It can be challenging to keep alive the memories and lessons learned in the heat of this past summer while slogging through the dark and cold days of winter. These days, my thoughts turn to keeping warm and surviving each day, checking off the task list and making it through until tomorrow. How quickly I have forgotten. How soon I forgot the words of Pope Francis:
"Where does fear lead us? The feeling of being closed in on oneself, trapped. Once we feel that way, our fear starts to fester and is inevitably joined by its “twin sister”, paralysis: the feeling of being paralyzed. Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons – in a word to live – is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life, and especially at a younger age. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others." (Evening Prayer Vigil, July 30, 2016, Krakow)
As each day has passed since WYD, I have occupied myself with my tasks. I have gotten more and more busy. I have been focused on the work at hand. As the holidays approach, my pace has quickened even more, as I seek to make sure everything is done before the year ends.
And while I am proud of myself for getting the job done, I have also neglected forming and fostering genuine relationships with those around me. I have become “paralyzed,” as Pope Francis warned. My fear of failing at my work, of not getting the tasks done, has paralyzed me and isolated me from “the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others.”
Perhaps others have experienced this, too. While WYD was magnificent, I let it remain an “event” in my life, a wonderful moment to look back upon with happy memories. I suspect other pilgrims have let WYD become just another “event” as well. But there is so much more to it than that.
At the close of the year, reflecting back on WYD reminds me that this wasn’t just a nice overseas trip, but a catalyst that God put into my life to remind me of his Gospel message, especially the following three points:
- To open myself to the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness, and seek opportunities for reconciliation.
- To be more compassionate and merciful to others, especially to those who hurt or offend me.
- To invest more in people, not in tasks or programs or accomplishments.
"We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on. The Lord doesn’t want to remain in this beautiful city, or in cherished memories alone. He wants to enter your homes, to dwell in your daily lives: in your studies, your first years of work, your friendships and affections, your hopes
and dreams… How much he wants his word to be able to speak to you day after day, so that you can make his Gospel your own, so that it can serve as a compass for you on the highways of life!" (Homily for Closing Mass, July 31, 2016, Krakow)
As I approach the New Year, a time of resolution and new beginnings, I resolve that the experience of this year’s WYD pilgrimage not remain a memory, but that it serves as fuel for my life. Had I listened more closely to Pope Francis, perhaps I would not be overwhelmed by the work and tasks of life, but free and more open to the light of others in my life, the light of mercy, and the light of love.
I am guessing that, almost half a year since WYD, many other pilgrims may be in the same situation. If that is the case, then I pray also for them that this New Year may truly be a new beginning for all of us.