31 Aug 2011
Firm in the Faith - A pilgrim's reflection on WYD 2011
Firm in the Faith
“Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten, those who trust God shall never go wanting”[i].
These words of faith from Teresa of Avilla, a Patron Saint of the World Youth Day, inspired me on my journey to Avilla and Madrid, with the promise that neither the August heat, aching feet, nor the crowds would keep me from my goal – the fiesta that is World Youth Day, which holds the distinction of being the largest youth gathering in the world! Here you find the life of the Church, young people screaming “Benedetto”, waiting for the VIP of the moment – Pope Benedict XVI. The local context behind this international festival was described by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in a catechesis session in Madrid, that his greatest fear is not the dwindling finances in the archdiocese but rather the dwindling participation of young people[ii]. The World Youth Day is a powerful, visible sign of the Church’s commitment to these young people; it is an action of solidarity which brings together young people from all over the world with a common purpose.
Going on pilgrimage is an action of the feet, heart and mind[iii]; for this reason I went first to Avilla to learn more about the lives of the Carmelite Saints – St Teresa of Avilla, St Therese of Liseux and St John of the Cross, before taking part in the celebrations in Madrid. I walked around the medieval city and meditated on the discovery of St Teresa in this place that “God loves us far more than we love ourselves”[iv] The presence of the relics of St Therese for the WYD served an as example of the transformation of a sensitive child into a young woman, who overcame difficult relationships with some of the other sisters in her community, and a painful illness marked with periods of depression. As a group, we were led in a creative exercise in the style of St. John of the Cross, who wrote the epic spiritual poem “The Dark Night of the Soul” to express his enlightenment in the darkness of a prison cell, where his own community had left him to die. We were invited to think of a symbol that best described our relationship with God and to share the symbol and meaning with others in the group: a hill, a dress, a flag on a flagpole, were some of the personal ways in which people described how they relate to their faith and God!
These personal inner dimensions of faith were connected to the communal outer expression of faith when we joined in the joy and excitement of the World Youth Day on the streets of Madrid. The vigil took place in the barren but by no means lonely location of Quatro Vientos, here the 42degree heat and the storm that interrupted the Pope’s speech did little to damper the mass enthusiasm for that which satisfies more than food and water, and requires some readiness to endure material discomfort so that one can receive. The experience of faith is more than just a once off event which can be hidden and swept away by material trappings, if it is not” rooted and built up in Jesus Christ”[v]. An individual faith statement like that of St Teresa of Avilla reflects an interior disposition that seeks faithfulness as a virtue; the example of St John of the Cross and St Therese of Liseux is that faith can give strength and transform characters. In a very real way, the way of faith is an invitation to mature and to participate in a global and timeless community.An amazing adventure of faith stretches out in front of me and I can recognise God’s action in my life not just in the comfortable routine but also in the surprises of my life[vi] – it reminds me that faith is always dynamic and alive – it is a flame that enkindles other flames – in this way the sharing of my World Youth Day experience will hopefully enkindle something in you – some passion to know more about some aspect of your faith, perhaps to share with someone else, or even to go to one of these great festivals of faith. The Pope invites young people to join him in 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the dancing, sport and encounter that awaits the young people of the world.
[i] 1 Excerpt from the English translation of The Interior Castle by St Teresa of Avilla
[ii] As reported in the Irish Catholic 25/08/11
[iii] Inspired by a saying from the Book of Lismore that I saw on the Tochar Padraig “Going on pilgrimage without a change of heart brings little reward from God. For it is by practising virtue and not by mere motion of the feet that we are brought to heaven.”
[iv] As quoted in the English edition of YOUCAT
[v] Colossians 2.7