Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to around 9,000 middle school and high school students from the Catholic schools of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. They were gathered in the cavernous Galen Center at the University of Southern California, and the atmosphere in the room was electric. There was a good deal of upbeat music and games, but when Archbishop Gomez processed into the arena carrying the Blessed Sacrament for Benediction, you could hear a pin drop. There is just something uniquely moving about seeing nine thousand energetic kids suddenly falling to their knees in silent adoration.
I do indeed believe that Vatican II’s universal call to holiness is a largely unrealized dream. Most Catholics still don’t get that their vocation is to carry their faith into the marketplace, into schools, into office buildings, into the corridors of government, into sports stadiums and into the streets. I wanted those kids at USC at least to start thinking about this great mission.
First, I said, if they want to be happy, they have to play an emptying game rather than a filling game. The secular culture, in a thousand ways, tells them that the key to happiness is filling up their lives with the goods of the world, more specifically, with money, sensual pleasure, power and fame. Watch, I told them, practically any movie, listen to practically any popular song, attend to practically any pop star, and you’ll hear this message over and over again, repeated ad nauseam. But precisely because we have all been wired for God, which is to say, for an infinite happiness, none of these finite goods will ever satisfy the longing of the heart. Indeed, the more relentlessly we seek them, the less satisfying and more addictive they become. The game, instead, should be contriving a way to make your life a gift. The formula behind this resolution, I explained, is rather straightforward. Since God alone fills up the emptiness of the heart, and since God is love, then only a life of radical love will actually fulfill us and make us happy. Though it conforms to the strictest logic, this message has always been hard to take in. It has always appeared as counter-cultural.