“Young people can help keep [the Church] young,” says Pope Francis in his new Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit.  “Young people can offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to ‘rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments’.” (Paragraph 37)

This brief survey of the document is not meant to replace a full reading. Do not be deceived by the length, as it is a quick read. In his very personal style, Francis addresses his Exhortation directly to young people and invites us to participate in that conversation with them. In it, he encourages young people in practical ways of discernment, such as the discernment of vocation, and also invites us older folks to be better witnesses of the faith to them. Pope Francis writes:

A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum.  How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people? Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure. (Paragraph 41)

Underlying the Exhortation is the conviction that young people are called to be saints. To express the Church’s conviction in this regard, Francis briefly recounts the biographies of several young holy people whose faith was manifest, even during their sadly short lifetimes. Included among this litany are more contemporary examples, such as Chiara Badano and Carlo Acutis. Carlo had an affinity for computers and for technology, and before his death from leukemia he built a website to recount various stories of Eucharistic miracles. Pope Francis quotes him in his document: “Everyone is born as an original, but many people end up dying as photocopies.”

Later in the document, Francis affirms the role of that kerygma of the faith, the encounter with Christ and his merciful love, who leads us out into “new horizons,” on paths that are uniquely ours. In this vein, he repeats an “important point” he made in Evangellii Gaudium. Specifically, in youth ministry:

Young people need to be approached with the grammar of love, not by being preached at. […] In some places, it happens that young people are helped to have a powerful experience of God, an encounter with Jesus that touched their hearts. But the only follow-up to this is a series of “formation” meetings featuring talks about doctrinal and moral issues, the evils of today’s world, the Church, her social doctrine, chastity, marriage, birth control and so on.  As a result, many young people get bored, they lose the fire of their encounter with Christ and the joy of following him; many give up and others become downcast or negative. Rather than being too concerned with communicating a great deal of doctrine, let us first try to awaken and consolidate the great experiences that sustain the Christian life. (Paragraph 212)

In this document, Francis demonstrates his  confidence in the ability of young people to actively contribute to the Church. It is clear that he believes young people can enliven and enrich the Church through their energy and their unique skills and talents. In this document, Francis encourages young people to be “rooted.” He writes, “It pains me to see young people sometimes being encouraged to build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now” (Paragraph 179).

Think about it: if someone tells young people to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past and to look forward to a future that he holds out, doesn’t it then become easy to draw them along so that they only do what he tells them?  He needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only in his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate: they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so that they can reign unopposed. To do so, however, they need young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them. (Paragraph 181)

Pope Francis sees the issue of “rootedness” explicitly as a matter of faith and religion, but also in terms of continuity among generations:

The world has never benefitted, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations.  That is the siren song of a future without roots and origins. It is the lie that would have you believe that only what is new is good and beautiful.  When intergenerational relationships exist, a collective memory is present in communities, as each generation takes up the teachings of its predecessors and in turn bequeaths a legacy to its successors.  In this way, they provide frames of reference for firmly establishing a new society. As the old saying goes: “If the young had knowledge and the old strength, there would be nothing they could not accomplish”. (Paragraph 191)

Pope Francis also spends some time in the document devoted to social media and the internet, since it is obvious, as Francis said, that “Broad swathes of humanity are immersed in it in an ordinary and continuous manner.” After providing a list of some of the virtues of this increased connection in our global community, Francis warns: “It is not healthy to confuse communication with mere virtual contact.”

He continues:

For many people, immersion in the virtual world has brought about a kind of “digital migration”, involving withdrawal from their families and their cultural and religious values, and entrance into a world of loneliness and of self-invention, with the result that they feel rootless even while remaining physically in one place. The fresh and exuberant lives of young people who want to affirm their personality today confront a new challenge: that of interacting with a real and virtual world that they enter alone, as if setting foot on an undiscovered global continent.  Young people today are the first to have to effect this synthesis between what is personal, what is distinctive to their respective cultures, and what is global. This means that they must find ways to pass from virtual contact to good and healthy communication. (Paragraph 90)

As mentioned earlier, this short survey is not meant to replace a full reading, and there is much more in this Exhortation that deserves a fuller and deeper exposition. I have no doubt the whole document can be a source of encouragement and inspiration to young people. For those of us who aren’t as young as we used to be, this exhortation can help us appreciate and be aware of the ways young people around the world have the potential to be active participants in our Church and what we can learn from them. The role of young people in the Church is not merely to learn and be formed by their elders. They contribute, by their own efforts, to the “building of a new society.”

Image Credit:  Marko Vombergar,  https://www.flickr.com/photos/113018453@N05/24958781062

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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Peter Aiello says:

    Christ Himself is the only one who produces originals. Without humility directed at Christ Himself, you can only get photocopies (1Peter 5:5-7).
    There is one important thing about Scripture. If a generation loses sight of it, the next generation can revisit it. It is not dependent only upon word of mouth. It hasn’t changed for thousands of years; and neither has the need for it.

    • Daniel Amiri Daniel Amiri says:

      On the topic of photocopies, I love this passage:

      162. But I would also remind you that you won’t become holy and find fulfilment by copying others. Imitating the Saints does not mean copying their lifestyle and their way of living holiness: “There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us”.[86] You have to discover who you are and develop your own way of being holy, whatever others may say or think. Becoming a saint means becoming more fully yourself, becoming what the Lord wished to dream and create, and not a photocopy. Your life ought to be a prophetic stimulus to others and leave a mark on this world, the unique mark that only you can leave. Whereas if you simply copy someone else, you will deprive this earth, and heaven too, of something that no one else can offer. I think of Saint John of the Cross, who wrote in his Spiritual Canticle that everyone should benefit from his spiritual advice “in his or her own way”,[87] for the one God wishes to manifest his grace “to some in one way and to others in another”.

      • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

        One thing that we can imitate is a person’s faith in Christ because we can apply it to our own calling in life, whatever that might be, without trying to imitate their lifestyle or their calling (Hebrews 13:7).

        • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

          This shows that person with a homosexual orientation will have a different path to holiness, one that might include a life-long, monogamous relationship which includes homosexual acts. A young couple might find holiness in regulating birth using artificial contraception. A woman might find holiness as she is given the legal right to make decisions about her pregnancy at all stages of development without interference from the State. As the Pope says, “Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.”
          This inexhaustible treasure might include a more comprehensive approach to sexual issues, as called for in the earlier document: “There are questions related to the body, to affectivity and to sexuality that require a deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral exploration, which should be done in the most appropriate way, whether on a global or local level.”

          • Avatar Peter Aiello says:

            Holiness is something that we apply to our lifestyle or vocation. I don’t believe that our lifestyle or vocation, of itself, is the path to holiness. Holiness is the result of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) which comes from the Holy Spirit within us. It prevents us from being inordinately attached to the things of the world in whatever circumstances that we live in. We apply the fruit of the Spirit temperance to our sexuality, regardless of what form it takes, in order to be chaste. We may need to totally abstain from certain expressions of sexuality.
            I found that the simplest and easiest way to get peace and strength from the Lord was to cast all of my care on the Lord and to be anxious for nothing (see 1Peter 5:5-7 and Philippians 4:6-7). This is the only path to holiness that I know of.

          • Avatar Benoit says:

            It’s sooo obvious what you’re aiming at. I’m gay and I’m 100 % certain that your attempt to associate Pope Francis with a homosexual ideology and agenda is an attempt to discredit this website in the eyes of conservative catholic readers. It’s satanic and evil what you do. On behalf of my self and many other gays ( yes we exist) that find great inspiration at relief in both the church theology of sexuality and in pope Francis’ effort to bring the Good News to the world: stop it.

          • Pedro Gabriel Pedro Gabriel says:

            I would prefer that we refrain from judging other people’s motivations. Let us discuss the arguments and the ideas. 🙂

            In the end, Ashpenaz is doing us a favor, by showing that, contrary to a manicheistic worldview, our faithfulness to Pope Francis can’t be pinned on a liberal bias on our side. So, far from discrediting our site, it actually boosts our credibility.

            Also thank you for your testimony and love for the Church.

          • Avatar Ashpenaz says:

            My thoughts on sexuality come mainly from two Catholic sources: Sexual Ethics by Salzman, who teaches at Creighton and Just Love by Farley, who is a past president of the Catholic Theological Society. They do a much better job than I do of building a case rooted in Catholic tradition. This doesn’t make them right, but I hope it means that Catholics can discuss these issues without being Satanic.

  2. Avatar Joaquin Mejia says:

    I would need to read this apostolic exhortation from Pope Francis!

  3. Avatar Chris dorf says:

    I am so glad Pope Francis wrote this. I easily recalled my early years as a young person and knowing that God loved all of his creation and looking toward my Catholic Church for reinforcements on those beliefs but instead I saw Catholics a legions leaving the Catholic Church and getting born again and saved and fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian groups. Somehow during my lifetime the church did not seem to know how to give the gift of its profound faith to the young people of this past generation and Pope Francis gets it has he saw the ivy widespread Evangelical conscription of Roman Catholics in Argentina and other parts of that world.

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