November 16, 2018

‘The love of conviction’: Challenged to ‘make noise,’ teenagers also make a statement about their faith

Teenagers from across the archdiocese come together in a moment of reverent silence before a crucifix during the “ArchIndy Teen Experience” at Butler University in Indianapolis on Nov. 4. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Teenagers from across the archdiocese come together in a moment of reverent silence before a crucifix during the “ArchIndy Teen Experience” at Butler University in Indianapolis on Nov. 4. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The challenge was a fun and welcomed one for the teenagers who gathered from across the archdiocese.

Asked to “make noise,” they responded with a crescendo of cheers, hoots and shouts that rose to a joyous, near‑deafening roar in the expansive room, leaving the youths laughing and smiling at how many decibels they had reached together.

Still, just minutes later, there came a moment that packed even more emotional power. It was a moment when the 270 teenagers changed from making noise to making a statement about the Catholic faith that binds them.

Rising from their seats, they moved toward the crucifix that had been uplifted in the center of the room. With their heads bowed and with some of their hands on each other’s shoulders, they stood and professed their faith not in words but in reverent silence.

Both 17, Elizabeth Wehrkamp and Alejandra Aguilar shared in these two scenes during the “ArchIndy Teen Experience” at Butler University in Indianapolis on Nov. 4.

“My Catholic faith plays an important role in my life,” said Elizabeth, a member of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour where she teaches religious education to children. “I think the theme of ‘make noise’ is very fitting. You want to make noise so God can always hear you. It’s something I want to keep doing throughout my whole life.”

Living the Catholic faith aloud is essential to Alejandra too, who viewed the archdiocesan youth event as a two-fold opportunity.

“I want us to have a relationship with God, and see how he’s always there for us,” said the member of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. “I want to share my culture, to have them see the diversity within us—to love each other as neighbors and come together through the thing that unites us, our Catholic religion.”

‘We are called to stand out’

The ‘Make Noise’ theme for the youth event echoed from a different kind of challenge—a challenge that Pope Francis put forth during World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013 when more than 3 million young Catholics came together.

“Wherever there are young people, there must be noise,” Pope Francis told the youths then. “Things can be toned down later on, but a young person always wants to make noise. Go forward! There will be people who will say things to you to slow you down, to block your path. Please, go against the current, against this civilization that is doing us so much harm. Understand? Go against the current, and this means making noise. Go forward, remaining true to the values of beauty, goodness and truth.”

As the keynote speaker at the archdiocesan youth event, Ansel Augustine reminded the teenagers of three truths about their lives, starting with the one that he considers most fundamental.

“Never forget, you are a sacred gift from God. There will never be another like you,” declared Augustine, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

“You are one of his greatest masterpieces. For God not only made the world, he loves the world—with an unstoppable love that gives you an unstoppable power to go forth and make noise.”

That power to make noise for God is needed in the world today, he continued.

“Many times in the Church, we are called to step out. We are called to stand out. We are not called to do the easy thing or the popular thing. We as people of Christ are called to do the right thing. So when you look at your own scenario, your own story, your own situation, who is it that you are called to be Christ to? And how are you called to make that person know it so that they can make a joyful noise in their life?

“We have a society out there that is hurting. We have a society that needs to know about Christ. And guess who’s going to deliver it in Indianapolis?”

Augustine let the youths know that they are the answer to that question. He also shared one more truth concerning the challenges in their own life.

“I need you to understand this: What you are going through, God is with you. No matter what you face, no matter what you’re dealing with, God is there to help you carry that cross that each of us have.”

‘This joy for life, for Christ’

That need for God in the teenagers’ lives was revealed during the part of the conference when the sacrament of reconciliation was offered. Elizabeth Wehrkamp joined that long line.

“You can really open your heart fully to the priest, and he doesn’t judge you for what you’ve done,” she said. “When you come out, it’s a really good feeling. All the weight is lifted off my shoulders.”

A similar focus on deepening the faith came during the praying of the rosary, with the prayers and the reflections on social justice being shared in both English and Spanish.

“Once we experience the love of God through prayer, it encourages us to put it out there through action, through excitement,” said Juan Aguilar, the 25-year-old archdiocesan seminarian at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis who co-led the praying of the rosary.

“I hope the youths will see that young people can be involved in the faith, that there’s this excitement, this joy for life, for Christ. And that when we share it, other people will grab it.”

The quiet, prayerful sessions then led into a high-energy period of offbeat games and audience-participation challenges that affirmed Pope Francis’ insight that “a young person always wants to make noise.”

While a touch of joyous chaos reigned in the games, so did the smiles and laughs. And as the late afternoon turned toward early evening, the mood moved flowingly from making noise to making a statement to making time to be with God in a closing Mass celebrated by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson—a Mass where the soulful singing of a choir from St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis added a beautiful harmony.

‘The love of conviction’

As he shared his homily during the Mass, Archbishop Thompson smiled as he looked out on the youths who had come from parishes in Bedford, Bradford, Brownsburg, Cambridge City, Greenwood, Indianapolis, Martinsville, Mooresville, New Albany, New Castle, Rushville and Terre Haute.

Concentrating on the Gospel theme of the importance of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, the archbishop started by focusing on the first part of that twin command:

“To love someone is to know them. We can only know someone if we spend time with them. And so to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength means we give God the first of our energies—to be people rooted in prayer, people who listen to the word of God and take it to heart.”

Turning to the essence of loving our neighbor, the archbishop stressed, “This is not a love about feeling. It’s the love of conviction, the love that comes from the depth of our being. A love that doesn’t just embrace what is beautiful in life and sweet, but to love in the muck and the messiness of life. We must love the unlovable, those that society wants to push aside.”

Concluding his homily, he offered a touch of praise and encouragement to the youths.

“You chose to be here. You put your focus here on your relationship with God. And that translates into how that focus will be on your family, your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, your co-workers and others. You put this as the first focus of your lives, of your energy, of your identity.”

The heart of that message took on a real-life touch at the end of the Mass when the director of youth ministry for the archdiocese shared an experience that happened earlier during the celebration.

Scott Williams told the teenagers, “Somebody walked in while we were having Mass and said, ‘Hey, I saw you guys were having church. I’ve been having a tough time this week. Will you pray for me?’ ”

Williams assured the young man he would, and he asked the youths to do the same.

“The fact that you’re here makes a lot of noise,” Williams told the teenagers. “Just by your presence here, you are sharing Christ’s love so much.” †

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