November 27, 2015

National Catholic Youth Conference 2015

God’s love and Mary’s ‘yes’ overcome haunting moments in life, speaker says

By John Shaughnessy

Chris PadgettChris Padgett got the laughs he wanted when he showed embarrassing photos from his childhood during his talk with the 23,000 youths at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis.

Yet Padgett’s most lasting impression on the teenagers likely came when he shared two memories from his youth that still haunt his thoughts as an adult.

The first one involves a playground scene from his school days when recess became a time of picking teams—one player at a time—for a game of football.

“And then two people at the end remained, and I would always watch them and wonder, ‘Why would you two nerdy people who are always picked last continue to subject yourself to the pain we call afternoon recess?’ ” Padgett told the audience of teenagers on the morning of Nov. 20. “And the reason they did is because they just wanted to belong.

“I remember it was always David and Ronnie, the last two picks. They would reluctantly pick David to be on one team, and the other team had Ronnie. But they wouldn’t wait for Ronnie. They’d leave him standing there because the team knew in order to win the game that day they had to win it in spite of having Ronnie on their team.”

Then Padgett shared his memories of a girl named Loretta: “Every day, she was picked on, and she was ridiculed because she looked funny, she talked funny, and she acted funny. Nobody wanted to play with Loretta.”

Years later, Loretta was on Padgett’s mind when it was time for a class reunion. Unable to attend, he phoned a friend to learn about the reunion and the lives of his classmates. Finally, he asked the question that was most important to him: “What about Loretta?” His friend told him, “I think Loretta died.”

“I hadn’t seen her since I was 16, but I mourned for her that day,” recalled Padgett, a speaker and author of books about the Catholic faith. “I wondered if anyone ever loved Loretta.”

Padgett used those two memories to make a point about the way that God chooses people, the way God views people.

“God picks all sorts of people—the strange, the awkward,” the father of nine noted. “He picks you to love and to live for him. You are never picked last when it comes to our faith. God is always there, choosing you.”

Padgett also told the youths that God’s love for us shows in the way he chose Mary, a humble teenager, to become the mother of Jesus. Still, we resist, he says.

“The reality is we have a hard time allowing Mary to be a model for us when it comes to spirituality because we’re afraid that we don’t look the part. I feel like when it comes to talking about God and talking about Mary that often times we have a preconceived idea of what God likes when it comes to living for him. And some of us think to ourselves, ‘How can God use me? Clearly, he could use Mary. She was perfect. But me, I’m flawed.’ ”

Mary had those same feelings, Padgett believes, but she trusted God’s love and plan for her.

“Mary allowed herself to fully be seen by God in the entirety of who she is, and that willingness to be seen allowed her to say an authentic ‘yes.’ Because to be seen by God, his love brings peace and casts out fear.”

People need to look beyond “the mess” that they think they are, and realize that God loves them and accepts them for who they are.

“I want you to stop worrying about what people think of you,” Padgett told the youths. “I want you to stop pretending. Just for a moment, take off the mask. And I want you to think about that Jesus loves everything about you. I want you to say yes like Mary, to be a saint in this day. What will happen when you say yes? You will change the world.”

That’s the reality of Mary’s life, and it’s the reality she wants for everyone, Padgett said.

“We’re going to have good days, and we’re going to have bad days, and she’s there interceding, body and soul, cheering us on.

“Some of you have been struggling with things. Some of you feel like Loretta. Some of you feel like David and Ronnie. You don’t feel you belong, but Jesus looks at you and picks you and says, ‘I love you. I love you so much I give you my mother. Would you let her hold you and see you?’ ” †


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