My Favorite Places

Fr. Kurt with youth ministry leaders
Fr. Kurt with youth ministry leaders

My Place is with God

By Fr. Kurt Zion Pala

When I was ordained a deacon and later a priest, I worked with young people in one parish in the Philippines. One of my favorite places was the parish youth ministry office. There I was able to meet young people and listen to their stories — of struggles, hurts and rejections. And sometimes we can be the source of rejection. I often heard church people consider the youth as problems to be solved.

One girl shared that she was left to her grandmother by her parents, because her mother and father have their own separate families. She was often envious of other young people who went to church with their parents. Another girl shared how she had to look after her brothers and sisters because her mother was high on drugs. A young man shared that his mother does not claim him as a son but as a nephew when she introduces him to her other children. Another boy told me he ran away from home because he had a fight with his mother. He said he did everything his mother wants him to do, but she would not let him continue to come to church. It took me awhile to convince him to go home. One thing he told me that I will not forget: "Ang simbahan ay isang tahanan para sa akin." The Church is a home for me.

During my seminarian days, I used to volunteer every Sunday for one year in a prison where young people age 15–17 are awaiting decisions on their cases. Many of them come from poor and broken families or with parents who are separated. They grew up in the streets, learned to steal and used solvents and drugs to survive. One of them serves as an altar boy during the Mass. He told me that he ran away from home and committed so many mistakes that his parents got tired of him and did not want him back. He has not seen them for a long time. But what is different with his story is he still dreams. He has faith and hope that God has given him another chance.

There has been a proposal to decrease the age of criminal liability to the age nine years. This would mean children as young as nine years old would be considered as criminals in the Philippines.

In both places, the prison and the youth ministry office, I encountered young people who felt rejected and were rejected. The hardest rejection I believe is when our own families or those we consider to be our families reject us or make us feel not accepted. We all want to be accepted and acknowledged.

But Jesus also experienced rejection —even from his own relatives in his native town. Jesus was seen as a common person just like anyone else. He was not considered enough to be special. How could He preach that way? How could He make miracles happen? How could He when He is just like us?

Many of us feel rejection at certain times during our lives. How we deal with rejection often tell us how we see ourselves. When we measure ourselves up to certain ideals that society puts up to us and when we fail, we feel rejected and unacceptable. We believe we are not enough. We think something is missing or wrong in us. The young people I met were considered problems. Some people even considered them as garbage and useless. And the young people begin to see themselves as problems, like garbage and useless.

What matters most is God’s opinion that “I am His beloved child.” And to believe in His promise. He is with me until the end of time.

With that in mind, I would like to share three things with you:

In the eyes of men and women we will never be enough. They will constantly measure us, but we will always be found lacking. But with God, we are not just enough–we are more than enough. When we begin to believe we are not enough, we also believe we have to do something and rely on our own strength and power. But when we rely on ourselves that is how we get into trouble, we can believe so much in ourselves and forget about God. I am enough for God. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

We are very concerned with what other people say about us or what they think about us. What matters most is the opinion of our Father. The opinion of God is what is most important not the opinion of men. What mattered to Jesus was not the opinion of the people around Him but the opinion of His Father who said, "This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased." God is telling us that, too. We are His beloved children with whom He is well pleased.

Jesus made a beautiful promise after the Resurrection: "I will be with you always until the end of time." Matthew 23:20. This is one of my favorite texts when I feel really alone and experience rejection. What is the most important word in the Bible? One scholar shared that the most important word is WITH. The angel told Mary to name the baby boy Emmanuel "God with us" and the word compassion begins with the Latin word "cum" which means "with."

We are never alone. God is with us. Sometimes we feel God has forgotten us. We feel He does not listen to our prayers. In one of our Bible studies with the youth, one boy shared that most often when he prays, God does not answer or gives what he wants. But God always gives what he needs.

We have no control over the things people will do. We will be accepted or rejected. But we can always control how we respond to their rejection. We can be bitter or be better. To be bitter is to fall into their trap. And to be better is to accept and affirm that I am enough for God. What matters most is God's opinion that "I am His beloved child." And to believe in His promise. He is with me until the end of time. God invites us to come home to Him. He also invites us to welcome others into our homes.

Often we think of God's house as a mansion with so many rooms but one person told me think of God's house as filled with mansions not rooms. God's love is so spacious. Do not worry that you do not have a room. He has set aside not just a room but a whole mansion for you! So be as generous as God is and welcome everyone to your home.

My place is with God. This is where I have found God in the prison and the parish youth ministry office.

Columban Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar (formerly Burma). 

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