Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 16, 2001
The cross or riotous living
Germany, following the First World War, was a country bent on reconstruction. It had lost the war, its economy was in a shambles and hundreds of thousands of people had died. The Church was eager to be part of the process of reconstruction and it turned its attention to the hope of the future. - the country's youth.
In its youth movement, the Church emphasized the positive side of Christianity. It stressed the dignity of the Christian life and the good that Christianity can do in creating a just and peaceful society. In order not to scare off young people in the most light-hearted and carefree period of their lives, the Christian youth movement downplayed the cross and the role that self-sacrifice plays in following Jesus.
At that time there was another youth movement growing in Germany that did a seemingly ridiculous thing. It told young people that, for the good of the nation, they would have to make heavy sacrifices. It called them to live a hard life, to abandon their careers, live in barracks and work hard. It had no patience with the soft life.
It was this second movement, the Nazi youth movement, that helped change the course of history . . . and not for the better. It won the hearts of the nation's youth because, like young people everywhere, they valued heroism, adventure and strenuous effort. They respected those who proclaimed high ideals and sacrificed much in order to achieve them.
Two weeks ago, large numbers of drunken young people clashed with police and looted stores in the worst riot in Edmonton's history. It was an enormous blight on Canada Day celebrations and does not speak well of this city or of our country.
Many opinions have been expressed about this riot - the Whyte Avenue strip has far too many taverns in too small an area, the bars should have staggered closing hours, there was too little police presence in that area earlier that night, the bars should not serve obviously intoxicated people, etc. Many, if not all, of these opinions have merit and, if implemented, could do much to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
But one must also ask whether there has ever in Edmonton's history been clearer evidence of a people wasting away, of sheep without a shepherd.
In November, the World Youth Day cross will come to this city. This pilgrimage should not be a token show that rounds up enough youth to provide comparable numbers to the number of bar stools in the Whyte Avenue strip. Rather, this must be a time to take the cross seriously.
Likewise, in two months the relics of St. Th‚rŠse of Lisieux will visit our city for veneration. Th‚rŠse died at the age of 24 after offering her life without reserve to the loving Father to console him for the tragedy of his children's failure to love him. Th‚rŠse loved the cross for it was the most powerful sign of God's love.
The goal of life is not to retire at 55 and live a life of ease and supposed freedom until we fade away without suffering in a supposed good death. Jesus gave us a much higher ideal: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
Here is the ideal of self-sacrifice for the kingdom of God. Here is the ideal, which if young people heard and saw practised, could spur many to abandon the illusory pleasures of the world for the real joy of God's kingdom.
The Canada Day riot is a sign of what happens to a society that opts for a false freedom that is really a form of slavery. But we can do better. We can do better if we challenge people - both young and old - to live the adventure of the cross, to turn away from riotous living and live the heroic life to which Jesus calls us.
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