If you knew you were about to leave this earth, or leave your loved ones behind, what would your parting words be?
Often times, someone’s parting words are poetic and inspiring. As he lay on his death bed, General “Stonewall” Jackson’s last words were, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the tree.”
And other times, someone’s last words are just downright funny. As the philosopher Voltaire lay dying, he was asked by a priest to renounce Satan, he replied, “Now, now my good man, this is no time for making enemies.”
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ last words before ascending to the Father They are neither his dying words, nor were they intended to be a joke. However, seeing as how they are the Son of God’s last words to humanity, you can bet they are his most important.
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” Jesus’ parting words are a commandment, an instruction, for you and I to go on a mission of evangelization.
My friends, evangelization, is simply the most important work of a Christian. It is the most important work of the Church. In his Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI calls evangelization the “deepest identity” of the Church. Not only is evangelization the “deepest identity” of the Church, the Pope says, it is the very reason why Christ established his Church. “[The Church] exists in order to evangelize,” the Pope says. “To preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #14).
Now, the work of evangelization is not limited solely to missionaries. It is the work of all of us.
And the recipients of evangelization are not limited to peoples of far away lands who have never heard of Jesus Christ All of us, are in constant need of evangelization and reevangelization.
This is what Blessed Pope John Paul II called, “The New Evangelization.” The need, if you will, to fan the embers of a faint or dying faith into flame.
“It is necessary,” the Pope said, “to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ.” And the Holy Father stressed over and over again the great need for a new evangelization of our young people: “In its ever renewed encounter with man,” the Pope said, “evangelization is linked to generational change... the Church is always looking toward the future. She constantly goes out to meet new generations.” One of the most joy-filled and exciting experiences of the New Evangelization I have witnessed at St. Vincent’s is our high school youth ministry program: Life Teen. Life Teen truly is a fan in the hand of our Lord, wafting the breath of the Holy Spirit onto those young embers of faith, fanning them into a great flame. And our young people have indeed been set aflame.
This past Spring, a record number of teens attended the Life Teen retreat. On Wednesday nights, they gather again for what we call Ministry Hour, a night of catechesis. We used to see about a dozen or so come each Wednesday night. Now, that number has grown into the 40’s and 50’s. And of course, look at what Life Teen has done to support vocations. Last year, the Coonan brothers were ordained to the priesthood. Last week, Chris Lapp was ordained to the diaconate. Next week, one of our former Core members, Ben Muhlenkamp will be ordained to the priesthood. And our parish has 5 other men in seminary formation for the priesthood.
And I expect the Holy Spirit will continue to bless our parish with more vocations. Over the past 9 months, nearly a dozen of our teens, both boys and girls, have come up to me, completely unsolicited, and said, “Father, I’m thinking about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.”
But it’s not just about vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The evangelization mission of Life Teen also prepares our young people for holy marriages and families. It cultivates a life of holiness for young singles. And it instills virtues and values in the world’s future Catholic doctors, lawyers, business owners and politicians.
As I said, we’ve seen an upsurge in the zeal of our teens lately. They want to know Christ more intimately and they want to get to Heaven.
So, I have a gift I want to give you. I want you to imagine looking at a vocations poster years from now and seeing the face of a young man or young woman you ministered to as a Life Teen Core member.
I want you to imagine a young couple you ministered to as a Life Teen Core member and hearing them ask you to be a godparent to their first born child.
I want you to imagine the teens you ministered to as Life Teen Core member, years from now ministering to your own sons and daughters.
I want you to imagine walking through the gates of Heaven and being greeted someone, who many years ago, was on the verge of falling away from the faith, but decided to hang on, simply because you were there. Imagine that person saying, “Thank you for leading me closer to Christ.”
Because that’s what Life Teen does. That’s what an adult Core member does.
And that’s the gift I want to give you. I want to invite you to prayerfully discern ministering to our teens. We are so blessed to have a dozen or so Core members currently minister to our sons and daughters. I pray to the Holy Spirit that he will inspire you such that that number doubles this weekend.
Our high school youth minister, Sarah Hill, will be sharing a few, brief words with you about Life Teen during today’s announcements. I ask you to please stay and give her your attention. Then, Sarah and I will be in the gathering space after Mass, to talk to you about the gift God may be asking you to receive. The commission Christ has given you: to “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”