November 7, 2014

‘Can people see Jesus in you?’: At ICYC, teenagers are encouraged to trust God, do everything out of love

Members of the Global Children, African Dancers group from the archdiocese’s African Catholic Ministry lead other Catholic youths in a joyous beginning to the Indianapolis Catholic Youth Conference on Nov. 2 at Marian University in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Members of the Global Children, African Dancers group from the archdiocese’s African Catholic Ministry lead other Catholic youths in a joyous beginning to the Indianapolis Catholic Youth Conference on Nov. 2 at Marian University in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

He led the 820 Catholic teenagers in joyous chants and cheers that rocked the gym at Marian University in Indianapolis.

He then entertained the participants of the Indianapolis Catholic Youth Conference (ICYC) on Nov. 2 with a few tales that left them smiling and laughing.

Yet Ansel Augustine made his biggest impact on the youths from 58 parishes across the archdiocese and the Diocese of Lafayette when he shared his heartfelt stories, including one that tapped into the loneliness and isolation that many young people feel at times.

(Related: See a photo gallery from this event)

“It’s a story about four salesmen,” said Augustine, the keynote speaker at the youth conference who is the director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “These salesmen were running through the airport terminal here in Indianapolis, trying to get home to New Orleans in time for dinner with their families.

“As they were running, briefcases in one hand and tickets in the other, they knocked over this fruit stand. Fruit flew everywhere. But it didn’t matter for the salesmen.”

Three of the salesmen made it on their flight, Augustine noted. The fourth one barely arrived in time, too. Yet he turned around and headed back to the fruit stand.

“He saw this little girl on the floor, hopelessly groping for fruit,” Augustine continued. “The salesman picked up all the fruit, put all the damaged fruit on one side and put the fruit stand back together.”

Approaching the little girl, the salesman looked in her eyes and realized she was blind. He also noticed her tears, Augustine said.

“This little girl was crying tears of frustration because, ‘Here we go again, I don’t fit in, I don’t belong. Life is throwing me a curve ball, and no one seems to care.’ But this man picked her up. He took out $40 and gave it to her. And he said, ‘I’m sorry we did what we did.’ She said, ‘Thank you.’

“He turned to walk away to schedule his next flight home. As he was walking away, the little girl said, ‘Mister.’ He stopped in his tracks and turned around. And she asked him this question, ‘Are you Jesus?’

“He didn’t answer, but he got on the plane flying back home with that question burning in his heart, ‘Are you Jesus?’ ”

Augustine paused. The silence in the gym was noticeable. Then he continued:

“Young people of Indianapolis, can people see Jesus in you? As a Catholic, as a Christian, as a follower of Christ, are you living a life so much like Christ that people can’t tell the difference?”

For Augustine, the story of the girl and the four salesmen shows how lives can be changed and relationships formed through small acts of conscience and kindness.

“Everything is done out of love,” he told the teenagers. “Never forget that to save your soul we have to trust God and know that we are in a relationship with him. You are loved and created for a greater purpose. And you have to know that, and you have to believe that.”

That theme of connecting with others and God echoed later in the daylong conference when Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin shared his homily during the closing Mass.

“If you were to ask me tonight, ‘What do you like most about being Catholic?’ I’d say this, ‘It’s being connected,’ ” the archbishop began. “I like being connected with people across space and across time. I’ve been really lucky. In my service to the Church, I’ve been asked to visit a lot of places. I think I’ve been to 71 countries. I got to worship in the greatest cathedrals in the world, and also in very humble chapels that don’t resemble much more than a mud hut.

“Some places you can understand the language. Other places, you can’t. But it really didn’t matter. Because when we were doing what Jesus asked us to do the night before he died, the connection was there. I knew what they were doing, and I was united with them. An offering to God, the best we can offer, and that’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The celebration of the Eucharist also connects Catholics across time, the archbishop noted. On a weekend that marked All Saints Day and All Souls Day, the archbishop told the youths that they are connected with the saints and loved ones who have died.

“We thank God that [the saints are] still interested in us,” Archbishop Tobin said. “St. Dominic, when he was dying, was surrounded by his best friends. They were all crying. He said, ‘Don’t cry for me. I can do a lot more for you in heaven than I can do on this Earth.’ Or St Therese, the Little Flower, wrote in her diary, ‘I want to spend my heaven doing good on Earth.’

“Today on November 2, we remember another group, the ones we love that have gone before us. Because we have that bond of love, we want to pray for them. We also want to pray for those who have no one to pray for them. Now, why would we do that? Because love is not a joke. It doesn’t end after 50 or 60 or 70 or how many years.”

The archbishop then shared the story of his father’s death 37 years ago, how it impacted him then, and how it continues to affect him.

“It was a real shock to my mother, my brothers and sisters and me. For a while, I felt like the rest of us were on a ship, and it was moving away from a dock. And dad was on the dock, and I wanted to say, ‘Stop the ship! There’s somebody missing!’ The most important man in my life was missing.

“On my book shelf, I have one of his pipes. I don’t smoke a pipe, but I keep it there. And I have a cross that he had in his office on my desk. But if that’s all I had, I think ultimately I’d be one of the saddest persons in the world. And do I miss him? Do I want to talk football scores with him? Do I want to work on a car with him?

“I’m still connected. I’m connected because, as the first reading told us, the souls of the just are in the hands of God, and no torment will touch them. I’m connected because our hope will not disappoint, because Jesus died for my dad and he died for me.”

Jesus offers that same hope to the living, the archbishop told the teenagers.

“We are connected with each other by the bond of faith and love,” the archbishop said. “We are also united in the same hope—the same hope that gives us an assurance that death does not have the final word for us or for anyone that we love. We’re not alone. We’re connected.”

That sense of connection resonated with youths who attended the conference that also included meals, music, dancing, prayers, workshops, a mini-theme park, and opportunities for reconciliation and eucharistic adoration.

Fifteen-year-old Jacob Preston said he came to the conference because “a couple of my friends and parents coerced me into going.” Late in the afternoon, the member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville said he would tell his friends and parents, “Thank you. It’s been a good day.”

Tim Molinari and Grant Handloser, members of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, also enjoyed the conference.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Tim, 17. “It’s made me see the good that God has brought to everybody.”

“I’ve learned a lot,” said Grant, 15. “I feel like I’ve grown closer to God by being in the presence of all these great people.” †


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