by Tess Daniels
On March 25, Pope Francis promulgated an apostolic exhortation entitled Christus Vivit, or “Christ is Alive.” The nine-chapter document is dedicated “to young people and to the entire people of God.” Francis explains that the document was inspired by the “wealth of reflections and conversations of the Synod” on Young People, which was celebrated in the Vatican in October 2018.
Francis begins by citing biblical examples of the youth, quoting Luke 22:26: “the greatest among you must become like the youngest.” He points out that, even in a time when youth were not very highly regarded, Scripture shows that God saw them differently. Even in Jesus’ youth, Francis notes, his parents trusted him enough to “move freely and learn to journey with others.” Francis insists that this should be an example for youth ministry, arguing that the Church must not isolate the youth, but rather instill in them a purpose to serve the larger community.
Francis also emphasizes that the Church must keep itself young, but not by conforming to the pressures which modern society pushes upon Her. Rather, he says, the Church holds onto Her youth when She is renewed by 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 youth are essential to this renewal—“young people can help keep her young,” Francis writes. Though the Church should not be contorted into today’s cultural standards, Francis acknowledges that change comes hand in hand with growth. The Church must at all times reflect Jesus Christ, which means “humbly acknowledging that some things concretely need to change.”
Francis laments that many young people see the Church as nothing more than a fading institution or even an “irritant,” but he recognizes that this attitude has its roots in serious faults of the Church: “sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young;… [and] the Church’s difficulty in explaining her doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society.”
Francis recognizes these flaws, understanding that young people do not want a silent Church, but neither do they want a Church that “battles obsessively” over only two or three issues. Francis calls the youth to not shrink from these challenges, pointing to Mary as a young person who said “yes” to God, though she knew the risks of doing so.
Young people are not just the future of the world, Francis argues—they are the present as well. He calls pastors and youth ministers to nurture young people’s questions and answer them thoughtfully and truthfully. Each young person’s heart should be considered “holy ground,” he says.
Francis also highlights the millions of young people living amongst incredible violence, as well as those who are marginalized for religious, economic, or ethnic reasons. He decries how, in many poorer countries, “economic aid provided by some richer countries…is usually tied to the acceptance of Western views of sexuality, marriage, life or social justice,” arguing that this viewpoint is especially detrimental to the young.
The pope also speaks of child abuse in the Church, expressing gratitude towards “those who had the courage to report the evil they experienced.” He also expresses that abuse is far from the only transgression in the Church, adding that self-awareness of one’s sins is a sign of humility. Francis reminds young people to “never forget that we must not abandon our Mother when She is wounded.”
Finally, Francis emphasizes three fundamental truths. First, that there is a God who is Love; second, that Christ saves; three, that He is alive. Francis reminds his readers that Jesus Christ did not only live 2,000 ago and is not a remnant of the distant past—He is still present, constantly saving His faithful.
Francis ends the exhortation with a word of hope for young people: “Keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful…And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us.”
Featured image courtesy of the Catholic Church in England and Wales via Flickr.