Sunday, July 24, 2011

Whatever Happens, Happens (World Youth Day 2011)

Yesterday, I went to an event called Camino, a day-long send-off event for all of the Vancouver World Youth Day pilgrims. The day was filled with good company, beautiful weather, pilgrimage, talks, mass (duh), and even an evening concert. It was a great way for a lot of the pilgrims to come together, celebrate faith, and even in the smallest way, prepare ourselves for our pilgrimage to Madrid.

However, what really set the mood for not only the day's activities, but for World Youth Day as a whole, were the talks given by keynote speaker Makani Marquis. Now this guy leads an interesting life. Back when World Youth Day was in Denver in 1993, he walked there. When WYD was in Toronto in 2002, he biked there - in 3 and a half weeks. Nowadays, for 6 months of the year, he works for the archdiocese of Vancouver as their webmaster. The other 6 months? He lives as a hermit, seeking solitude in the middle of nowhere, in order to become more in tune with God. He brings some spiritual reading with him, and makes it back into civilization proper every week for mass. Other than that, he doesn't speak to anyone, read any newspapers, listen to music, or watch tv. He doesn't even speak to himself. As you might expect, he had some very insightful and challenging things to say to all of the pilgrims.

I can sum up the general premise of his talks with a very simple statement: God is God. But from this simple premise, he explained to all of us (with solid theology, and with the help of the Saints) a few things that were harder to accept. Because if God is God, then...He's God. He can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, however He wants, to whomever He wants. Nothing can overthrow Him - not sin, not death, not even Satan Himself. Jesus assured us of this on Easter Sunday. So if God has the power to do whatever He wants, then we must accept the fact that everything that happens to us - everything - happens because God wills it (whether He wills it directly or permissively is another issue. I'll get into this in another blog).

It's a truth that does not sit comfortably with most. But just read the book of Job - God says to Satan, after a brief argument, "Fine. Do what you want with my faithful servant Job. I'll show you. He won't fall to temptation." Even Jesus demonstrated this truth when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he told Peter, "Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me" (John 18:11)? Makani's whole point was that if we accept that God wills everything that happens, we will come into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God. The only reason we don't accept it is because we don't trust Him enough. But Makani went a step further and said that we should actually want what God gives us; thank Him for all of it, and to trust that some good will come of it. If we truly love God and if we truly trust Him, we will want what he wills, want what He presents, and knowing that it is He who gives it to us, when we respond to it, will find an inner peace that cannot come from this world.

As Makani continued to speak about this truth, I really began to think about that in particular: Our response to what God places in our lives, and more specifically for us pilgrims, what he places in our lives during our pilgrimage in Spain. Because that is where the conversion will happen - in the response. Our ultimate goal, heaven, is attained if, when we leave this earth, we are conformed to God, and that conformity is in the response.

To know that everything that happens is in the hands of God is a comforting thought; we need to get to the point of literally giving our lives over to Him. When it comes time to eat food during WYD, I will say, "Thank you, Lord. I want this food." If the sun is unbearably hot, I will say, "Thank you, Lord. I want the sun to be unbearably hot." I will then respond by putting on some sunscreen, and perhaps wear a hat, and say, "Thank you, Lord, for the UVA protection." If I forgot both a hat and sunscreen back at my hotel and end up getting a sunburn, I will say, "Thank you Lord. I want a sunburn." Then I'll take an aloe vera bath and thank Him for that too. Acceptance, appropriate response. Acceptance, appropriate response. Jesus accepted the cup of suffering that His Father gave Him because He was perfectly of one Will with the Father, and He knew the good that would come out of it. None of us are omniscient, and so we just have to trust.

We had mass during the Camino event, and the readings, matched with the event, just seemed so providential. We should agree with Psalm 119 when it says, "Lord, I love your commands." Even more, we should take to heart the words of St. Paul in the 2nd reading, that "all things work for the good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

This will be the third World Youth Day that I have attended, and of course, I am always excited for it! Hundreds of thousands of youth from around the world will be gathering to celebrate the faith. Excitement is inevitable. But for the first time, not only am I excited for WYD...I'm also nervous. I'm not bringing a phone to Spain. I'm not bringing an iPod, or a portable DVD player, or a radio - I want to be as receptive as possible to my surroundings, my spiritual journey, and to the Will of God. And that makes me nervous, and even a little scared. Because if I really DO find the courage to accept everything that God places before me on this pilgrimage as something fruitful, then the transformation in my soul will be like nothing I have ever experienced.

WYD isn't a vacation. It's a pilgrimage. Yes, the nature of WYD is such that we will have a great, fun time (accept that, and respond to that, as well!). But as a pilgrimage, it is also a time to pray, to reflect, to offer up everything that we have in order that through the Holy Spirit, we will become saints. It's not supposed to be easy. It's not supposed to be relaxing. It's supposed to be transformative.

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