Some things are hidden in plain sight. This Fall I had the thrill of attending the National Catholic Youth Conference, I was chaperone for a group of young people from Glenmary’s St. Michael the Archangel mission in Erwin, Tenn. Among 25,000 participants, their enthusiasm was contagious!
The Sunday after the conference was the Feast of Christ the King, which got me to thinking. In the Gospel that weekend we read about Jesus crucified. In that Gospel there is a deafening silence of God, wrapped in utter darkness amidst a lot of chatter at Golgotha, the “place of the skull.”
We hear, “He saved others, why can’t he save himself if he is the Messiah?” Instead of a chorus of deep realization that he is the King, we are flatlined with the Roman soldiers: “If you are king of the Jews, save yourself!” It took the second criminal to see Jesus the king, hidden in plain sight.
For me that gospel insight culminates an encounter with Christ at the conference. There I saw that young people are not losing their faith as many today say. If they were, these 25,000 young people would not be gathered in a downtown Indianapolis football stadium. Bishop Pierre made that same point, speaking to the young people: “I look at all of you and I say to myself, they are wrong!”
When the youth held up their cellphones as flashlights, the stadium became like a night sky, filled with stars. In that moment, these young people had set the world on fire. They had become the light of the world, that light that the Gospel of John tells us the night cannot overcome!
My heart was burning for Christ throughout this event, not just on that night of flashlights, as symbolic as it might have been. The joy on the faces of these young people gathered from across the nation and beyond! When a football stadium becomes a holy place of worship and faith, the king is present. When young people reach out to strangers, God is there. With endless lines to the confessional, the young and indeed all of us realize, like the criminal at the foot of the cross, that we belong to a kingdom (and a king) different from what this world offers.
Let us pray for the young people, with their immense gifts and potential, their vitality and hope. Let’s pray that no one, no trend, no distrust, no illness, will rob them of the gift and the treasure of their faith. Let them hold fast to the knowledge of their dignity as beloved children of God! In them, just like in the rest of the human race, and indeed the whole cosmos, there is Jesus, King of the Universe, now in plain sight, and with us always!
Guest columnist Kenneth Wandera is a Glenmary seminarian, to be ordained transitional deacon this coming June.