[Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 65; Romans 8:18-23; Matthew 13:1-23]
As I mentioned at the beginning of mass, I am very pleased to welcome to our cathedral parishioners from across the Archdiocese who will soon leave for World Youth Days in Lisbon. This event in Portugal will be an extraordinary intercontinental gathering of countless thousands of young people with Pope Francis. With the departure date close at hand, our pilgrims have come to the Basilica for this mass of commissioning.
To be commissioned is to receive a mandate for the accomplishment of a task. Canadian soldiers are often commissioned and sent to act as peacekeepers in war-torn areas of the world. Diplomats are commissioned and sent to represent their country in foreign lands. Likewise, as I commission you, our World Youth Day Delegates, and send you forth to Lisbon, the Archdiocese entrusts you with a special mandate. It is simply this: open wide your hearts to Jesus Christ.
World Youth Days was founded, as we know, by Saint John Paul II. When he visited the World Youth Day event in Toronto in 2002, he assured the hundreds of thousands of young people gathered there that the only sure and stable foundation upon which we can confidently build our lives is Jesus Christ, known, contemplated, and loved. Throughout his lengthy pontificate, he never tired of encouraging young people not to be afraid to open the doors of their hearts to Jesus and welcome fully the transformative power of his love. This invitation of Saint John Paul II has woven its way through the various themes of the many World Youth Day gatherings, and now reaches you, our delegates, in the mandate with which you are commissioned: open your hearts to the truth and love of Jesus Christ.
Notice how Jesus himself is, in fact, issuing the very same invitation to you in the Gospel text proclaimed at this commissioning mass. In his familiar comparison of the human heart to different types of soil, he challenges us to examine how receptive we are to the seed which is his Word. What he seeks from us is nothing less than a heart that is “rich soil”, meaning one that is fully receptive to every word that comes from the mouth of God through Christ, that seeks earnestly to understand and be guided by it, and that allows the seed to blossom fully and bear fruit in a life of joyful fidelity to divine teaching, of eager willingness to serve others, and ultimately of life eternal in communion with God. This is what it means to open our hearts fully to the Lord Jesus, as he invites us all to do.
The massive gathering of young people in Lisbon will be a great source of encouragement to our delegates to fulfill this mandate. Anyone who participates in a World Youth Day event is brought to the joyful awareness that they are not alone in their faith, that there are literally millions of other young people of their generation who believe in Jesus, who love the Church, and are enthusiastic about the truths of the faith.
In our secularized culture, it is common for a person of faith to feel rather isolated and alone. The soil all around us is hard, rocky, shallow, and full of thorns, which is to say, unreceptive to the teachings of Christ. This, in turn, can tempt one to adopt similar attitudes and close the heart to the Lord’s love. When in the presence of countless youth who believe, however, one draws the strength and solidarity we all need to maintain our hearts as the rich soil Jesus seeks, a receptive and fertile environment for the blossoming of his Word.
I want to acknowledge with gratitude to God that the very fact our delegates have made the decision to travel on pilgrimage to Lisbon is a sign that the soil of their hearts is already very good. The seed is taking root and beginning to blossom, a fruition that will only grow through the encouragement gained from the World Youth Day experience.
Among the many thousands present in Lisbon, one in particular will be the source of greatest encouragement for everyone. I am referring here to the Blessed Mother, whom we know is always close to her children. In Mary we are given the perfect model of total receptivity to the Word of God and an exemplary manifestation of its fruitfulness.
Mary’s fiat to the annunciation by Gabriel was an unqualified “yes”, an unconditional surrender in faith to the plan of God for her. Her heart was fully open, a wondrously rich soil to receive God’s Word. In consequence, that Word of God became literally incarnate in her womb. This bore fruit instantly in an act of unhesitating charity as she ran to help her cousin Elizabeth in need. Here we touch the specific theme of the Lisbon event: “Mary arose and went with haste” (Luke 1:39). Our Blessed Mother shows us that a heart fully open to receive the Word of God in Christ will be set on fire with divine charity, which will admit of no delay in reaching out to anyone in need.
So, beloved pilgrims, we all invite you to receive, with deep faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the mandate with which today I commission you: open your hearts wide to him as you share in the joy and excitement of World Youth Days. In this final period of preparation, as you pack all the essentials for the journey to Lisbon, do not forget that, because of the Eucharist we now celebrate, you carry within you Jesus himself. Do not be afraid to let his trustworthy commands, his infinite love, and his abiding truth take deep root within you. With the encouragement of the Blessed Mother and aided by her prayers, go in haste to celebrate your faith in Christ with your fellow pilgrims gathered in Portugal, and return with equal speed to encounter him in the poor and needy here at home.
I shall join our pilgrims for a few days in Portugal. In order to get in, though, I’ll be going disguised as a youth, so don’t tell anyone. Please pray for us all, that the Lord will bless us with deep joy in him and renewed zeal for the mission of the Gospel.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
July 16th, 2023