Look upon what you fear: Young Adult Mass 2023
FORT WORTH- The Exaltation of the Holy Cross: there could not, in my opinion, have been a more fitting feast day on which to hold the diocese’s annual Young Adult Mass. As I sat in my pew listening to the words of Scripture echoing around the spacious sanctuary of Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Arlington, this realization slowly overtook me, and a phrase flung itself in front of my mind’s eye: “Look upon what you fear, young people.”
The First Reading for this feast is one of my personal favorites. It is taken from the Book of Numbers, wherein God sends a plague of serpents upon the Israelites as punishment for their ingratitude and impatience after being freed from their bonds in Egypt. After the people can endure it no longer, they beg Moses to ask God to bring an end to the plague. What God tells Moses to do is, I believe, one of the most prophetic and symbolically powerful moments in the entire Bible:
“Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
- Numbers 21: 8-9
Our culture is plagued by fear, and this fear, I feel, is something which today’s young Catholics have a unique relationship with. Speaking with several others who attended the Mass, I discerned a shared experience of feeling like “strangers in a strange land,” so to speak. Modern culture, instead of something in which to fully immerse ourselves as equal participants in our shared society, is instead something we are now forced to navigate like sailors in uncharted waters. It can almost feel like our faith has made us, as one young woman I interviewed stated so eloquently, “walls against the rest of the world.”
During the reception, Bishop Michael Olson, the celebrant of the Mass, graciously fielded questions from the attendees. When I asked him what he felt, in his experience, was the most uniquely challenging aspect of being a young Catholic today, his answer went straight to the heart of the matter. To paraphrase his response, the mission of the Church has always been to seek out the biggest mess we can find and to put ourselves right in the middle of it. In other words, in order to overcome what we fear, we must have the courage to look it in the face.
Consider the bronze serpent from the passage above. It is no coincidence that this is one of the passages read on this feast day. Who else was lifted up before mankind in order that mankind might be saved? Jesus, the Son of God, who died one of the most terrifying deaths imaginable: Roman crucifixion.
As Christians, we are called to unite ourselves and our sufferings to Christ’s sufferings on the cross, so that the trials we undergo in this life might be made purifying and salvific. We cannot allow our fear to keep us from this, and this goes especially for us young people. No matter how likely it may be, and it is nearly certain, that you will suffer ridicule, misunderstanding, and perhaps even worse, evasion simply for professing and practicing your faith, even from those whom you consider your peers and friends, you must not let fear prevent you from preaching the Gospel through your life; you must lock eyes with the bronze serpent.
The Church was never meant to be a wall against the world, never something isolated, insular, and closed. To make it this would be an insult to Christ’s own injunction that we go and make disciples of all nations.
Accomplishing this more than monumental task cannot be done solely from behind a pulpit; it has always been and will continue to be, especially now, hard, heavy, sometimes seemingly futile work. Work that we could never accomplish without God. To cite Bishop Olson once again, this time from his homily for the Mass, we must completely empty ourselves in order to share fully in the cross of Christ.
In the midst of a deeply hostile and selfish culture, us young Catholics have a double injunction to resist the temptation of becoming walls, of becoming shut away in our own little Christian closets hung with pretty pictures and comforting platitudes, just because we feel safer there.
So what if you’re misunderstood? So what if you’re mocked? So what if any of the things that Christians have suffered for two thousand years happen to you?
Picking up your cross and saying “I’m not afraid” to the world may not gain you any more likes or followers, but it will, with the grace of God, gain you more than everything in the end.
Now go find a mess.
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