When John Paul II came to Denver in 1993, for the first World Youth Day on North American soil, no one knew what to expect. No event like this had ever taken place — a gathering of Catholic youth, in America, for no purpose but to pray with the pope.
A few weeks prior to the event, only 150,000 people had registered. I was among them. I was a young priest then, and I traveled to World Youth Day with young people from Wichita State University, where I served as chaplain.
Before the Holy Father arrived, something incredible began to happen. In the very last weeks, the registration swelled to 500,000 people. The Church was amazed. And by the time we gathered at Cherry Creek State Park, to celebrate Mass with Pope John Paul II, nearly one million young people had assembled.
World Youth Day changed the life of the Church in the United States. Through it, the Holy Spirit filled young people with zeal, and joy, and enthusiasm for the faith. And it gave them a noble mission.
I won’t forget what John Paul said to the Church when he preached at Cherry Creek State Park:
“The Church needs your energies, your enthusiasm, your youthful ideals, in order to make the Gospel of Life penetrate the fabric of society, transforming people’s hearts and the structures of society in order to create a civilization of true justice and love,” he said.
“Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places,” he told us, “like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops.”
In 1993, John Paul called us to fearlessly bring the Gospel to the public square. His call resonates today.
In fact, today our call to bring the Gospel to public life, and build a “civilization of love” resonates even more strongly. The world we live in so desperately needs love. Our nation so desperately needs truth. Our friends and families so desperately need Christ. And, in the aggressively secular culture in which we live, it is ever more difficult to build a civilization of love and a culture of life.
We can not build a civilization of love without working to bring love—and truth, and justice—to the laws of communities. We need laws which support real love— laws which supports the right to life of the unborn; and the marriages of men and women; and the needs of the poor. We can not build a civilization of love unless we build a civilization of justice—in short, a Christian society is one in which real justice is reflected in our laws, and in our public life.
Engaging the political sphere of our community is an essential part of bringing the Gospel to the world.
John Paul challenged us to bring truth to the public square, and we must do that as active citizens—engaging in policy-making, in public life, and, of course, by voting.
Voting responsibly, for candidates and policies which support a civilization of true justice, and true peace, is critical to building a civilization of real love. Every Catholic has this responsibility.
Of course, our responsibilities go far beyond the voting booth. If we want to build a civilization of love, we’ll witness to the truth of the Gospel, and the truth of the Church’s claims about justice. We’ll witness to the beauty of a culture of life, a culture of families, a culture of generosity and charity, and justice.
We build just Christian culture through our public life, through our engagement with the world, through our votes, and through our advocacy. And we build just Christian life through our private life—by ordering our homes, our hearts, and our minds to the just life of Jesus Christ, in our lives of prayer.
Gaudium et spes, the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council addressing faith and public life, declared that “there is no better way to establish political life on a truly human basis than by fostering an inward sense of justice and kindliness…”
We’re blessed, in the Diocese of Lincoln, with two opportunities to form ourselves to build the civilization of love. The first is a public lecture, on Monday, October 13, given by my friend Anthony Esolen. Dr. Esolen will speak at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, 3500 Sheridan Blvd., Lincoln, at 7:30 p.m., on the importance of understanding and supporting marriage. I pray that many of you will attend.
The second is a book I recommend to each of you. “The American Catholic Almanac,” written by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, shares the stories of hundreds of Catholic Americans, men and women who have worked to the bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the public square. It’s amazing to learn what so many Catholics have done to build the Kingdom in our nation. The book is an inspirational resource for any family, any priest, and any home.
The Church needs our energy, our enthusiasm, and our ideals to build a civilization of love. She needs our commitment to participate in public life, to vote, to advocate, and to engage. And she needs us to conform our hearts, and minds, and homes, to Jesus Christ. The world needs our witness. The world needs our holiness. Let us not be afraid.