The next World Youth Day will be held in Krakow in 2016 and Pope Francis has written a short message to the youth of the world to help prepare for this momentous occasion. Each year, Pope Francis will reflect on a different Beatitude in anticipation of Krakow 2016. The first Beatitude that the Pope reflects on: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I would propose four lessons that we can take from the Pope’s message that are powerful themes to teach our young people. Within these truths are found the key to the Gospel and happiness in life.
1. Opening the Door to Christ
We live in a very noisy world.
My students come into the classroom I-Pod in the ear and leave the same way. Non-stop noise! There are so many voices that they hear on any given day. We need to teach our youth to close off the noise and to open their hearts to Jesus Christ. We must open the door to Jesus and share with him all our hopes, joys and sorrows.
This seems like such a fundamental task for a Christian, but with all of the noise in our own lives sometimes it closes out or shields us from hearing the voice of Jesus Christ. When we open the door to Jesus and try to live out the message of the Beatitudes, we see what a revolutionary lifestyle Christianity is. Pope Francis states this is a model of happiness “contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and prevailing wisdom.”
The Pope states that what our world glorifies is success at any cost, affluence, the arrogance of power and self-affirmation at the expense of others. Jesus challenges his disciples and asks them if they truly want to follow him or follow another path. Christianity is a choice: Choose the path of Christ or choose another path. We need to challenge our young people to make this choice clearly, boldly and without fear or trepidation. We must preach Jesus Christ crucified to a world desperate for His saving truth and love.
2. True Happiness and Thinking Big
Pope Francis states that the world wants our young people to think in small terms and offers to them “empty illusions of happiness.” We need to think big and open our hearts to Jesus Christ. It is time to stop settling for what the world offers us as true happiness. Each of us possess an unquenchable thirst for happiness and when we look only for success, pleasure and possessions these become idols that enslave us.
The Pope stated something so true from my own experience of working with some young people: “how tragic it is to see a young person who ‘has everything’ but is weary and weak.” Only in embracing the saving love and mercy of Jesus Christ can our young people be invigorated with new life that flows from the Cross upon which hung the Savior of the world.
The modern throwaway culture assumes that our young people are incapable of taking on responsibility and facing the great challenges of life. When a young person has chosen Christ they are strong and do not need things to make them happy. This is a great opportunity to teach our young people how this message relates to the moral issues that we face as a society and culture in the early part of the 21st century.
The issues of same-sex marriage, artificial contraception and abortion all demand that our young people think big. These issues demand all of us, especially our youth, to take on responsibility that the world thinks our young people are incapable of handling. Living out the truth of Jesus Christ often requires heroic sacrifice. The world wants us to think of the issues of homosexuality, artificial contraception and abortion on demand in terms of equity and fairness. The Church does not condemn or judge the soul of another human being but in being faithful to the Gospel of Christ, She cannot approve acts that are contrary to God’s moral law.
This requires those who have a same sex attraction, young married couples and women who find themselves in very difficult circumstances to often make heroic choices. It is only when we face these great challenges of life that we truly open our hearts to Jesus Christ and find happiness that the world cannot give.
3. Seeing in the Poor the Face of Jesus Christ
The Pope calls young people to be free of material things and detachment from possessions. Once we start doing this in our own lives we can begin the process of converting how we see the poor. He asks young people to restore solidarity to the heart of human culture. We live in world that wants to isolate us from our neighbors and our community. We need to challenge our young people to see each and every human being from the first moment of conception until natural death as being created in the image and likeness of Almighty God. In the poor we are provided a concrete opportunity to encounter Christ and to touch his suffering flesh. The poor can teach us to place our trust in Almighty God.
So many times we think that we have the answers rather than look toward the Cross of Christ. We need to reinforce the Pope’s theme to our youth that “being more” must prevail over “having more.” We have been washed clean through the waters of baptism and made new in the blood of Christ. Each moment in life requires a fundamental choice to live out our baptismal promises. Being a Christian demands cooperating with the grace Christ has given and never setting ourselves on cruise control.
4. Making Disciples of All Nations and Living Christian Poverty
The Pope instructs young people that evangelization will only take place as a result of contagious joy.
If we are going to make disciples of all the nations, our young people must attract others through lives lived in joy. I think of the annual March for Life and the thousands and thousands of young people who attend. They seem so filled with joy even while protesting the horrible anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This joy will ultimately help win others to the cause of life. It is a joy that is found in the heart of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis concludes by quoting Blessed John Paul II and his command to young people to carry the Cross of Christ throughout the world and to boldly proclaim to the world that it only in the Cross of Christ can salvation and redemption be found. Even in the best of families, young people have so many mixed messages that bombard them every day. It is helpful to simplify our message to the essential element of all Christian faith: salvation through the cross of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis concludes his remarks on preparing young people for the next World Youth Day by invoking Mary, Mother of the poor and Star of the new evangelization. It is she that helps us to “live the Gospel, to embody the Beatitudes in our lives, and to have courage always to be happy.” Mary did not always know the path in which the Lord was taking her but she was totally faithful to following God’s will in her life.
She teaches our young people that it is only when we follow God’s will can we truly be happy and spread the Gospel of her Divine Son to all corners of our world.
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