It’s our job to shine the light that first shone in Bethlehem, writes Ciara Ferry
During the Advent and Christmas season, many people find themselves asking the question “What do I want?” Oftentimes the answer can be found in the Black Friday sales, but does not actually satisfy any longer than it takes for us to use the new piece of technology or attend the concert or drink the expensive bottle of wine. An absence of deeper meaning in the trappings of the lead up to Christmas can make those of faith think many are missing out on something they don’t even know they are lacking.
Jesus was an unexpected answer to prayer for the Jews struggling under the weight of Roman rule. For the Gentiles who came later, who were told about this strange crucified King by his bright-eyed, joyful followers, Jesus was the answer to prayers of their hearts they had had for centuries, the fulfilment of the promise of a loving Father.
How strange that God’s answer to the cries of a wounded human race came in the form of a helpless infant. People who felt themselves collapsing under the weight of the difficulties of life would be saved by one who, at the beginning and end of his life, could not hold his own head up. The Messiah, the glorious military hero for whom the Jews were waiting was forced to flee in the night for fear of the wrath of a jealous king.
As a youth prayer group leader and mass-going young Catholic in Advent last year, I was in the privileged position to see my prayers answered before my very eyes. I had spent many Advents preparing and waiting for Jesus to come at Christmas – wanting to bring people to the same experience of a loving God I had had- but was getting discouraged at the little I could do by myself to make him present in the lives of others.
So, I was delighted when I heard that the parish would host a NET team for a year. This group of joyful, dedicated, fun-loving missionaries seemed to switch on the light in the parish. They talked about faith with joy, used the name of Jesus with love, and had given their lives to mission in a country that was rapidly shedding the remnants of a Christian past. Their energy gave me new life and renewed enthusiasm.
For other young people in the parish, the NET team were a completely unexpected answer to unspoken prayers. Three young students were minding their own business on the campus of the local college, when they spotted a group of young people handing out blue wristbands. Curious, they wandered over to see what it was all about. Hours of chat later, they invited themselves to dinner at the NET house, a trend which continued for many nights.
I was present for many of those dinners myself and I watched as the NET team, as naturally as breathing, put into practise the advice of Pope Francis: Meet people where they are at and accompany them to where the Lord wants them to go. The approach of the team was simple: they had met Jesus and wanted these young men to meet him too. In order to speak this good News, they had to earn the right to be heard – which they did.
Weeks later the three lads, as they came to be known, came to the parish Youth 2000 prayer meeting with us and went to Confession for the first time since their Confirmation. Week after week thereafter they came back, drawn now by the unexplainable presence of Jesus as much as the tea and craic. When the team left, the local priests kept an eye out, and noticed the lads in the pews at Mass every week. Finding faith again, thanks to NET, had satisfied something in them that they never knew was missing.
I was blessed to be given the opportunity to join the NET staff two months later. Seeing things from the other side now, I know that what the Letterkenny team did was what teams all over the country are doing – sharing the joy that is in them, the reason for their hope.
The Light that entered the world first in Bethlehem shines in these young missionaries, literally a beacon in a hostile, apathetic, broken and searching culture. The cave in which Jesus was born was an unlikely refuge for a young family, the eye in the storm of a chaotic world. NET missionaries want to offer the same peace to a generation of young people who don’t know what peace looks like. For me and others who found room in the inn with them, the Light is irresistible, because it carries the answer to the deepest questions of the heart.
This Advent, I invite you to share this light with others – the light that the darkness cannot overcome. In the darkness of a broken, wounded society, let us simply reach out to those around us, and earn the right to accompany them on the journey towards peace.
You can join the mission. Wear our blue wristbands and “Do Something Amazing!” or maybe join our Partnership Team by supporting our missionaries financially and prayerfully. See netministries.ie