The Australian Catholic Youth Festival is here. Our most recent edition of The Catholic Weekly is the last before an estimated 19,000 young Catholics converge upon Sydney for ACYF’s three-day national celebration of Jesus, which will culminate with Mass in The Domain on Saturday evening 9 December when the Lord will come to be present in the celebration of the Eucharist with all who receive Him and hear His Word.
And everything indicates that the occasion will be, as the young are fond of saying, awesome. Not only will thousands of young Australians from all over the country come together for Saturday evening’s Mass but they will be joined by tens of thousands of Catholics from all over Sydney and even further away to make the Domain Eucharist the largest Mass in Australia since World Youth Day 2008 – period.
None of it, by the standards of our society, makes any sense. How – or why – can so many young people flood to Sydney, many having travelled vast distances from the most outlying parts of Australia such as the Tiwi Islands and the Kimberley, to celebrate such an apparently irrelevant thing as the Catholic Church? Young Catholics in Australia today face a culture which grows more hostile to Christianity – and especially the Catholic Church – by the day. Outside the parameters of their parishes and schools, a culture of indifference, ridicule or hostility to Catholicism is all they have ever encountered.
For well over half a century Australia, in tow with other affluent nations, has been busy divesting itself of the vestiges of a moral order that springs from the Judeo-Christian tradition. This tradition acknowledges the reality of God, and believes we should treat others with respect and love as God loves us. What has been busily replacing this is, to borrow a phrase, the dictatorship of relativism which might also be called a dictatorship of selfishness or a dictatorship of noise which seeks to drown out the voice God.
The young have been told consistently by our society that their Catholic faith is no longer relevant or applicable. This message comes at them through every avenue of our culture, especially the media. To many Australians, the Church’s teachings and beliefs are little more than medievalism uninformed by scientific and objective modernity.
Usually, this is nowhere more vehemently expressed than in areas to do with the so-called ‘difficult’ teachings of the Church to do with moral principles with regard to ourselves or others. Interestingly – as the current widening tsunami of sexual abuse allegations pushing further and further through Hollywood, the media and politics demonstrates – the values-free and carefree universe of moral relativism has in reality brought with it nothing more than a harvest of sorrow, brutality, hurt, suffering and disappointment to those who have been drawn into its embrace.
The Australian Catholic Youth Festival, on the other hand, offers the young something they long to hear and experience – conviction, certainty and the knowledge that there is a God who loves each of personally – to the death. But it offers more: the possibility of trust (in God and in others), communion and joy. The importance of these cannot be underestimated. The Church gives them the certainty which the zeitgeist tells them is impossible.
The real problem for Australia is that these young people and the faith they so joyfully share with one another and want to share with the world are so very subversive of what our society thinks is normality. Why? Because while Australia dismisses religious faith and Christianity as quaint (at best) yet irrelevant, for these young people Christianity is normality itself. They want Jesus and they won’t settle for anything less.
It should be a fabulous week.