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How to Be 'Merciful like the Father'

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By Fr. Andy Davy, MIC (Jul 1, 2016)
This story first appeared in the Summer issue of Marian Helper magazine. To get a free copy of the magazine, click here.

"I will be with you always even until the end of time" (Mt 28:20). Don't we all want to hear this? Don't we all want to know that we are not alone in this life, that we have a Father who loves us and wants to always walk by our side?

On Dec. 8, the Church entered into the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, with its theme: "Merciful like the Father." What a beautiful theme to meditate on, especially for those of us called to be priests, who are given the title of "Father"! I would love to share, especially with my brother priests, some thoughts on how we are being called to be "Merciful like the Father" specifically towards the youth.

In his book Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press), Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, defines Divine Mercy as "God's love reaching down to meet the needs and overcome the miseries of His creatures."

One of the key areas many of our young people struggle with today is not having quality time with their biological fathers. Our young people hunger to be noticed by their dad, to feel his presence and protection as they walk through the difficulties of life. Numerous studies have confirmed the deep wounds suffered by children when their father is not present (or even emotionally present) in their lives.

Mercy heals. Presence heals. And as spiritual fathers, we priests are blessed with the opportunity to bring a gift of healing to our young people — simply by being present to them.

But presence is more than "just showing up" at the official times. A young person can easily read whether we are simply going through the motions. We have to show up precisely when we don't have to be there.

Get to know the youth of your parish. Don't see them merely as "the future of the parish," but rather as a key part of the Church present. Make every effort to spend that unofficial time with them and go to where they are. Visit them at their youth events, their sports events, their theater productions. When the youth group goes laser tagging, well ... grab a laser rifle and jump on in! Black is the best camouflage! These things can seem trivial, but they can be powerful conduits for deeper future conversations about the faith and about life in general. By showing a genuine interest in what is important to their world, you will be viewed by young people as a father who really wants to be with his children. And they will respond!

I personally began to understand the importance of this ministry of presence to our young people during my Marian novitiate year. During that year, I had been given George Weigel's book Witness to Hope, which chronicles the life of St. John Paul II. As I read, I was so moved by the description of how Karol Wojtyla — the future pope — understood his call when working with the young people from a local university.

Saint John Paul II "thought of his chaplaincy as a ministry of 'accompaniment,' a way to 'accompany' these students in their lives," Weigel writes. "The chaplain's presence couldn't be limited to the sanctuary and the confessional. A really effective chaplaincy, he believed, had to be present to these young lives in the world as well as in the church."

Weigel writes of one youth who said, "We felt completely free with him, without any burden. His presence led us to express ourselves. While he was among us, we felt that everything was all right. ... We felt that we could discuss any problem with him; we could talk about absolutely anything."

One word emerged in my heart as I read these inspiring words: "Fatherhood." In a very simple way, Fr. Karol Wojtyla touched the hearts of these young people by being present to them, not only in a liturgical and sacramental way (though that's still essential), but in the midst of the world, too. This way of being a father present to his children brought forth an interior confidence and security that allowed these young people to experience true freedom.

This Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us priests work at being truly present to our young people. Let us learn to listen to them and to be sincerely interested in what is going on in their lives. Though we may be torn in a million directions in parish ministry, let's not forget that our youth are looking at us from a distance wondering if their spiritual father notices and truly cares about them.

Just as with St. John Paul II, a little "accompaniment" can go a long way!

Father Andy Davy, MIC, is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Plano, Illinois.

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Peter speaks to youth

The participation of recent popes in World Youth Days (WYDs) is a terrific model of the sort of accompaniment Fr. Andy talks about. Here, the three popes who have taken part in WYDs speak to youth on how to be Christian in the modern world:

Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity — St. John Paul II, Message for World Youth Day 2000.

Dear young people, listen closely to the words of the Lord, that they may be for you "spirit and life" (Jn 6:63), roots which nourish your being, a rule of life which likens us — poor in spirit, thirsting for justice, merciful, pure in heart, lovers of peace — to the person of Christ. Listen regularly every day as if he were the one friend who does not deceive, the one with whom we wish to share the path of life. Of course, you know that when we do not walk beside Christ our guide, we get lost on other paths, like the path of our blind and selfish impulses, or the path of flattering but self-serving suggestions, deceiving and fickle, which leave emptiness and frustration in their wake — Pope Benedict XVI, Welcoming Ceremony with Young People, WYD 2011.

The Cross of Christ contains all the love of God; there we find his immeasurable mercy. This is a love in which we can place all our trust, in which we can believe. Dear young people, let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, let us give ourselves over to him (cf. Lumen Fidei, 16), because he never disappoints anyone! Only in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption. With him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word, because he gives us hope and life: he has transformed the Cross from being an instrument of hate, defeat and death to being a sign of love, victory, triumph and life — Pope Francis, Address, Way of the Cross with Young People, WYD 2013.

— Chris Sparks

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MaryDee - Jul 1, 2016

Thank you for recognizing young people as a vital part of our church!