Monday, April 19, 2010

A return to Galilee...

Several weeks ago, Fr. Stephen Koeth C.S.C. aka the one wrote the letter, gave a homily reflecting this passage: (Mt 28:8-10)

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the news to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

Fr. Stephen alluded that the angel tells Mary’s to report back to the Apostles, telling them to return to Galilee, to where they first met and followed the Lord and sure enough, Matthew recounts: “Jesus met them on their way.” For some reason, I could not wrap my mind around this picture of Galilee. So I asked Fr. Stephen what is this Galilee that you speak of? Is it a physical place? He said, “To return to Galilee is to return to where the disciples first met the Lord, first became His friends, first fell in love with Him. We need to return to that place often - not a physical or even emotional place, but an existential and spiritual place - where we remain in the love of the Lord.”

This weekend I had another wonderful and unique opportunity to travel. I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan with two of my Old College brothers; Dan Cruickshank and Karl Romkema. Dan and I were asked to give a talk about Identity: Discovering who God is, and who WE ARE in light of who God is. Our identity is defined as a son or daughter of Christ, but what exactly does it mean to be a child of Christ?

I begin my testimony by answering the question that every participant asks when I give a talk: “I know what you all are thinking….how did a handsome guy like myself discern a call to the Holy Priesthood” after giggles and blushing, I reassure the young ladies, “Back off… It’s for Jesus.” Lol… However, I explicitly warned the teens that I am there to be real and if they are not going to be real with me-leave!

During my talk I asked a question, “If you ever felt unloved, come up to the front?” A lot of people came up, but this one girl in particular by the name of Becky caught my attention. She was wearing a bright green shirt, she was exceptionally short, and she had hearing aids; I looked her in the eyes and said, “Jesus loves you and I love you, do not be afraid to show your wounds… tears streamed down her pretty little cheeks, (at this point, Galilee started to make sense)

When you get a glimpse of the e-mails I receive and what I hear on a daily basis, you will understand why I am so passionate and persistent about getting young people to open their hearts to God. Sometimes I get asked why do you care so much about the youth? It’s simple. When kids tell me about the dilemmas they face growing up in this chaotic society, how can one NOT get passionate about the youth. These kids face divorce, suicide, cutting, rape, anger, violence, prejudice, drugs, and depression.

I then looked into Becky’s eyes and asked what if Jesus was afraid to show His wounds? She dropped her head and gave me a hug and whispered, “He will carry me.”

I am not one to give advice on serious issues as mentioned above but I do believe that listening and emotionally connecting with these kids who are suffering are the way to help heal some of them. This is the greatest lesson that I have learned from Jesus. He had the right idea. Weep with those who are weeping and rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Every time I am part of a retreat, my heart is challenged by the stories that the young people share with me. I learned that the best way to help people is to reveal your weakness and your struggles to them.

Only Divine Providence would allow something like this to happen; the last time I shared my testimony was exactly a year ago at Kairos on a Saturday and St. John Vianney youth group, so happened to be on the Kairos retreat this past weekend as well.

So what was this Galilee? When did I first encounter Christ? When did I first encounter the love of God? I first encountered God through the eyes of the suffering, lonely and joyful. I found that Galilee through the many people who shared the love of Christ with me. I am confident that I wouldn’t be the young man I am today without the great people who have been such an important part of my life. I gladly say, in the most humble way I can, “I am Ryan Ayala, a servant of God. I believe I am only becoming this man because of all of those people who believed in me.” I have encountered many people in my life: family, friends, youth group, fellow seminarians, priests, strangers, and adults and whether they knew it or not- put their hearts into what matters most to me, Jesus Christ. They believed in me no matter what and they challenged me no what matter or who I thought I was and I thank God for them”

Becky came up to me after the talk and said, “Thank you”. Little did she know, Christ used her to show me the way to Galilee and it was through her that I received that confidence in the Risen Lord that no matter what happens in my life or what I go through…“He will carry me”.

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