12 Things Pope Francis is telling Young People (and others, too)
April 2, 2019
On March 29, Pope Francis signed his new apostolic exhortation — called “Christus Vivit,” or “Christ Lives” in English — inside of The Basilica of the Holy House during a visit to Loreto on Italy’s coastline.
His reflections of the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young people, the Faith and Vocational discernment, found in the exhortation, come nearly six months after the landmark event began.
In the document, Pope Francis speaks to both young adults and all of the others, the “entire people of God,” who make up the communities in which these young adults (like myself!) live.
Even if you’re not a young adult, even if you may not believe everything the Catholic Church may be teaching, the pope is speaking directly to you! In the third paragraph he writes: “with great affection, I address this Apostolic Exhortation to all Christian young people. It is meant to remind you of certain convictions born of our faith, and at the same time to encourage you to grow in holiness and in commitment to your personal vocation.”
Let’s look at a handful of his new reflections. These aren’t in any order -- you can find the paragraph references at the end of each passage – and these are what stood out to me, other passages (I hope) will inspire you. Pour a drink and read over these, or the entire document if you’d like, and listen as Pope Francis speaks to you.
The Importance of Young Hearts
Young hearts are naturally ready to change, to turn back, get up and learn from life. (12)
Jesus, himself eternally young, wants to give us hearts that are ever young. In a word, true youth means having a heart capable of loving, whereas everything that separates us from others makes the soul grow old. (13)
Let us also keep in mind that Jesus had no use for adults who looked down on the young or lorded it over them. On the contrary, he insisted that “the greatest among you must become like the youngest” (Lk 22:26). For him age did not establish privileges, and being young did not imply lesser worth or dignity. (14)
Young people should learn from the wisdom of their elders
The Bible never ceases to insist that profound respect be shown to the elderly, since they have a wealth of experience; they have known success and failure, life’s joys and afflictions, its dreams and disappointments. In the silence of their heart, they have a store of experiences that can teach us not to make mistakes or be taken in by false promises. It is unhelpful to buy into the cult of youth or foolishly to dismiss others simply because they are older or from another generation. Jesus tells us that the wise are able to bring forth from their store things both new and old (cf. Mt 13:52). A wise young person is open to the future, yet still capable of learning something from the experience of others. (16)
Do you want a life distracted and half-asleep, or one with beautiful, great things?
The Gospel also speaks about a group of wise young women, who were ready and waiting, while others were distracted and slumbering. We can, in fact, spend our youth being distracted, skimming the surface of life, half-asleep, incapable of cultivating meaningful relationships or experiencing the deeper things in life. In this way, we can store up a paltry and unsubstantial future. Or we can spend our youth aspiring to beautiful and great things, and thus store up a future full of life and interior richness. (19)
For those whose dreams seem distant
If you have lost your inner vitality, your dreams, your enthusiasm, your optimism and your generosity, Jesus stands before you as once he stood before the dead son of the widow, and with all the power of his resurrection he urges you: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Lk 7:14). (20)
In his youth, Jesus walked with compassion for the marginalized
Jesus does not teach you, young people, from afar or from without, but from within your very youth, a youth he shares with you. It is very important for you to contemplate the young Jesus as presented in the Gospels, for he was truly one of you, and shares many of the features of your young hearts. We see this for example in the following: “Jesus had unconditional trust in the Father; he maintained friendship with his disciples, and even in moments of crisis he remained faithful to them. He showed profound compassion for the weakest, especially the poor, the sick, sinners and the excluded. He had the courage to confront the religious and political authorities of his time; he knew what it was to feel misunderstood and rejected; he experienced the fear of suffering and he knew the frailty of the Passion. He turned his gaze to the future, entrusting himself into the Father’s safe hands in the strength of the Spirit. In Jesus, all the young can see themselves” (31)
Jesus wants your dreams to thrive
On the other hand, Jesus is risen, and he wants to make us sharers in the new life of the resurrection. He is the true youthfulness of a world grown old, the youthfulness of a universe waiting “in travail” (Rom 8:22) to be clothed with his light and to live his life. With him at our side, we can drink from the true wellspring that keeps alive all our dreams, our projects, our great ideals, while impelling us to proclaim what makes life truly worthwhile. (32)
Dare to be different
Certainly, as members of the Church, we should not stand apart from others. All should regard us as friends and neighbours, like the apostles, who “enjoyed the good will of all the people.” Yet at the same time we must dare to be different, to point to ideals other than those of this world, testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor, and social friendship. (36)
God calls us to find stars in the dark of nights of others
The Lord is calling us to enkindle stars in the night of other young people. He asks you to look to the true stars, all those varied signs he gives us to guide our way, and to imitate the farmer who watches the stars before going out to plough his field. God lights up stars to help us keep walking: “The stars shine in their watches, and are glad; he calls them and they say: ‘Here we are!’” (Bar 3:34-35). Christ himself is our great light of hope and our guide in the night, for he is the “bright morning star” (Rev 22:16). (33)
Young people renew the Church
Youth is more than simply a period of time; it is a state of mind. That is why an institution as ancient as the Church can experience renewal and a return to youth at different points in her age-old history. Indeed, at the most dramatic moments of her history, she feels called to return with all her heart to her first love. Recalling this truth, the Second Vatican Council noted that, “enriched by a long and living history, and advancing towards human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the Church is the real youth of the world”. In her, it is always possible to encounter Christ “the companion and friend of youth.” (34)
Don’t do things just to do them, but make the work an offering
When we discover that God is calling us to something, that this or that is what we were made for – whether it be nursing, carpentry, communication, engineering, teaching, art or any other kind of work – then we will be able to summon up our best capacities for sacrifice, generosity and dedication. Knowing that we don’t do things just for the sake of doing them, but rather we endow them with meaning, as a response to a call that resounds in the depth of our being to offer something to others: that is what makes these occupations bring a sense of deep fulfilment. (273)
(Towards the end of the document, the pope speaks directly to those spiritual and vocation directors who help young people to discern their vocation and spiritual life. He cuts them no slack.)
To vocations and ministry leaders: Be who you say you are
If you are to accompany others on this path, you must be the first to follow it, day in and day out. (298)
Good discernment is a path of freedom
In this way, discernment becomes a genuine means of spiritual combat, helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully. The desire to know our personal vocation thus takes on a supreme intensity, a different quality and higher level, one that better respects the dignity of our person and our life. In the end, good discernment is a path of freedom that brings to full fruit what is unique in each person, something so personal that only God knows it. Others cannot fully understand or predict from the outside how it will develop. (295)