Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
7 Dec 2017

She's fat! Fat with child. She's only young and yet there's an eight-and-a-half month baby on board. Her friends call her Mazza. Boyfriend Joe. Got hitched only after the kid was on the way. Both from Nowheresville. On their way to census town. Real poor: they'll have to crash someone's couch in Bethlehem and it might end up being straw. People whisper that she's delusional, sees fairies. She's got anxiety issues, has to be told not to be afraid. Bit of a religious nutter, says she trusts totally in God. And as for how she explains her pregnancy, the less said the better… You'd have to say this girl's life won't amount to much!

Actually, she's the most famous woman in history. Her full name is Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Seat of Wisdom, Queen of Angels, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins and all Saints, etc. or Mazza to her friends. And her life had more effect on the world than any woman before or since. How could that be? How can a simple Yes to God allow Him to make so much out of what seems such unpromising material? What is God's plan for me? Can He do great things with me also? What life can I choose that will make a difference for others and be fulfilling for me? Mary asked the same question herself once: How could that be? (Lk 1:34)

Well, welcome to ACYF 2017 where over three days of faith, friendship and fun we'll be exploring questions like those for ourselves! I'm truly delighted to see so many young faces from across the country gathered in one Spirit, shining with the love of God on their faces, and ready to give witness to Christ. Already the amazing Matt Maher has helped get us in the spiritual groove! And now for three days we'll have speakers and performers in plenaries, workshops and discussion groups on an extraordinary range of topics. We'll have bishops for catechesis and exchanges, sports panellists, expo on vocations and lots else, mission and justice encounters, games, and all sorts of music. We'll have beautiful Masses, Confession, adoration, chanting, rosary, lectio, meditation and other prayer. And we'll have our peers with us as we ask the big questions in our minds, hear God's big plans for us in our souls, and celebrate the big ideals in our hearts. So, throw yourselves headlong into all the offerings as if you were a spiritual crowd surfer!

To those who say young people today are only interested in themselves, their gadgets and experiences, not big ideals, commitments or sacrifices I say: look at this room, look at the sheer goodness here, the hope, the dreams. Your presence here shows you aspire to more than the shallow versions of fulfilment offered in the culture. You already have a bigger picture. Now hear Pope Francis' challenge to you at the last World Youth Day to 'Open new horizons for spreading joy'. Let me repeat that charge. To every young woman and man here this morning I say: open your eyes and hearts and minds to new horizons. Horizons are limits to our vision. But imagine seeing the world with Christ's eyes. From high, high on the Mount of the Beatitudes, high on the cross, high enough to ascend into heaven. Let Christ expand your horizons and He'll expand your heart accordingly. By God's grace, and with the support of family, friends and Church, you can do great things!

Why are you afraid Mazza, the angel said (cf. Lk 1:30). What are you guys worried about? The Church has been listening to you lately through the online survey and in other ways. We've heard many of you say you're concerned about mental health issues, including depression; about personal problems, including sexual, ethnic and spiritual identity; about your educational, employment and housing future; about forming and sustaining good relationships; about the direction of our politics, culture and Church on issues of life and love, justice and mercy; about avoiding loneliness and finding a community of real support; and about being a person of faith in an increasingly secular environment…

Well, the Church is here for you and cares passionately about those very things too. The bishops have organized this big festival for you, to open new horizons for you, to listen to you, above all to demonstrate the Church's closeness to you. The bishops are here from all around Australia, here for you, and I welcome them to Sydney on your behalf… [stand up bishops]. On behalf of those bishops I say to all the young people here today or watching from afar: the Church in Australia loves you. We long for your presence and energy in our parishes, our worship, our service to the world. We need your ideas for the future of our Church, to make it the best church it can be, for your generation and beyond. The presence of all the bishops here today says very tangibly: the Church is here for you!

Pope Francis has often warned of the dangers of becoming 'couch potatoes', people who sit around passively watching life going by, offering commentary and criticisms like "why don't they do XYZ?" But as he points out, the Church and world will only do XYZ if we get off our couches and throw ourselves into the adventure of the Gospel. Like Mary after the Annunciation rushing off to help cousin Elizabeth at the Visitatƒsion. Or getting up after giving birth at the Nativity, so as to present her baby Boy to God in the Temple and keep Him out of harm's way. In his inaugural address President John F. Kennedy famously said: "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". Now Pope Francis is effectively putting to us: "don't ask what your Church can do for you, first ask what you can do for your Church". Get up off the couch and you'll be able to see further as well as do more. And that new horizon that is opened up will be a source of joy for you and for others. Say a Marian YES, an in-God-I-trust YES, a with-all-my-heart YES, a for-today-and-always YES to God and see what He can do with you!
In the days ahead you will encounter joy: what Pope Francis described as "a personal certainty that we are infinitely loved". On making that joy your own you may experience a change within we call conversion. As that happens you will wonder about the bio you are writing with God - known as vocation. And because such converting and directing joy bubbles over in any heart it invades, you'll have to find ways to share it with others - what we call evangelisation. It might seem a great deal to be expecting out of just three days, but think of how the three days of the Annunciation, Visitation and Nativity brought joy to the world, or the three days of Easter brought the world to Joy. A lot can happen in three days - ask Jonah!

In the old days God used to send messages to people like Mary by angel-post. He still does sometimes. But he also uses the latest technologies and so He got his Vicar on earth, the Pope, to Facebook each of you. Let me read it to you:

To the Most Reverend Anthony Fisher, Archbishop of Sydney: His Holiness Pope Francis was pleased to be informed of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival that will be held in Sydney from 7 to 9 December 2017, and he sends warm greetings to all the youth present for this event. Assuring them of his prayers and spiritual closeness, His Holiness hopes that the graces of this meeting may increase in young people the desire to commit themselves to daily prayer, to reading of the Sacred Scriptures, and to a faith-filled participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In this way, the Festival will be an occasion for young Catholics of the nation to deepen their relationship with the Lord and to offer the Church and society the message of faith which is "a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history" (Holy Mass, 28th World Youth Day, Rio de Janiero, 28 July 2013). Commending all present and their families to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, Pope Francis willingly imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord.

Now that's a big blessing for a big mission! Your faith has to burn so bright, it catches the world alight. You must be spiritual flame-throwers! You must have the awesomeness of an Australian bush fire, without the destruction! At the end of this festival and the festival of your life, may you sing exultantly with Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour… for the Almighty does marvels for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is for those who revere him in every generation! (Lk 1:46-50)

And so, to set us in the mood for the rest of the Festival, let's pray together the ACYF Prayer:

Loving God, you call us to embrace the joy born of your Son Jesus. May it well up in our hearts, and be lived through acts of mercy.

Help us resolve to trade in comfort, aspire to greatness, and follow the path of the Cross as a courageous generation. Inspire us to build upon the culture, tradition and beauty of the Church. Nourish us as we dare to blaze trails that open new horizons.

Send us forth to be instruments of change and hope in this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit. Like Mary, may we discern your call with faith and love: responding with great joy in our hearts. In union with Jesus, our Saviour and friend, we pray to be filled with your Holy Spirit, that we may be your witnesses through the Australian Catholic Youth Festival. Amen. St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Pray for us. Our Lady of the Southern Cross, Pray for us.

God bless you all!