FIVE SMOOTH STONES:
A 40 Day WYD08 Journal
by Stephen Lawrence
(Connor Court, 2010, 220pp, $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-92142-139-6. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Reading this book I could not help recalling the marvellous time that I and many others experienced during the World Youth Day 2008 celebrations. Who could forget the enthusiasm, the colour, the energy, the passion and the vibrancy of those days when so many young people from all over Australia and the world converged on Sydney to celebrate in a most overt manner our Catholic identity and faith.
Who could forget the impact on the city of Sydney and on our nation made by thousands of young people who were simply happy to be together manifesting their faith in Jesus Christ as members the Catholic faith community.
Steve Lawrence as the Director of Evangelisation and Catechesis was the person responsible for ensuring that World Youth Day became a truly spiritual experience and he captures very well this spirit in Five Smooth Stones. However, this book is not merely a set of memoirs or a string of events. It is much more. What really touched my heart is the spirit with which Steve has recorded his reflections.
Within this book we have described vividly the attitudes, the frame of mind, the courage, the perseverance and the faith that we all need in order to pursue something very challenging and important.
What struck me most is that this book is written by a man of faith. A person who is capable of using the qualities that God has given to him. Yet at the same time a man who realises that because this is God's work he needs a constant connection with the Holy Spirit. For example, Steve often speaks about the need to enter a church to pray on his way to a meeting or an event.
This book also shows clearly Steve's love and deep connection with his wife Annie and their six children. Family life is so important as a source of affection, encouragement and strength and I was touched by the tenderness and care that Steve displays as a husband and a father.
Steve desires that this book becomes a source of encouragement to all his readers. His introduction ends with these words, "By seeking to have this book published I am choosing to open my heart and mind to you, the reader and hoping that through it the Holy Spirit may breathe the irresistible Fire of His Love into your life and through it to others."
So how has this book encouraged me?
The speciality of our God is to give us surprises. We are called to accomplish big things with God and the more difficulties we encounter the more successful and life-giving the result will be. I am not worried when in trying to follow Jesus Christ we have to face innumerable and constant challenges. I become really worried when there are no problems because this is not what Jesus promised.
Talking about the first Youth Leaders' Formation Course which had its fair share of headaches and heart-aches Steve commented, "lt was considered by all who attended to be a great success, not surprisingly given the amount of suffering and spiritual attack that came with its preparation."
God is in control
lt is important to be surrounded by people who constantly encourage you by their life-giving presence and their prayers. It is vital to have as your close friends people who no matter what happens know exactly what to do. They take us to Jesus. I enjoyed reading the part when Steve refers to the difficulties surrounding use of the Randwick race track.
In the midst of this challenge, Steve with some of his friends simply walked around the racetrack praying that any walls of opposition would crumble as with Joshua when he faced the difficulty of overcoming Jericho. Steve and his friends prayed that "the Lord would provide full access to Randwick and for the Vigil and Mass to be a time of extraordinary grace."
God is in control. There are no difficulties - however big - which God cannot overcome and resolve: "For God nothing is impossible". This is what the angel Gabriel said to Mary. This means that for all of us who believe everything is possible.
There is a mission for everybody. We are called to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and God chooses us when we least expect it. The message is simple yet very life-changing.
On July 2008, three days before World Youth Day, Steve was invited to speak to a group of Capuchin Fathers gathered in Plumpton. NSW. What did he tell them? Very simply yet profoundly he said this, "ln short, the Church needs Capuchins to be saint Capuchins." I like that.
This was the constant challenge of Pope John Paul II, the initiator of World Youth Days. In Rome he boldly and firmly told the two million three hundred thousand young people, "Do not be afraid to be saints. You are the saints of the new millennium."
This appeal was followed up by Pope Benedict XVI towards the end of his message for next year's World Youth Day: "Dear young people, the Church depends on you! She needs your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope. Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church. That is why World Youth Days are a grace, not only for you, but for the entire People of God."
We belong to the Catholic Church, a church which embraces people from all over the world. In spite of having different customs, habits and ways of looking at things, we are firmly united in our faith in Jesus Christ. Because of the distances involved we Australians can easily forget that we belong to a big family of faith united and called to continue the mission of Jesus.
Among many others, in the book we meet Fr Markus from Germany, Maristella from Brazil, seminarian John from Uganda, Fr Boniface from the United States and Elizabeth O'Brien and Sophia Kuby from the Youth in Europe organisation. We are an immense army animated by our unity and constantly nourished and empowered by the life-giving presence of Jesus within us and the practice of our Faith.
Festival of faith
Let us never lose heart. Let us proceed in our mission knowing full well with St Paul, "It is no longer we who live but it is Jesus Christ who lives in us."
We can learn a lot from reading Five Smooth Stones as we progress on our own journey with God. I heartily recommend this book. Each time you pick it up stop and pray that Jesus will speak to your own particular situation. lf it happened to Steve it will surely also happen to all of us.
One thing is certain. The aim to make World Youth Day 2008 a truly spiritual experience did succeed. The message of Pope Benedict XVI for the World Youth Day to be celebrated in Madrid next year starts with these words:
"l often think back on the World Youth day held in Sydney in 2008. There we had an experience of a great festival of faith in which the Spirit of God was actively at work, building deep communion among the participants who had come from all over the world. That gathering, like those on previous occasions, bore rich fruit in the lives of many young people and in the life of the whole church."
These are extracts from the talk by Bishop Joseph Grech of Sandhurst (Bendigo, Victoria) who launched Five Smooth Stones.
All at AD2000 are deeply saddened by news of the death of Bishop Grech on 28 December 2010 after he was hospitalised with a sudden illness two days before Christmas. An obituary will appear next issue. Requiescat in pace.