Editor’s Note: Following is Bishop O’Connell’s homily for the Diocesan Youth Conference, which was broadcast Feb. 6 from St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop O’Connell in the diocesan Chancery, Lawrenceville, and pre-recorded amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be viewed at the diocesan YouTube channel.
Bishop O’Connell’s homily for the Diocesan Youth Conference
After the Readings that we hear at Mass, the reader says, “The Word of the Lord, the Gospel of the Lord,” and we respond, “Thanks be to God, praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.” Although we might not think about it too much, that is a very important dialogue. We are expressing our belief as Catholics that the Scriptures we hear and read are THE WORD OF THE LORD. Pretty awesome, don’t you think?
When you or I speak, we want to be heard. We want people to listen to what we have to say, TO PAY ATTENTION – otherwise, why bother speaking, right? I am sure that we have both had the experience of people NOT listening to what we say and, sometimes, as a result, not understanding. And sometimes, when we are “quoted” afterward we respond, “I never said that” or “that’s not what I meant.” It might very well be that people weren’t listening – or it might sometimes be that we were not clear when we spoke. In either, we realize WORDS ARE IMPORTANT! They communicate what we think and believe – they may also communicate WHO WE ARE.
Today, as your Bishop, I am very happy to “speak” to you during our Diocesan Youth Conference. Teaching and preaching are among the most important things a Bishop does, that I do. Not only am I responsible for sharing the “Word of the Lord” but I have a responsibility to tell faithful Catholics, young and old – faithful Catholics like you – what the Word of the Lord means and how to apply it to daily life. You can see that there are not too many things more important than that.
Explaining the “Word of the Lord” is easy sometimes when the Scripture is clear. Other times, we have to “search” a little to discover what they mean and how they apply to us.
Our Readings today come from the Old Testament writings of the prophet Job; the Psalms; the New Testament writings of St. Paul letters, and the Gospel of St. Mark. The prophet Job lived many centuries before the Lord Jesus in ancient Israel. He was a good and wealthy man, but his life was filled with much suffering and he spent his life “searching” for the reason. We heard him today praying to God and wondering “why?” Going through the pandemic, we might have similar feelings, searching “why?” Like Job, we might not have a quick answer. “It is what it is,” we might say. God has his reasons, God knows his reasons, but we simply must trust him as the situation plays out and as we “search” how to get through it.
The Psalmist tells us today, “The Lord heals the brokenhearted. The Lord is mighty in power, and his wisdom has no limit. He helps the lowly.”
St. Paul was asked by the Lord to preach his Gospel and to help God’s people as they “searched” for answers. Like Job, he was weak, but he tried to encourage and build up the weak, to strengthen them with Christ’s “Good News.”
Our Gospel, our “Good News” today comes from the writings of Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels closest in time to the Lord Jesus’ life. He tells the story of Jesus healing the mother-in-law of Peter and of many people coming to him to be cured as a result. After slipping away, sleeping and getting up early to pray, Jesus is pursued by his Apostles, who tell him “everyone is looking for you.”
Those words are the theme of our DYC. As they were first spoken by the Apostles to Jesus, they apply to us. We are “looking for” the Lord Jesus – all Christians are.
In our daily lives and, especially, all through these uncertain times with COVID and the troubles that affect us personally and in society, our world has been searching for peace, for healing, for social justice, for stability in our relationships, and so much more.
At the same time, you have been searching for some sense of normalcy and a way through the craziness, all while grieving the loss of time with friends and family, special school events/milestones, and in some cases, the loss of loved ones. But have you also been searching for the Lord Jesus?
If you have searched for Him, have you had a hard time finding Him? Do you seek the peace and hope that can only come from Jesus, and the truth that, like Job, like St. Paul, like the people in Mark’s Gospel, you are not alone in this, never alone no matter what you face in life?
The answer is not simply, “it is what it is,” but rather, it is what God wants for us and we must “search” for his will, his wisdom, his presence, his grace and power, his guidance to face whatever comes. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus invites us, “Ask and you shall receive, search and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened for you (Matthew 7:7).”
Our God loves you unconditionally and no matter how difficult the past year has been – no matter what life brings your way – Jesus comes to those who seek Him, and with Him there is nothing you cannot face. Search for the Lord Jesus, pray to the Lord Jesus, my dear sisters and brothers, in every moment, in every experience in life, the tough times and also in the good times.
I hope that at the heart of whatever you are looking for or whatever you need, you find the Lord Jesus. Whatever your worst day with the Lord Jesus present in your lives will be better than your best day without him. Search for him!