This piece is a homily from January 22, 2017 given by Fr. David at St. Augustine church in Gainesville, FL.
Believe it or not I am actually a child of the ’60s. It might not seem so, but I was, in fact, born just a few weeks before Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon. Some of you, I’m sure, remember that event quite clearly. You know far better than I what a sense of accomplishment and national pride that was. Probably some you can also remember the speech that President John F Kennedy gave in 1962, challenging us to strive for such an ambitious undertaking. Or what a sense of hope and optimism accompanied his inaugural address 56 years ago almost to the day.
I bring this up, not to delve into presidential politics, but more so to contrast the high, missionary call of the early 60’s to what has followed it in the subsequent decades. And more importantly to hear, in the readings of the liturgy and in the voice of our holy father, Pope Francis, that same call to greatness, elevated to the supernatural level and applied to our own times and to the challenges that face us in this decade and those to come.
But first, let’s listen to a few excerpts from Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice University:
“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding…
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war…
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
Pretty stirring stuff, right?
It was, in many ways, the product of the times: the boundless confidence of modern progressivism. The great hope that science and technology would be the answer to all of life’s most pressing questions. That was the way we began the 60’s. We ended them in a purple haze of confusion, violence, disillusionment and despair. Caught in the quagmire of an intractable civil war in a far off country we didn’t understand, wracked by violence, racial discord and civil unrest at home. Martin Luther King, who in 1963, dared to dream a dream, by the end of the decade was dead. And even the Catholic Church, which had long stood as a bulwark for Western civilization, was being torn apart by dissent and mass defections, even by the clergy and religious.
Many of us here today–most especially the students who make up such a large portion of the parishioners in this parish–have lived our whole lives in the fallout from that turbulent decade. We have lived in a postmodern world where all truths are relative, all commitments provisional, where even the meaning of the word “is” can be publicly debated by a sitting president.
This era, this young generation of Catholics, needs desperately to hear a new call to greatness, to be more than the generation of the “meh.”
Pope Benedict XVI is often quoted (perhaps erroneously) as having said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
Whether he ever said those exact words or not, the gospel origins of this message are as clear as the call of Jesus to His first disciples that we heard in today’s gospel reading. You were not made for nothing. Your lives are not accidents of blind chance. You are not simply what you choose to identify as. You were created with a purpose. You are called to live lives of holiness and missionary discipleship. You WERE made for greatness.
Just last month Pope Francis announced that he is calling a global synod of bishops to meet in Rome in October 2018 to treat the topic, “Young people, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” I am pleased that our own bishop, Felipe Estevez, has asked that our parish be actively involved in preparing our diocesan delegation to that synod. Clearly there is good reason, given the number of faith-filled young people who have discerned or are discerning their vocations while part of the Catholic Gators.
Beyond the particulars of our own individual vocations–and we know that it belongs to Christ to call each one of us individually to the state of life He wants for us–we all share in the universal call to holiness. That is, we are, all of us, called to be a light to the nations, so that a people that dwells in darkness and gloom might see, in and through us, the true light that is Christ. We are called to live lives that radiate the joy of the gospel and, in so doing, to build up a civilization of love. Jesus–in the first Christian century–called to Himself disciples to share in His mission to proclaim that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Christ now–in the 21st century–is once again calling for missionary-disciples, especially from the young Church, to proclaim to good news in every corner of the world.
Pope Francis, in his letter to young people announcing the upcoming synod writes,
“I would also remind you of the words that Jesus once said to the disciples who asked him: ‘Teacher […] where are you staying?’ He replied, ‘Come and see’ (Jn 1:38). Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart so as to open it to joy in its fullness. This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life. Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up.
In Krakow, at the opening of the last World Youth Day, I asked you several times: ‘Can we change things?’ And you shouted: ‘yes!’. That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a ‘throw-away culture’ nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves! Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: ‘Do not be afraid, […], because I am with you to deliver you’ (Jer 1:8).
A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.”
The Holy Father’s words represent a new call to greatness for young people and for us all.
Surely there are many challenges that await us in the coming decades and the century that lies ahead of us. But equally certain is that the solution to these challenges will not lie in blind faith in science and technology. If the past fifty years (or even the past 150 years since the industrial revolution) have taught us anything, it is that with each new technological “miracle” comes some new moral horror.
Life saving developments in chemistry and biology brought on the horrors of chemical and biological weapons. The promises of limitless, cheap nuclear energy resulted in the threat of nuclear war. The widespread use of the internal combustion engine has resulted in a global threat to our environment of unprecedented magnitude. And even the Internet–which promised to draw together the whole human family into one global village–has resulted in crippling psychological isolation and an addiction of epidemic proportions.
Clearly the promise of a scientific solution to humanity’s current ills is not what our world needs to restore our hope. That ship has sailed.
And so it will be in every age. Technology is not the solution to the most fundamental human problem because the fact of the matter is that our technological capacities have always outstripped our moral capacity to use technology for the good of all, ever since Cain first picked up a stick and said, “I wonder what I could do with this.”
No, the response we need to the challenges that face us is not technological but relational. What humanity needs is not more gadgets but more…well, humanity.
Perhaps the moon shot of our day is to recapture and boldly defend the intrinsic and immeasurable value to every human life. To single out from among all the shining lights of God’s creation the unique beauty of the human person–created in His image and likeness, created male and female, created for union with one another and with their Creator.
Perhaps the bold mission of today is not to the moon or Mars–though those are exciting places I’m sure–but to have the courage to discern carefully my own God-given vocation and to live it out fully, faithfully, fruitfully for the rest of my life.
Let us ask God today for the gift of greatness. Let us beg for the courage to leave behind whatever would hold us back. Let us resolve ourselves here and now to boldly go, not just wherever we would go, but where our Savior leads us.
Written by: Father David Ruchinski