We are going to begin a reflection that will be dedicated to the young people. Now, I don't have the pretension of having all of the answers to your questions, so do not count on me to furnish you with a magic recipe. No, I do not have any recipes. But I would like that we, together, reflect as youth. And we will base our topic on Chapter 16, verses 13-24 from the Gospel of Matthew.
"Jesus said to his disciples,'If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake, will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will render to everyone according to his conduct.'"
To renounce ourselves means to die to ourselves. This can be carried out in our daily lives in a radical manner. We must die to ourselves. The invitation can be resumed in these words; to forget ourselves, to count ourselves as nothing is to empty ourselves of all attachment. Attachment to our goods, our personal happiness, even attachment to our own life! Self-renunciation; this is how Jesus wants His disciples to live. Not lukewarm disciples; but disciples that will die to themselves totally and completely.
To take up our cross means to accept even the signature of blood for Jesus. And you know that the signature of blood corresponds to that which Jesus Himself told us "there is no greater proof of love than to give one's life for those we love." This means to be ready to sacrifice our lives, even by a most humiliating death, as our Lord Himself did by the death of the Cross. I would like to underline this; the law of suffering is a redemptive law. The youth of today especially want to live a religious life that is void of any suffering. It is almost as if we wish to hear: I will accept to walk in the footsteps of Christ, but I want to stop suffering. No.
I'm going to tell you a story. There was a village in Africa where things were going very well. One day the ancients of the village gathered together and said; "God has just sent us a delegation from Heaven and He is asking us to accept either suffering or death. After reflecting on this, the ancients decided to keep death but to renounce suffering. They said "take away suffering, we do not want it." So God respected their choice. Everything was going well until a woman went to the river to get water. She got bitten by a snake, and since suffering was taken away by God, she did not realize that the snake had bitten her because she did not feel pain. When she returned home with her water jug, she fell down and died.
Then a few days later, some young people from the village went out to hunt. They were able to catch many animals, but unfortunately a bee's nest was shaken up and they came down on the young people and stung them all. But because suffering was taken away, they did not realize what had happened, and so many of them died. The few who survived went back to the village, and they recounted what had happened. But the worse was yet to come, because the water of the village had become contaminated and cholera with all the sufferings that go with it, spread throughout the village. But unfortunately, suffering was taken away. So they did not realize in time what had happened and many people died. The few people who survived gathered together and said "let us address a new letter to God to ask Him to give us back suffering." The moral of this story tells us that we must not only see in suffering that which is evil, but as a way to purification and salvation. It is a way that brings us to life. See how easy it is for the world to train us to deny the necessity to work, to suffer, to invest ourselves in abnegation in order to receive greater fruits.
If we take up our cross; we have to accept our cross because also there are those who try to shorten it. With a saw they try to cut it down so that it will be small according to their convenience.
The third point is to follow Christ. It is the Imitation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know this book "The Imitation of Jesus Christ?" This work is an invitation to imitate Jesus. All the joy of the disciple should be to resemble the Master. All this leads me to my main subject; which is the main preoccupation of the youth. My wish is to direct you to follow in the path of Our Lord Jesus Christ so that He may introduce to us the call of vocation and mission.
When we are young, and we do not take the road that leads us to make the good choice, we could have a life of regret. We could have a life that leaves us with a heavy heart when we look behind. When we are young, we have to make the right choice. What are the good choices that God proposes to us, so that we will find our vocation and accomplish our mission?
We all know the story of young Samuel in the Old Testament. Samuel lived in the temple of God, so he lived very close to God. But the danger for all those who are close geographic neighbours to God is they can also ignore Him. That means we have the grace to be here in the house of the Pilgrims of St. Michael and we think we have a close proximity with God. But we have the big risk that people who do not have the same proximity; who do not have the celebration of the Eucharist, daily prayer, the recitation of the Rosary, can have an advantage on us. This is why we should make this closeness an occasion for salvation.
This is why Samuel heard the call of the Lord a few times without understanding who was calling him. Each night he went to see Heli who told him that he had not called him because in his imagination, Samuel thought that he was being called by Heli. You know the story. Samuel can be used as a model for us today in our life as young people. Samuel gave us the lesson, he needed a spiritual director; he needed someone to accompany him, he needed a spiritual guide. And this guide told Samuel for the third time, when Samuel asked him, "why do you call me?" he told him "when you hear the voice, this is what you will say. Speak Lord, your servant is listening." Does this tell you something?
Do we open ourselves to a quest, a research in discernment or do we content ourselves with a personal discernment where each person stays in his little corner and "Oh, I feel like the Lord is calling me to be a religious! I feel weight on my head. I feel the Lord wants me to be a religious." No, we must not dream!
We must share these dreams with those who can help us, with spiritual guides and others who are accompanying us. Who will give us good advice? You have to weigh the pros and cons and then you have to act.
When we are young, we must be careful about the advice that we receive. Not all advice is salvific. Our responsibility obliges us to discern in a profound way. We can receive advice from friends, parents, spiritual directors; but this does not dispense us from intelligent discernment and the responsibility of our choices.
This is what brings us to the subject of our vocation that ultimately helps us to address our life's mission. So it is on the subject of mission that we finish this reflection. When we are young one thing is important to have. And this thing is called LOVE. Love is a word that is difficult to describe because it is a word that evokes. This means that it does not only have one meaning, so it is not precise, but it is plural.
I will try to help you to understand what love is… what we have in our heart and the choices of love that we make in our lives. Because if we have received the Word of God and are discerning our vocation; we can only become active in it if we are motivated by love. Outside of the things we do by obedience; as if for example I said to my friend William here; "go get a glass of water" it is not because of love that he does this, but by obedience or fear because he is afraid to be punished.
But the life of a young person that is engaged in following Christ is manifested by the discernment of his vocation and illustrated in his mission; cannot be satisfactory outside of love. It is not possible! Outside of love, no happiness is possible.
We must be careful, as young people, on the subject or object of our love. This means that if Felix says to Felicity "I love you" this means "Felicity, I want your good, I want you to have life, I want that the love that comes from my heart helps you to be satisfied, to live." But if I allow my thought to be perverted and I allow my moral perception to turn from the correct road, then when I say that I love Felicity, it does not mean that I wish the happiness of Felicity. It means that I want to make Felicity an object of love. That destroys the sense of the word "love." But even so, I say that I love Felicity. See the perversion of the word that does not change, but it is evocative in its character. We have to know how to be right, so that our moral perception stays just and true in its proportions. In that way our correct morality brings us to a true love; a just love.
We will try to apply this to the life of the Pilgrims of St. Michael. I love the life of the Pilgrims of St. Michael. If I say, according to the evocative meaning of the word love, what would be the attitude that would help the Pilgrims of St. Michael? And what would be the attitude that permits the diffusion of the work of the Pilgrims of St. Michael?
When we love our mother or our father; that cannot be identical to our love for bananas! When we love our father and mother, this obliges us to die to ourselves with sacrifice, work, attention, affection; by all that we could do to die to ourselves in order to procure life and happiness for our mother or for our father.
If you understand the meaning of the word LOVE well; that will help us to discern our vocation and our mission. What is the love that God is expecting of us? And if we understand the distinction well, we will accept the renouncement of ourselves easier and we will take up our cross and follow Jesus. Amen.
Fr. Patrice Savadogo