Love the Word of God, and you will love your neighbor as you ought — this was the message by Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne during his homily at the concluding Mass for the Alaska Catholic Youth Conference on June 8 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral in Anchorage.
With about 200 youth and volunteers in attendance — including a 15-member youth choir and ensemble led by Catholic artist Jesse Manibusan — Archbishop Etienne was joined by Anchorage Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski and Juneau Diocesan Administrator Father Pat Travers.
Archbishop Etienne greeted Mass attendees with the hope that they had spent the last week learning more about their faith, and learning also that, as members of the Catholic Church, they are part of something much bigger than just their home parish or even their own diocese.
The Gospel, proclaimed by Deacon Les Maiman, was Jesus’ profession of the two greatest commandments to the unnamed scribe (Mark 12:28-34). Taking this as his departure point, Archbishop Etienne challenged the youth in attendance.
“Why should we love God?” he asked. “Why should we bother to love anybody?”
LOVING JESUS IS LOVING THE WORD OF GOD
Archbishop Etienne then made two points: first, that today’s youth often face a world that claims to love Jesus, but then seeks to eliminate any other source of religious authority, even the Scriptures. An example of this hostility is the viral YouTube video that professes, “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.”
Archbishop Etienne admitted, “the first time that I encountered that, I did not know where to go with that in my discussion. I was just dead in the water.” But he then pointed out the absurd conclusions of such a premise.
“What struck me in the Gospel today was; what was Jesus quoting in his life and ministry?” Archbishop Etienne told the youth. “Take a guess: Scripture. If the Son of God is going to talk about the Old Testament, and then continue to expound upon its greater significance, that’s good enough for me.”
He continued, “So the next time someone uses that one on you, then say why did Jesus refer to Scripture in a lot of his talk? He is the Son of God – and the Word of God made flesh – and he obviously sees something significant.”
As a practical suggestion, Archbishop Etienne encouraged the youth in attendance to read and refer to the Bible as a guiding force in their lives.
“This is just one little thing I want to send you back out into the world with — that renewed faith and belief in God’s word as revealed. And it is alive. And it does give direction.”
Archbishop Etienne attested to the peace and comfort afforded by an intimate knowledge of the word of God.
“It helps me address challenges that are laid on my desk, day to day,” he said. “The challenges that are presented to me by my people, day to day.”
LOVING YOUR MORALLY RELATIVISTIC NEIGHBOR
Addressing the moral relativism espoused by the world, Archbishop Etienne drew out its logical conclusions.
“Everybody has their own truth,” he said. “Everybody has their own set of values. And when you have yours, and you have yours, and they don’t agree — how can there be truth in there, anywhere? Can truth contradict itself? Can God contradict himself? No.”
So how can today’s youth convert their morally relative peers today? Archbishop Etienne again had recourse to the Gospel.
“The way we do that is summed up by Jesus in the Gospel today: love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and every fiber of your being,” he said “In everything that you do, and every person with whom you associate and encounter.”
Tying this to Jesus’ last supper discourse, wherein Jesus told his disciples they would be known by their love for one another, Archbishop Etienne stressed the magnetic power of living the Christian life in a secular world.
“That’s going to make the word of God credible to others,” he said, “when they see in us that it really is possible to live for God — in all of its truth, in all of its brilliance, in all its beauty. If and when we do that, we will bring the doubting world to belief.”