(On Feb. 23, Archbishop José H. Gomez celebrated Mass for an estimated 5,400 young people at the annual Archdiocesan Religious Education Congress Youth Day, held in Anaheim. The following is adapted from his homily. For more of his writings and homilies, visit ArchbishopGomez.org.)
It has been a very sad time for the family of God here in Los Angeles. We have lost a good friend and a holy priest and bishop, Bishop David O’Connell.
As we continue praying for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his family, we also want to celebrate his life, because Bishop Dave was a man who loved Jesus Christ and gave his whole life to follow Jesus and to be his friend.
This is what we all want. We are all born with the desire for happiness, to find love and joy and the meaning of our lives. And only when we know Jesus and follow him do we find the happiness we are looking for.
In our first reading, Moses tells us, “Choose life!”
That is what God wants for each one of you — a beautiful life, a blessed life, a life filled with love, and family, and friendship.
He wants you to share every step of your journey with him, and he wants you to make your own unique contribution to the kingdom he is building here on earth.
This is why the Father sent Jesus into the world — to reveal the human face of God, the face of love, and to show us the right path for us to travel.
In our Gospel today, Jesus shows us that path: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
To “choose life” means loving the Lord and staying close to him. It means setting aside your own concerns and taking up your cross and walking in his footsteps. It means listening to his voice and keeping his commandments.
Your happiness has only one name! The name of Jesus! Jesus is everything that you are looking for in life!
No matter what the world tells you, following Jesus with all your heart will take nothing away from your life.
When we reflect on the communion of saints, including all the young people the Church has recognized, you see that the saints were passionate, joyful, and creative people. They loved Jesus and they lived life to the fullest!
Blessed Chiara Badano loved dancing and playing tennis. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati climbed mountains.
We have saints who were athletes, artists, poets, painters, and sculptors; great inventors and scientists, even politicians and leaders in business.
Never be afraid to trust Jesus. If you put your life in his hands, if you take up your cross every day and go with him, you’ll be amazed at the things you’ll do, the joy you will know. You will find yourself becoming the person that God created you to be.
The goal of our life is to become more like Jesus, and that means we need to keep getting to know him more and more.
So how do we do this? I always say two words: the Gospel and the Eucharist.
The Gospels are like Jesus’ self-portrait. We have his own words, we have the stories of his life, told by those who first knew him and loved him. In the Gospels, Jesus is alive, healing and teaching, showing us how to live.
We need to take up the Gospels every day, spending time reading and listening to his word, pondering his word in the quiet of our heart.
In the Eucharist we also have that encounter with Jesus. He is right there, just as real, just as present as he was present with his apostles 2,000 years ago.
The Eucharist is the great sign of his love, and his love is never-ending. Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist to share his life with us in a beautiful friendship, and to be the food we need to make our way on life’s journey.
So we need to try to meet him as often as we can. On Sundays always, but whenever we can make a visit to a church, to the Blessed Sacrament, understanding the beauty of knowing that Jesus is with us.
One thing that helped me a lot when I was your age and growing up was when I decided to try to go to daily Mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. That totally changed my life.
So, let’s keep growing in our faith, growing in our love, growing in our holiness, and in our likeness to Jesus. Let’s keep becoming the people that God wants us to be!
May holy Mary, our Blessed Mother, lead us always and help us to keep striving, keep choosing life!