3 Takeaways from Pope Francis’ Letter to Young People
This is a historic week. This week we’ve observed the anniversary of the death of Pope St. John Paul II. We’ve also seen the Church release the Apostolic Exhortation “Christus Vivit,”or “Christ Lives” (CV).
In the opening paragraphs, Pope Francis states that “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” (CV 3). This Apostolic Exhortation was born following his time of reflection and prayer in October 2018 with bishops throughout the world during the Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational discernment.
“Christus Vivit” is a historic document: It’s the first-ever Vatican document on young people. Just last week, I was blessed to be with a group of Church leaders in the United States. This group gathered to reflect upon the recent synod and the upcoming Apostolic Exhortation.
I was very excited to start diving into the Holy Father’s letter to young people. I have only been able to start reading, but below are a few key themes that have struck me during my initial reading of “Christus Vivit.”
1. Jesus was a young person.
Pope Francis writes, “It is important to realize that Jesus was a young person. He gave his life when he was, in today’s terms, a young adult” (23).
This is a beautiful line for all young people to pray through. Jesus, our savior, took on human flesh and walked among us. He grew up and lived as a young person and even gave his life at the age of 33, as young adult man. As Christians, we are called to imitate Jesus. This is a call to total self-giving; it is not something that we should wait to answer until we are old, but something that especially starts in our youth. Pope Francis is inviting the youth of the today to live with that same sacrificial love.
2. We’re called to return to the source of youth.
Pope Francis reminds us that being transformed in Christ is the source of the youthfulness of the Church. As he says:
“But let us also ask him [Jesus] to free her [the Church] from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else. No! The Church is young when she is herself, when she receives ever anew the strength born of God’s word, the Eucharist, and the daily presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit in our lives. The Church is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source.” (35)
Young people are called to be leaven in the world — but we cannot be leaven without first being filled with Christ. We need to turn repeatedly to attending Mass, praying daily, reading the Bible and asking for Mary’s intercession. It is here that we will find the strength to be ever renewed in Christ and be a joyful presence in the world.
The Holy Father says that “we must dare to be different, to point to ideals other than those of this world” (para. 36). Our ability to point to these ideals comes from Christ, and only in Jesus will the human heart find peace, joy and freedom.
3. Be a saint.
At the end of the second chapter of “Christus Vivit,” Pope Francis offers a litany of young saints that young people should emulate and request the intercession of today. He mentions St. Thérèse of the of Lisieux, Blessed Chiara Badano, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Dominic Savio and St. Kateri Tekawitha, among others. These are great saints for young people and all Christians to befriend today and ask for their intercession for the youth of the world.
We should especially ask these saints to help us to become saints ourselves. At the end of his litany, Pope Francis writes, “May these and so many other young people who perhaps in silence and hiddenness lived the Gospel to the full, intercede for the Church, so that she may be full of joyous, courageous and committed young people who can offer the world new testimonies of holiness” (63).
We live in a time that needs saints more than ever. There are many challenges of our times in and outside of the Church — but these crises can only be addressed by living out a holy life. Now is the time to be holy: We cannot put this on our “someday, maybe” list. Holiness cannot wait. God created each of us to be fully alive in Him.
As Pope Francis said, “The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!” (1).