Over the few days leading up to the New Year, I attended the Rise Up conference in Halifax. The Jesuits of English Canada were one of the sponsors of the event and I was asked to attend on our behalf, while our vocation director went to the sister conference in Saskatoon. This annual event, organised by Catholic Christian Outreach, brings together hundreds of university-age students from across the country to listen to engaging speakers, to worship together with song and sacrament, and ultimately to make a deeper commitment to the Lord. The theme this year was Mary’s “fiat”―her acceptance of the angel Gabriel’s message―and the example she gives all Christians to say “yes” to God’s personal invitation in their lives.
It was exciting to be among around three hundred participants and organizers on fire for God and deeply committed to the Church. I was manning the Jesuit vocation table and spoke to a good number of young people at various stages of vocational discernment. All had great desires. But rather than drawing on these discussions, let me offer some thoughts on the conference more broadly, which had two, related strengths.
First, driven by the theme of Mary’s fidelity to God, there was an emphasis on coming to a personal relationship with the Lord. Over and over again, we were reminded that a faith consisting only in externals is not enough. Everyone was invited to open his or her heart to Jesus Christ and to encounter him in a personal way, perhaps for the first time ever. The talks and testimonies all targeted this theme excellently. During the evenings of prayer, worship and Eucharistic adoration, all were invited to this personal encounter in tangible ways, including a good, ol’ fashioned altar call. The sacrament of penance, made available one of the evenings, was celebrated by the majority of the participants. Many spoke about coming to know the Lord in a new way, and some recorded their experiences for you to watch. The sense of joy, excitement and passion was palpable.
The second strength extended the first. The participants were invited not to be content with a merely one-on-one relationship with God, but to live their faith in a communal way. They were encouraged to be involved in the Church. They were exhorted to share their faith with others in a meaningful way. Many made a concrete, public commitment to begin faith study-groups with their peers back home. Contrary to the contemporary notion that faith is a private affair, the whole spirit of the conference was outward-oriented. Faith is something to be shared. It reminded me of one of the main thrusts of Joseph Ratzinger’s (now Benedict XVI) Introduction to Christianity: to be authentically a human being is to be “for” others, to be oriented, like God is in his life as Holy Trinity, towards other persons. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ makes no sense if it cuts us off from our fellow men; it is only real if the relationship is for everyone else as well.
As the conference participants return home to their universities and places of work, they are re-entering the “real world”. The emotional fervour of the few days they spent together will wane, as it must. For some, if not most, it will be a challenge to roll up their sleeves and get down to work in their everyday lives, where there will be no praise and worship band playing before them to stimulate their zeal, nor inspiring speakers to remind them to place Christ before everything. But, God willing, they will continue to draw on the graces that were given them during the conference.
Hopefully, some of the conference participants will answer a vocation to consecrated life, but the majority will be called to live their faith in the lay state. These are the ones who have a tremendous opportunity to bring alive a central and perennial teaching articulated by the Second Vatican Council:
Each individual layman must stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a symbol of the living God. All the laity as a community and each one according to his ability must nourish the world with spiritual fruits. (Lumen Gentium, §38)In this Year of Faith, fifty years after the Council, Rise Up is providing young people with the opportunity to become fully engaged in this most basic demand of the catholic faith. Pray that they may hear the words that St. Ignatius spoke to St. Francis Xavier when he was leaving to preach the Gospel in Asia: Ite inflammate omnia – “Go, set the world aflame.”