Cardinal Sarah gives our youth hope (1st published in the Catholic Herald)
When I was 11 I started at a large co-ed secondary school in what Lewis Hamilton would later call the ‘slums’ and spent the first few days there asking my peers about their faith. I immediately made no friends. A couple of years later a new girl arrived at our school. Her name was Maria and her family had moved from Poland to settle in the UK. She was one of 8. Her family had no TV. The home was full of books and children playing musical instruments. Love bounced off every wall and I made a friend.
When I entered the darkness of my late teens I lost touch with God, with love and with Maria. 30 years later on 3rd November 2022 at a requiem mass where Cardinal Robert Sarah was preaching, I met her again. ‘This’ she said ‘Is Our Lady’s handiwork…she’s good at weaving tapestries’
My friend Maria was right; I could see the tapestry of my own life placed in the hands of Mary and her beloved son, from the safety of my mothers womb, through the darkness of my despair to the joy of my return that had brought me to this place on this night, to hear a message of hope. ‘Where our blessed saviour is gone’ Cardinal Sarah said ‘we hope to follow…through self abandonment to the will of God in all things’
We are asked to always be ready to give an account for the hope that is within us, to account for the;
‘..virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christs promises and relying not on our own strength…’ (CCC 1817)
I can give an account only because the scales were lifted from my own eyes through the witness of holy men and women I met along the way. This witness is hugely important in the life of the Church. There is a lot of talk today about how to reach young people, but all too often the conversation centres around secular assumptions about what will make them happy and not on sanctity.
‘What God wants most of all for each one of you’ Pope Benedict XVI said in an address to school pupils ‘is that you should become holy. He loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you.. by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness. True happiness is to be found in God…only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts’
What a message! Young people first need to know why they exist. Without this telos they are adrift in a sea of endless possibilities. It is no wonder that we see children clinging to whatever lifeboat makes itself visible before them, but once on, the lifeboat isn’t going anywhere and will eventually deflate. We need to do more than accompany the drowning children, we need to lift them up and into the ark. We need to offer them hope.
Cardinal Sarah renews that hope. How does he do this? Not by being nice (though I’m sure he is) but by being faithful. You cannot give what you do not have. Hope can be so easily obscured by the blinding artificial lights of our secular world and too many shepherds have succumbed; blind themselves they cannot renew the hope of the laity; but here in this grotto, in the middle of a bustling city street shone the light of Christ through the witness of his faithful servant, Cardinal Sarah. What he offered was a message of holiness, the message that we all need to hear, but so rarely do. The message that young people are thirsty for.
I was there with my teenage son, a young man aware of the alluring power of all that the world has to offer. He is an ordinary football loving kid. He is not a saint, yet. But he knows that this is his destiny and that shapes and informs his whole life.
When mass had ended a number of people left. I turned to ask him if he wanted to go, but he was kneeling, head in hands and going nowhere. I watched him during Benediction, overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for this most precious gift God had given to us and aware of the sacred responsibility we carry to return him to his loving father. When I met Cardinal Sarah I knew instantly that I was in the presence of someone who shared this same responsibility for my son.
Our shepherds in the church have a duty to speak with truth and clarity, without fear. It is too important not to. We need to do more than simply hold our own. What the gospel requires is that we change the world. Sarah presents us with an inspirational model we can follow.