A. As we gather for this holy Mass, we stand in closest spiritual solidarity with our Holy Father Pope Francis, and with more than a million young people who joined with him in the celebration of Holy Mass at the Campus Misericordiae. During these past days, it has been our privilege to host many of them here at the Mercy Centre.
B. Many bishops, priests, and adult youth leaders have told me how much they have appreciated the Mercy Center. They were happy that we made this wonderful arena available, expressed their thanks for how well everything was organized, mentioned how glad they were that the place is air conditioned – but most of all they were delighted with the beauty of the liturgies, the excellence of our choir and musicians, the inspiring speakers and panels – and the wonderful witness talks we are all privileged to hear.
C. Young people have also stopped to thank me for all that the Knights of Columbus, the Sisters of Mercy, our Dominican Friars, our priests and seminarians, our choir and musicians, as well as our volunteers have done to make them feel welcome and to provide for them a wonderful opportunity to open their hearts to the Lord’s mercy, to experience mercy, so as to show mercy to others. In particular, I want to thank Father Kalisch for his leadership together with Szymon Czyszek (Ché-shack) and their team for an absolutely magnificent job! Warmest thanks and congratulations!
II. The Message of Today’s Gospel
So, the whole theme of World Youth Day has been about mercy – “Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs!” What the Word of God is trying to do for us – one last time before we all head for home – is to remove one of the main barriers that prevents mercy from reaching us and that prevents us from being merciful. That barrier is greed, or to use St. Paul’s phrase, “that greed which is idolatry”. When we worship what we have and what we want, we close our hearts to the treasure of God’s mercy even as we close our hearts to the needs of others all around us. That’s my thesis – but what’s my proof? Well, stay tuned as we head toward our first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
III. Vanity of Vanities
A. I’m going to guess that the author of that Book had a few miles on his odometer – that is to say – in his long experience he acquired a lot of wisdom. He reached a point in his life where he recognized the futility of laboring, toiling, and acquiring. I once knew a man who had quite an extensive business empire. He was asked to give a large donation to support inner-city Catholic schools but he turned down the request, as he turned down most charitable requests, on the score that he wanted to be (and I quote), “the richest man in graveyard.” Not a good aspiration! What a turn-off for any young person who is full of hope!
B. I think many young people are reacting against the culture of greed. As our young people responded enthusiastically to speaker after speaker who spoke of self-giving love – didn’t that do our hearts a lot of good? Didn’t it give you hope that the Holy Spirit really is at work in their hearts in spite of all that the prevailing culture throws at them. I don’t think we have to lecture them too much about emptiness of that culture; I think they are already aware of that. Rather, by the witness of our personal lives, let us bear witness to the fact that a fuller, happier, more satisfying life is possible.
IV. Full Barn, Empty Heart
In the Gospel, Jesus shows us the way to do this. As today’s Gospel opens, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die for us – the central act of self-giving love in all of human history – when someone in the crowd called out, “Tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” I would have been tempted to say, “Don’t bother me, I’m doing something important” but instead Jesus tells the story of a man with full barns but an empty heart. As his barns were filling up to overflowing, he asks, “What shall I do?” He could have so easily said, “I know what I’ll do – I’ll open up my barns – and I’ll share the many blessings God has given me with poor and the hungry!” In a word, I’ll fill my heart by emptying my barns, sharing what I have with others. When we do the works of mercy, our hearts are opened to the gift of mercy that God want so much to give us. As we know, the rich man in the parable didn’t even think of that as an option and, of course, things didn’t turn out so well for him.
V. Seek What Is Above
A. Having listened to Ecclesiastes & to Jesus’ parable about full barn & the empty heart, I think we’re ready to see how St. Paul distills this teaching for us in our second reading from his letter to the Colossians. “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,” he tells us, “where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.” He is telling us, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II that our hearts should be ‘set in one direction’ – toward Christ, our Redeemer, confident that in his love and mercy we find the key to God’s mercy. Instead of chasing pleasures that leave us empty let us turn to Christ who fills us with his love and who makes us instruments of his love and mercy.
B. If we and the young people who took part in World Youth Day return home deeply persuaded of this one basic truth – then all the effort, the anguish, the blood, sweat, and tears that you have so generously expended to make the Mercy Centre a success will have been more than worth it – for we will have been not merely organizers, volunteers, and operatives but true instruments of God’s mercy. May you travel home safely and in peace with deep joy in your hearts! God bless you and keep you always in his love!