By Beth Donze
COVINGTON, La. – The time is now for young Catholics to claim the holiness they received at baptism and to live lives of purpose, rather than deferring their life’s mission to some vague time in the future,” said Father Mike Schmitz, addressing 4,700 young people assembled at St. Joseph Seminary grounds March 21 for Abbey Youth Fest. About 120 teenagers from nine parishes across the Diocese of Jackson, as well as Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Vocations Director Father Matthew Simmons, and Kathie Curtis, coordinator of the Office of Youth Ministry, made the trip.
“Some people hear those words “be holy” and (think) there’s no way I could ever do that. I’m disqualified,” said Father Schmitz, chaplain of the University of Minnesota in Duluth. “The reality is that a lot of times we disqualify ourselves because we don’t know what it is to be holy,” he said, noting that this defeatist attitude toward holiness is especially prevalent in the United States, a culture obsessed with performance and competition.
“Holiness is not perfection,” Father Schmitz said. “To be holy is not the same thing as having the letters ‘S-T-period’ in front of your name; holiness is not just performing certain religious things” like all-night vigils, multiple rosaries and daily fasting.
Father Schmitz said God claims his children right now.
“If you’ve been baptized, you are already holy!” he said. “He’s not waiting for you to score the winning goal; he’s not waiting for you to perform; he’s not waiting for you to be ‘better’; and that thing you’re struggling with, that maybe no one else knows about? He’s not waiting for you to beat that in order to claim you. He’s already set you apart for a purpose.”
To hammer home his point, Father Schmitz displayed a priest’s chalice, a vessel which despite its dulled luster and dents had been set apart for a holy purpose: holding the precious blood of Christ.
Father Schmitz has observed in his ministry as a college chaplain that although there exist many young “people of mission” who strive to live lives of purpose – by going to Mass, cultivating prayer and helping neighbors in need – too many use their youth as an excuse to drift through life. They typically say, “I don’t know why I did that” when pressed on what led them to sublimate their holiness and choose bad behaviors.
“A lot of times we live on accident,” said Father Schmitz, citing biblical examples of people who lived lives of purpose from a young age. King David of the Old Testament is one who embraced his mission early on by using his work as a protective shepherd as preparation to slay Goliath, he said.
“So often, when someone’s just a kid, even if they’ve been given the power of the Holy Spirit, even if they’ve been given a mission, even if they’ve been given a life that’s supposed to be lived on purpose, they say, ‘Later on I’ll start living on purpose; later on I’ll start living on mission; later on I’ll start living with meaning,’” Father Schmitz observed. But David knew that “later doesn’t exist. All I’ve got is right now. This time, this moment, this hour.”
“Jesus walked up to teenagers and he said, ‘Hey, you! Come follow me! Do you want to live on purpose or do you want to live on accident? Do you want to live with a mission or do you want to live just drifting through life?’” Father Schmitz said, turning his attention to the young people before him.
“The hour has come for you today to start living on purpose. You’re already holy! You’re already sanctified! You’re already justified! You’re already set apart for a purpose!”
Abbey Youth Fest also featured a keynote by singer-songwriter Jackie Francois Angel, live music, a fair of religious exhibitors, outdoor confession and a culminating Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Rain cut short the day’s traditional candlelight adoration. The annual event is coordinated by seminarians at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College.
(Beth Donze is a staff writer for the Clarion-Herald. Reprinted with permission.)
By Beth Donze