November 27, 2015

National Catholic Youth Conference 2015

Teens encouraged to bring hopes, stresses and fears to the altar of sacrifice

Musician Matt Maher leads National Catholic Youth Conference participants in song on Nov. 20. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Musician Matt Maher leads National Catholic Youth Conference participants in song on Nov. 20. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

By John Shaughnessy

The moment brought goose bumps.

Seconds earlier on Nov. 20, Grammy-nominee Matt Maher had been leading the 23,000 teenagers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in song—tuning up the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) audience for a night of praise and worship of God.

“So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame, all who are broken, lift up your face,” Maher sang before finishing with the lyric, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.”

As young people swayed and raised their arms and faces toward the heavens, Maher asked them, “Right now, could you take a second and worship God? And I don’t mean, ‘Think nice thoughts.’ I mean, maybe for the first time, just tell God how great he is—in your heart.”

After a time of silence, Maher followed that request by doing something that led to the memorable, goose-bump-inducing moment.

He softly sang the opening line of “Hear I Am, Lord.” And as the crowd joined in, Maher stopped singing and stopped playing music, realizing it was better to just let the voices of the 23,000 youths rise in unison together. And those youthful voices filled the stadium as they poured their hearts into the rest of the song’s refrain, “Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, where you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.”

It was a powerful, moving moment—a moment that led into a high-energy presentation by Mark Hart, the executive vice president of Life Teen, a Catholic youth ministry movement being used by 1,600 parishes in 26 countries.

Weaving back and forth across the stage, Hart focused on the altar that had been set up there.

“The focal point in the Catholic Church is always the altar—the altar of sacrifice,” Hart told the youths. “It’s not just a table, but an altar of sacrifice.

“At Mass, do you know what’s really happening? It’s not just about the bread and the wine, it’s about what you’re willing to bring—your own hopes, your own fears, your own anxieties, your own stresses. Are you putting them on the altar and trusting that there is a God and that he does care, that he does hear you, that he wants good things for you?”

Hart stressed to the teenagers, “The God who created you, the God who died for you, he understands you. And that’s why it’s so important for you to remember that the God of the universe, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, knows what’s it like to suffer.

“He knows your suffering. He’s experienced your suffering. He knows the betrayal, he knows the temptation, he knows the loneliness, he knows the pain. He knows. And he wants you to do something with it. He wants you to bring it to the altar so he can transform it, so he can change it.”

Hart then set the stage for the eucharistic adoration that would follow his talk, preparing the teenagers for the opportunity to spend time with God, to focus on him.

“In a few minutes, the God of the universe is going to come into this room in a beautiful vessel called the monstrance,” Hart said. “A monstrance comes from the Latin word to ‘show forth.’ It’s to be placed on an altar of sacrifice. What you do with this time is really up to you—because God is a lover, but he doesn’t force himself on you. You’ve got to be willing to let God love you tonight. This is your chance to allow God to transform you.”

Silence filled the stadium and the crowd fell to their knees as Father Louis Merosne of the Diocese of Anse-à-Veau, Haiti, slowly brought the monstrance to the altar.

“The summit of all existence, the reason for being is right here in front of us,” Father Merosne told the youths. “Our God has come down to restore truth and to restore your heart.

“Tonight, God has come to show you a sneak preview of what he sees in you—the beauty and the preciousness, so good and so precious that it was worth the life of his son, Jesus. Each and every single one here, God is speaking to your heart and to your soul to show you how precious you are to him. He will show you the love for which he made you.”

When adoration ended, Father Merosne lifted the monstrance from the altar, holding it high as he processed from the stadium.

The silence that reigned was soon replaced by uplifting song as Matt Maher returned to the stage. With the crowd swaying together again, Maher and the youths sang, “Love will hold us together. Make us a shelter to weather the storm. And I’ll be my brother’s keeper. So the whole world will know that we’re not alone.”

Once again, their voices filled the night as the song filled their hearts. †


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