Not How Do I Live, But Whom Do I Live For? A reflection by Laurenn Neuendorf
**This reflection has been written by Laurenn Neuendorf, teacher at Carmel College Thornlands.**
“The real fall - the one that is capable of ruining our lives – is that of remaining in the ground. Of staying down and refusing help. Do not remain down.” - Papa Francisco
Of the many lines delivered by Pope Francis over the course of World Youth Day 2019, this statement is one that has been going around and around in my head for the last few days. We’ve been back on Australian soil for slightly over two weeks now, and my responses to the ‘how are you going’ question have transitioned from “getting there!” to “I’m starting to feel better. More balanced”. This is true – I am starting to feel more balanced – but I think it will be a while until I start to find a real sense of equilibrium. For the time being, I don’t think I’m ready to find it yet.
The WYD experience is one I have found difficult to articulate so far. Because how can you use words – only words – to try to share an emotion (many emotions!)… and do the depth of that emotion justice? You can’t. But you can try.
Towards the end of last year I read J.B Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, and one of my favourite (of many) quotes from the book reads ‘talking (and thinking) is often more about forgetting than about remembering. To discuss an event, particularly something emotional, is to slowly choose what to leave behind’. It has been an interesting time processing the emotions and memories of WYD, of choosing what to leave behind after experiencing so many high highs and low lows. There were some mornings where I felt so affirmed in who I was as a person, in my faith and direction, and by afternoon I felt like the ground had been pulled from underneath me. There were times I was overwhelmed with feelings of joy, belonging, weightlessness – and within the hour I felt disappointment and rage so deeply I wanted to run as far and as fast as I physically could. The process of deciding what to forget – and what to remember – will be ongoing, but for the meantime there are a few moments I want to make sure I remember.
The inundation of pilgrims to Panama City was truly awing, and the knowledge that the 1.5 million registered pilgrims from around the world who travelled to the Central American country classified as a ‘small event’ was almost incomprehensible for those of us who had never been to a World Youth Day. It seems shortsighted of me when I look back on it, but I really didn’t expect the mesh of culture, customs, music and faith traditions that we experienced at morning Catechesis sessions, afternoon events and general adventuring around the city. I mean, I was looking forward to experiencing the history, culture, spirituality and style of faith of the Central and South American Catholic Church – what I did not expect was to feel as if I were experiencing globalisation through faith. That experience - from dancing with Brazilians in the middle of the street and forming prayer circles with Puerto Ricans, to meeting pilgrims from countries where Christianity is still often persecuted, which forces a sort of ‘underground Church’ – was one of the most grounding and affirming experiences of the trip. And the root of some of the most powerful and uplifting emotions.
On one of our last nights in Panama, Stephen (one of our Pilgrim leaders) asked me what I most enjoyed during the World Youth Day experience. Aside from the building of relationships and sharing of moments – with pilgrims from around the world and our own Queensland group – for me, the great ‘joy’ was the challenge. I didn’t always like it, and I certainly didn’t always react well to the feeling, but looking back I can say I most enjoyed feeling uncomfortable, pushed, challenged.
Because we face challenges every day – in our home lives, our school lives, our community lives. Challenges that scare us, that are risky and complicated. Challenges that frustrate us. The many encounters of WYD allowed me to experiencethat there is such strength is saying ‘yes’ to the challenge. Not a passive or resigned acceptance, or a faint ‘yes’, as if to say ‘I’ll give it a go and see what happens’. A yes with the full knowledge that the path will not be easy, but that the challenges ahead are no reason to say ‘no’. A yes stronger than any doubts or difficulties. A yes in the way of Mary. As Pope Francis reminded us, what creates the power of this yes? – Love.
“Only love makes us more human – not fighting, not bullying, not being on your own, doing it on your own. Only love makes us more human” (Pope Francis). There is no power in trying to walk the path alone, of toughing it out by yourself. In that lies the quote that’s been rattling around in my head for days, “the real fall – the one that is capable of ruining our lives – is that of staying in the ground. Of staying down and refusing help. Do not remain down”. Do not allow your ‘yes’ to be weakened.
Instead, as we encounter our challenges to remember “only that which is loved can be saved” (Pope Francis). You can’t save someone, a situation – you can’t save yourself – if there is no love. Only that which is loved can be transformed.
And in encountering this love, in responding with this yes, the grounding – and confronting – question to go forth with is “not why do I live, but for whom do I live for?”