“What must we do?” (Luke 3:14)
Pastoral Letter on the celebration of National Youth Day on December 16
Archdiocese of Lipa
THE first day of the Simbang Gabi, on December 16, has been observed since 1986 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) as National Youth Day (NYD) as the Church’s concrete way of promoting the “preferential love for the youth”. And the CBCP has declared the year 2019 as the “Year of the Youth” as part of the nine-year preparation for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of the Philippines in 2021 with the theme “Filipino Youth in Mission: Beloved, Gifted, Empowered.”
Quite beautifully this year, the first Simbang Gabi coincides with the Third Sunday of Advent which traditionally is called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is the Latin word for “rejoice” which is Saint Paul’s invitation to us in the Second Reading. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Lord is near.” The theme of the Year of the Youth gives us the reason for rejoicing: the young ones and the once young—all of us—are beloved, gifted and empowered by God who loves us so much.
God’s love is a gift freely given to us. But, at the same time, it is a responsibility. It carries with it an invitation to respond to God’s love. “What must we do?” This is the same question that three groups of people asked John the Baptist in today’s Gospel Reading: “What must we do?”
As our reply to that question, I suggest that we adopt the concluding words of Pope Francis in his homily during the closing Mass of the Synod on Young People: “May the Lord bless our steps, so that we can listen to young people, be their neighbors, and bear witness before them to Jesus, the joy of our lives.” This is what we must do: “Let us listen, let us be neighbors, let us bear witness” to the youth and to one another. Pope Francis refers to these as the three fundamental steps on the journey of faith.
First, let us LISTEN. Pope Francis calls this as the “apostolate of the ear”. To listen is to open our ears, especially the ear of our heart. Let us listen to God who speaks to each one of us with love. Let us listen to the little ones who are dearest to God – figuratively, to the least, the last and the lost, and, literally, to the young ones who are in greater need for guidance and care. Parents, teachers and elders have the tendency to talk too much without listening. “Lolo Kiko” said in the name of adults: “Forgive us if often we have not listened to you; if, instead of opening our hearts, we have filled your ears.”
And what are the young people saying? In the Open Letter written and read by representatives of the Filipino Youth on May 31, 2018, they spoke about who they are, where they are, and what their concerns and hopes are as they journey in life and walk in faith. They said, “Filipino youth of the 21st century are life-given and want to be life-giving. We are dynamic individuals, overflowing with blessings, willing and open to learn and to grow when provided with opportunities to do so… We do not see ourselves as ‘the future’, but as ‘the present’ of the Church, the world, and of society… We are called to act, but we still need to be guided and formed…”
After listening, the second step on the journey of faith is to BE A NEIGHBOR. Let us call this as the “apostolate of the feet”. Let us walk with our feet moved by our loving heart to come closer to others and be their neighbors, especially the little ones. Let us get out of our own comfort zones and out of our exclusive circle of friends and then embrace those who are not one of us even if this means that we will have their smell. Let us be a neighbor to the little ones, loving them as we love ourselves, instead of rejecting, harming and exploiting them.
The third fundamental step on the journey of faith is to WITNESS. This is the “apostolate of the mouth and the hands and everything that we have”. We witness to Jesus, the Joy to the world, when we speak with our mouth with joy and love in our hearts. We witness to Jesus, the Lord of Mercy, when we show compassion as we reach out with our hands to others in friendship and love.
On our journey of faith, Mary, our Mother, is our guiding light as she is the Star of the New Evangelization. We can learn from her life which serves as an example for us. First, at the Annunciation, she listened humbly with her ears and heart and so heard the Good News about God’s choice of her to be the mother of His Son and about her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant in her old age. Second, she hurried to go to Jerusalem to visit and be near Elizabeth, to be her neighbor. And third, with her Magnificat, she sang and bore witness to God’s greatness and mercy and she gave a clear witness and effective sign of God’s love as she assisted and served Elizabeth.
“Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Pray for us that as we listen to the Word and to the world, as we come closer to others to be their neighbors, and as we witness to God’s love, Jesus will become truly incarnate and fully alive in us so that we become an Emmanuel for others, especially for our youth, and they will realize who they are – beloved, gifted and empowered by God. Amen.”
+ GILBERT A. GARCERA, D.D.
Archbishop of Lipa
16 December 2018