OTTAWA (CCN)—Unplug from the Internet, take out those ear buds, take some time to be still and rediscover the love of God—and make that prayer time and stillness a habit if you want to effectively share the Good News with young people.
That was the message that about 300 Catholic youth ministry leaders from across Canada steeped in March 9-12 at the Canadian Catholic Youth Ministry Network conference here on the theme: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).
The conference kicked off with a reflection by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast on the conference theme, followed by Eucharistic Adoration at St. Patrick’s Basilica.
Archbishop Prendergast said that in preparing for the talk, he Googled the theme’s scripture verse and came up with 37 million responses. “What does it mean to be still? “ he asked. “Can we be still today?”
As someone who blogs and uses social media such as Facebook, and depends on his iPhone, which even has the breviary in various languages so he doesn’t have to haul several books around when he’s traveling, Archbishop Prendergast said he is constantly reminded that everything can be used for God’s glory and bring us closer to Him but everything can take us away, too.
He spoke of a principle of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, that says insofar as something helps one draws closer to God, embrace it, and insofar as it draws on away from God, discard it.
The archbishop said he tries to unplug from the Internet on Mondays, his day off.
He used the story of St. Patrick’s conversion in Ireland to bring home the importance of solitude and contemplation in meeting God.
The confessions of St. Patrick echo those of St. Augustine, when St. Patrick said God was always after him and he didn’t know it, Prendergast said.
St. Patrick grew up in in Northern Britain, the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest, but as a young adult he was not at all religious, he said. “His family had embraced Holy Orders for social advantage.”
“He did not know Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said. “That shows that the transmission of the faith is not only today’s issue, but a perennial challenge.”
Captured by Irish raiders, St. Patrick was pressed into slave labor. Though while in Ireland he encountered a handful of Christians, it was during quiet moments spent in a meadow that the knowledge and love of God began to dawn on him. “He was still and began to learn of God,” Prendergast said.
The distraction of technology can be the thing that takes us away from our deepest selves and giving ourselves to God so He can speak to our deepest nature, he said.
He urged those present to unplug and take out the ear plugs and enjoy silence, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. “It may initially feel like an eternity,” he said.
He invited them to put aside the distractions and enter into spiritual communion with God, who is a community, the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Lord of History, the Second Person of the Trinity is “present with us in a very small wafer of wheat” in the monstrance, he said.
“He tasted death for all of us, so he can rescue us from the slavery of sin, so we can live a new life,” he said. “That grace Jesus won for us by dying on the Cross is available for us tonight.”
Patrick escaped to Britain, but he was profoundly changed, and could not go home again in the same way because home is not the same anymore, he said. He did not forget the Irish, and eventually returned there to lead them to Christ and the beginnings of Christian civilization there.
Jesus wants us to be in His presence and to sense it everywhere, whether it is in the tabernacle, in the monstrance, in the poor, in person who came to talk with you, the archbishop said.
He recounted the story of the Cure of Ars encountering a poor farmer sitting before the tabernacle. The farmer said, “I look at Him and He looks back at me.”
Archbishop Prendergast asked the hundreds of young people gathered in St. Patrick’s Basilica to imagine themselves at the foot of the Cross with Mary and the beloved disciple and “imagine what he would say to you.”
“Jesus tells you what you need to hear: I forgive you; I love you; you are mine; go in peace.”
He urged those present to go confidently and boldly before the father, citing Jesus’ agony in the Garden as an example of how frank we can be about our fears and concerns, because Jesus had asked the Father to take the cup from him. “Come as you are and don’t be afraid to say Father take this cup from me,” he said. But in the end, he urged them to follow Jesus’ example and say “Not my will, but thine be done.”
The weekend conference included a keynote address on the New Evangelization by Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, who has president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), brought greetings on behalf of his brother bishops.
Smith stressed leading young people to a personal encounter with Christ through the same message of the Gospel, except with new ardor, new expression and new means. That encounter changes everything, he said, and imbues young people with “a hope that nothing else” can give.
Workshops included a range of subjects from the Pope Benedict XVI’s social justice encyclical Caritas in Veritate, to tips on spreading the Gospel, to the love of Christ.
“You can’t share Christ without Christ,” said Franciscan University of Steubenville Adjunct Professor Of Catechetics - Youth Ministry John Beaulieu in a workshop. He warned that any spiritual ministry that is “primarily sustained through human effort will be trampled upon and picked off.”
CCCB Vice President Gatineau Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher gave the closing address on Living the Word of God.
The conference also included a banquet and a concert of local Catholic talent.