The Mass of Sending began at 8:00 AM in the morning. At previous World Youth Day (WYD) events the Mass would begin at 10:00 AM. The earlier hour avoided the hotter portion of the day. Still, by 7:00 AM a bright sun was at our backs and illuminated the whole sanctuary. Most of the sanctuary was shades of white and blue. Most of the vestments worn by the bishops around me were white. With a brilliant sun reflecting off all this whiteness, it was a strain on the eyes and I had forgotten my sunglasses in the vesting room. For parts of the Mass my eyes were closed just to rest from the glare.
The readings for the Mass were those of the day, the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. As usual providence provided rich sustenance and inspiration for this global gathering of the Church preparing to disperse from a Panamanian Pentecost to their homes and communities. The first reading was from Nehemiah, the presentation of God’s Law being received with joy and feasting. The second reading was from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the Church has many members but is only one body in Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel from Luke, Jesus stood up in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, to read the passage from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ...” (Lk. 4:14-21)
The Holy Father focused most of his reflection on the gospel reading. At the end of the reading, Jesus rolled up the scroll and announced to those assembled in the synagogue, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” A prophetic text from ancient times was no longer a prophecy of a future event. The prophet’s words were no longer an expectation. With great conviction Jesus announced to his town, to those who were well acquainted with him, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” What did that mean for those who heard it then? More importantly, what does it mean for the young people and all of us who hear those words now.
Jesus, confidently and boldly, presented himself as the anointed servant of God, the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. By his very presence, God was saving His people with good news for the poor. There was then, in the synagogue of Nazareth, and there is now an immediacy, a proximity of God’s kingdom in the personal encounter with Jesus.
Pope Francis called this encounter the “ahora de Dios”, the “Now of God”. The Holy Father challenged the young disciples from all over the globe to embrace the Now of God. All their hopes and aspirations are found now in the person of Jesus. He urged them to hold close in their heart the Lord’s presence and to be His presence for others, to be the Now of God in the world. In this way, the youth and the participants of WYD can echo the words of Jesus with the same joyful conviction, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
I finished this last reflection at the Panama International Airport, waiting for the long flight home. I hope these few words give you a glimmer of the amazing assembly of Catholic youth with Pope Francis in Panamá.