastic joy and fervent participation. In the past year, five new young adult groups have started with four more to begin in the next few months. Young adults, like yourselves, gather together for Mass, retreats, cookouts, hikes, canoe trips, ice skating, baseball games, lectures and Theology on Tap. The results are hope-filled and life-giving, for example, a deeper grasp of the Catholic faith in its fullness and integrity, a genuine spirit of community, practical ways to grow in holiness and virtue with mutual support. Yes, something new and hopeful, indeed, wonderful and life-giving, is happening among young Catholic adults, among you. With you, I thank the Lord and all those who collaborate in this endeavor.
Now, what is the underlying motivation for this growing enthusiasm and participation? You know better than I. Young people are searching for truth, light and goodness. Young people are looking for answers to life's deepest questions. Slowly, gradually, we come to discover THE ANSWER: the Lord Jesus Christ. We find inner peace and the ability to cope and to persevere only when we live united to Jesus. He is indeed the way, the truth and the life.
God's will for us is not only to have a deeply personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Savior; God wills as well that we experience this relationship within the community Jesus Christ founded: the Church. Numbers of people say: "I belong to Jesus but not to the Church." However, Jesus Christ and the Church are always connected; there can be no separation, because the Church is the "other presence of Jesus in the world;" the Church is the Body of Christ. When we were baptized, we were born again, living a new life in Christ and within His Church. A careful analysis of the entire Bible wherein is recorded God's interaction with His people — that analysis clearly shows that God desires to save us, not as isolated individuals, but within a community, His community.
I have described the growing numbers of young Catholic adults actively taking part in the Church as people seeking Jesus. In fact, your seeking Jesus is really your response to His seeking you. Our "yes" to Him is actually our response to His "yes" to us, a "yes" He gave completely in His dying and rising, precisely to redeem us.
In today's Gospel account, we hear Jesus exclaim, "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" In these words, He reveals how much He thirsts for our coming to Him, so that we can truly live and be saved. He thirsts for our love, because the response of our love to His, the "yes" of our love to His, allows Him to save us!
Once we experience Christ's love for us — and you are experiencing His love — we cannot but pass it on to others. We share in Christ's thirst that others come to experience His amazing love. Yet, sharing the good news about Jesus can often be challenging for us. We can experience rejection as did Jeremiah the prophet when he proclaimed God's message to his contemporaries. Sometimes, divisions result because to follow Jesus and His way involves putting aside whatever is contrary to the truth. Nonetheless, once Jesus becomes our beloved, we cannot help but follow Him and invite everyone else to love Him and to follow Him as well. His thirst for the salvation of others becomes ours.
Pope Benedict XVI commented on Christ's words in today's Gospel. "The fire is Christ's own passion of love." And that love is to be passed on. Therefore, each day, we are called to be witnesses to Christ and to His thirsting love. We witness where we live and work and interact with others. We are encouraged and strengthened in our witness because, as we heard in the second reading, we are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses," especially the saints in heaven. As they once did when on this earth, let us likewise "keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith."
We witness to a living relationship with Jesus through prayer both at home and here in the Lord's house. We witness to moral living rooted in the Gospel: protecting and defending life from conception to natural death; upholding marriage as the union of one man and one woman; rooting out pornography, that terrible scourge and plague, engulfing our society; living chastely. We witness to mutual support and practical charity as we deepen our bonds with one another.
Yes, a new and hope-filled sign is so evident: young adult Catholics are discovering joy, peace and new life in their relationship with Jesus within His Church. You are discovering this! Set aflame with Christ's love, go forth to witness, go forth to invite everyone to come to Jesus and to the family of His Church. Together, keeping our eyes on Jesus and walking together in faith, let us transform our society with the blazing flame of God's amazing love!