As I post this, Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto has just concluded his homily for the closing liturgy of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City. It is the Solemnity of Christ the King. I have had the grace of being able to hear Bishop Soto preach to youth a couple of times on the west coast. He is a powerful preacher who puts Christ at the center of all he says and who strongly connects with youth and young adults. Suffice it to say, his homily was applauded by the 22,000 youth at Sprint Center tonight - Try that at your parish.
Luckily, I was able to buttonhole Bishop Soto earlier in the day and asked him for an electronic version of his homily. He emailed it to me with the caveat that he may make some changes in the actual presentation. I was able to catch most of his homily live tonight, and below is a very faithful rendition of what Bishop Soto did preach:
Every second 2.5 million emails are moving across the internet. More than 4 billion text messages are lighting up cell phones in the United States every day. One young woman was reported to have sent 14, 528 text messages in a month. That’s 484 messages a day, one text message every two minutes, not counting sleep time. Her father’s cell phone statement that month was 440 pages long. Welcome to the information age. In this mad search for the answer, in the helter-skelter grab for a connection are we any closer to the truth that will set us free?
The Lord Jesus is tapping on the homepage of your heart. He wants to text the truth of God’s mercy on your soul. Jesus is the Word, the ultimate Facebook of God and invites you to be his friend. Jesus does not twitter. Rather he humbled himself so that he could meet you, connect with you and serve you in charity and in truth. He is the IP address of the way, the truth and the life.
This means that truth, any truth worth knowing, is fundamentally part of a relationship with Jesus. Truth is most beautiful when it is part of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is the wisdom of Pope Benedict’s most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Charity in Truth. Truth is most persuasive and most attractively revealed through the new covenant of charity found in knowing and connecting with the Lord Jesus.
We are part of a technological culture that wants to separate truth from any connection with God, and even from a connection to anything else. Both truth and relationship are corrupted when the culture disconnects them to serve a distorted sense of freedom. “I’ve got to be me,” “Let me do my own thing” and “It’s all about me!” have become the naïve anthems of the times. The possibility of creating new technologies has given us the bold arrogance that we can and should re-create everything, even ourselves. Any truth that would question my own perceptions is a threat, an imposition. Any relationship that would limit my own preferences robs me of my precious independence.
Who would question the freedom of the human person in this land of the free? Freedom has become an unquestioned value in our society. Say the word freedom and all other arguments disappear. But what is this freedom for? Life has become a multiple choice question for which there are no wrong answers and the only criteria for choosing are one’s own impressions, preferences, desires, and fears.
One’s impressions, preferences, desires, and fears become the self-created avatars to which one clings while we are all adrift in a sea of mass information that threatens us, confuses us, and challenges us.
The society in which we live prizes the choices we have. We relish having choices to make, because choices mean freedom. Even in politics, we hear the term “pro-choice”. Who would say they are against pro-choice because having choices and being able to choose seems to be the essence of freedom. Freedom is what it means to be truly human.
There is truth in this. Freedom is an essential part of the human person. The freedom to choose, the freedom to make choices is one of the prized and cherished qualities of American life. Perhaps one of the best-remembered lines of the declaration of independence is: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Liberty, freedom, as understood by those innovators of America, was endowed to us by the Creator. The present generation unfortunately does not understand the origins nor the purpose of this God-given liberty. Liberty has come to mean an unfettered and unrestrained pursuit of one’s own ambitions and one’s own pleasures. Liberty as misunderstood by many is devoid of responsibility or accountability. Freedom has become an end in itself and when it is understood this way the freedom to choose can become an obstacle to choosing. Many want to be free from the choices we make. We want to be free so we choose not to choose. We decide not to decide so that we can be free from our decisions and unencumbered by our choices. “All of the above” becomes very quickly “none of the above”. Too often we think, if we choose we lose. If I choose this then I can’t have that. If I go here, then I can’t go there. If I am with that person, I cannot be with this person.
Yet, there is still the nagging hunger to be connected and for that we must always make a choice. The desire to be connected, to love and be loved, never goes away because that’s the way we are wired. As St. Augustine said so well in his time and these words still ring true in these post-modern times: “O Lord, you made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” There is still a restless longing to be connected to something or someone more than ourselves. In speaking about the young woman with the 14,528 text messages, one commentator said that text messaging is becoming one of the most addictive digital services because of the strong impulse to be connected. It does not have to be a cell phone or one’s pda. One can become habitually connected to alcohol, drugs, and sex. The technological innovation of the internet has itself become a tool for the addictive impulse – internet porn. Whatever the means one may choose, the person often thinks that they can control it, only to find that eventually they are being controlled. We begin by believing we can be the gods of our own destiny and wind up serving at the altars of our addiction. The connection becomes a chain and the illusion of freedom becomes slavery. These are all extreme examples of a pervasive addictive culture, the sad consequence of the disconnect between truth and relationship. Addiction becomes the sad truth to which many of our brothers and sisters are painfully connected. Yet we all live in this addictive climate, a climate where the technologies we have created may redefine us, confine us and even destroy us.
Jesus is calling for some climate change. As the disciples of Jesus, how do we restore a climate of freedom and an environment of hope? Jesus came to save us and he does so by freely offering himself through the awesome charity of the cross. This great love announces the truth of who God is. Deus Caritas Est, God is love. Jesus put his personal liberty at the service of charity and truth. He humbled himself to dialogue with us, a dialogue rich in truth, a conversation charged with charity. The cross is both the medium and the message that Jesus sends us. When we respond to that call, when we hear his voice, we begin a dialogue that will connect you to the truth that will set you free. You will enter into a covenant of love that frees you to love others. In the light of Christ’s truth you will discover who you really are. In the bonds of his merciful love you will be unchained from all your fears.
My brother bishops and I have marveled at the technology all around us at this conference. What so amazes us even more is the ease with which you use this technology and the many ways you express yourselves through it. With Christ Jesus, you are the artisans of a new climate enlightened by the truth of the gospel and warmed by the charity of the sacred heart of Jesus. You can use the freedom of Holy Spirit to craft technologies that will be an effective instrument of the truth and charity of the Lord.
How will you stand up with Christ to be a witness to the truth? How will His love create in you a truly new humanity renewed in grace and strengthened by mutual solidarity? The answer is not another upgrade from Microsoft. It is not a new download from ITunes. This adventure began when the God so loved the world that He sent his Son Jesus to become personally involved in our world, to take personal responsibility for our history, and to communicate in person, his person, the height and depth, the length and breath of the Father’s undying love. What began on the shore of Galilee and poured down from the wood of the cross comes to us now in this Eucharist. Jesus continues to seek out a personal connection with each of you. He wishes to communicate a personal message to you. He also wants you to be that message and to make that connection with our brothers and sisters who are still waiting and wanting to connect to the way, the truth and the life. Which one of us will be the St. Francis of Assisi for today’s generation that will sing of the beauty and grace of brother son, sister moon, and sister mother earth? Who among us will seek out the lost and lonely like Damien of Molokai? Will someone step up like Mother Theresa of Calcutta to hold the sick and dying as one would hold Christ? How many of us will defend the dignity of human life as did St. Maximilian Kolbe? Who will work against racism and hatred as did St. Catherine Drexel? Will any of us speak up against oppression and stand with those rejected like Padre Miguel Pro, Cesar Chavez, or Martin Luther King? Who will sow the seeds of peace and harmony with one’s own blood as did Archbishop Oscar Romero? These men and women were witnesses to the Lord of truth. They were instruments of the Master’s wondrous love. See how each of them exercise their freedom by the joyful and generous gift of themselves. Each of them gave a personal response to the call of the Lord Jesus. In them and through them the joy of Christ reigns.
God does not buy a new iphone or get a new app. His communication platform is the human person. He chose Francis, Damien, Theresa, Catherine and so many others. And today he chooses you.
The world is not looking for more software. It does not need another hardware upgrade. As Bob McCarty said on the first night of NCYC, the world is waiting for disciples to personally show up, step up, and step out. Together with Christ we are the artisans of a cultural climate change that connects the human person to the truth and charity of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Let the Lord Jesus reign in your hearts. Together with him we can build a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. Que el pueblo diga, Amen. Let the Church say, Amen.