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The Joy of God

A Word to the Youth of the Church

Before the new liturgy in English was introduced, Mass used to begin with recitation of Psalm 42 in Latin by the priest and the altar boys. “Introibo ad altare Dei,” the celebrant started out (I will go to the altar of God). The servers continued with “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” (To God who gives joy to my youth).

That latter phrase was the first Latin prayer your grandfathers and great-uncles had to memorize when they trained to be altar servers before 1965. It was years after I learned that verse from Psalm 42 before I fully realized the wisdom and truth of it. It is God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier who gives us real, lasting joy in life.

Pope John Paul II relates to young people better than any other celebrity around. I wish I could speak to you with his vigor and love, his earnestness and eloquence. During the weekend of World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, I joined dozens of youth ministers and more than 600 young people from our diocese to hear the Holy Father tell our youth to be proud of the Gospel, to entrust their lives to Christ, and to “keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.” In the course of his addresses to some 400,000 people from all over the world, the Pope spoke specifically to European and American youth about the culture in which they live.

He said the consumerist and technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. This is so, the Holy Father said, because joy comes from another source: it is spiritual and comes from God. Kids today have designer clothes and access to drugs; they can ride in fast cars and are urged to use condoms; they spend much time with television and electronic toys. Yet strangely, after automobile accidents, the most frequent cause of death among the young is suicide. Why is this?

It’s because the culture of today, as promoted in the media, confuses pleasure with joy. Pleasure is short and fleeting; joy is deep and lasting. The culture rejects the Commandments and the morality taught by Jesus because it sees them (and the Church that teaches them) as the enemy of the so-called freedom to do as one pleases. Yet true freedom, Pope John Paul reminds us, comes not from doing what I want for pleasure here and now, but from doing what God wants and following His plan as outlined in the Gospel.

The Holy Father once remarked that the Gospel is like the owner’s manual that comes with a new car. The auto maker knows what is in the machine, how it should be maintained, and how to get the best and most use out of it. A wise owner follows the manual. Likewise, God made us and knows what is in us. For the best results in life, we are wise if we follow the manual He gave us – the Gospel.

It is God who gives joy to our youth! You can be sure that God will give you a goodly and godly share of pleasure in life. But real, deep-down joy, the true foundation of youth for all of us, only comes from living according to the Gospel. Young people, go to the altar of God, to God who gives joy to your youth.