Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 4, 2008
Youth told to come out of the shadows, show their faith
Florida pastor shares his own adolescence with archdiocese teens
By RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. John Gerth
What did Mallon learn? "To trust in God who loves us unconditionally."
"It's been an amazing experience to spend the day with all these young people who believe the same things I do," said 17-year-old Danica O'Neill of Holy Trinity Parish. "There are no expectations here; you can be yourself."
Danica said she learned "that we have to come of out the shadows and have the courage to show our own faith."
In his presentations Gerth told stories of his youth and quoted the Scriptures to urge his audience to come out of their shells and embrace God's love.
As a child in Florida, Gerth built forts everywhere. As a teen he continued to build forts, only he used blocks of fear, lust, lies and hatred to build them.
Not understanding why his father had left the family, Gerth became increasingly angry and built defences around himself, blocking out the world and, in the process, God.
"I started lying about everything because I didn't want anybody to know anything about me," he told his young audience. So he withdrew to the safety of his loneliness.
One of his refuges was the church, where he mowed the lawn. "I loved it because I could get lost there in my own thoughts." That lasted until he ran the John Deere tractor into a tree.
As his friend and father figure Father Michael Finnigan began to fix the tractor, a conversation ensued.
"You have been rather quiet lately, haven't you John. What's going on?" John began to feed lies to the pastor as he did to everyone. But the priest was a wise man and caught on.
"He looked back at me and said, 'Why are you lying to me, John?'" The teen got angry inside because he had been caught telling lies, but that led him to reflect.
"I realized I did it because I was angry, because I didn't like who I was," he told his audience. "I didn't let anyone in until an Irish priest fixing a tractor confronted me."
The priest talked to him about God telling Gerth he was a child of God and that God loved him unconditionally, even when he messed things up.
Soon the lad began to tear down the walls he had been hiding behind and opened himself up to the world and to God. He began listening to God and others in a way he had never done before. Eventually, he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest.
Today many young people use music, movies and TV to block out the world. "There are so many things that are going on in our lives, so much noise happening all around us that very often we don't know how to listen anymore."
But we have to listen because God is calling us to his side. "He wants us to get out of the shadows and come into the light."
During a battle in the First World War, the hands of the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a small French town were knocked off. The town folks wondered what to do with the statue, how to replace its hands.
Eventually someone came up with an idea, which all in the town agreed with. They put a plaque underneath the statue. It says: "Now I have no hands but yours."
"The Lord says that to each one of us," Gerth said. "We are his hands and his eyes (in the world). Be brave, have the courage to be holy."
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