Role models for today’s youth
In his personal letter to the youth (Christus Vivit) Pope Francis recalls that “the Church is full of young saints who devoted their lives to Christ.” Indeed, “many young saints have allowed the features of youth to shine forth in all their beauty, and in their day they have been real prophets of change. Their example shows what young people are capable of, when they open themselves up to encounter Christ” (n. 49).
“Through the holiness of the young, the Church can renew her spiritual ardor and her apostolic vigor. The balm of holiness generated by the good lives of so many people can heal the wounds of the Church and of the world, bring us back to that fullness of love” (n. 50).
Pope Francis highlights several young saints, including Saint Francis of Assisi, who “heard Jesus’ call to become poor like him and to rebuild the Church by his witness” (n. 52). Saint Joan of Arc “was a young peasant girl who, despite her tender years, fought to defend France from invaders” (n. 53). Francis reminds young people that while these are models of holiness, each young person is different and called to his or her own path to holiness.
Mary, Model Young Woman. Christus Vivit contains six sections (43-48) on Mary as “the supreme model for a youthful Church that seeks to follow Christ with enthusiasm and docility” (n. 43). “While still very young, she accepted the message of the angel, yet she was not afraid to ask questions (cf. Lk 1:34). With open heart and soul, she replied: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord’ (Lk 1:38)” (n. 43).
“We are always struck by the strength of the young Mary’s ‘yes’…. This was no merely passive or resigned acceptance, or a faint ‘yes’…. Hers was the ‘yes’ of someone prepared to be committed, someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise” (n. 44).
Francis boldly continues: “So, I ask each one of you: do you see yourselves as the bearers of a promise? What promise is present in my heart that I can take up? Mary’s mission would undoubtedly be difficult, but the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say ‘no’” (n. 44). Indeed, “Mary is the Mother who watches over us, her children, on our journey through life, often weary and in need…. Thus, Mary illumines anew our youth” (n. 48).
Friendship with Jesus, Our Model. Pope Francis reminds the youth that they will not know the “deepest and fullest meaning” of their early years “unless you encounter each day your best friend, the friend who is Jesus” (n. 150). “Friendship is one of life’s gifts and a grace from God” (n. 151). “Friendship is so important that Jesus calls himself a friend (Jn 15:15)…. By the gift of his grace, we are elevated in such a way that we truly become his friends” (n. 153).
“With the same love that Christ pours out on us, we can love him in turn and share his love with others…. The disciples heard Jesus calling them to be his friends. It was an invitation that did not pressure them, but gently appealed to their freedom” (n. 153). As his friends, we can speak to Jesus through prayer. Boldly Pope Francis challenges the youth—and everyone: “Do not deprive your youth of this friendship” (n. 156).
Discerning One’s Life Vocation. In responding to Christ and choosing a pathway in life, Pope Francis suggests that the youth consider the following questions: Do I know myself? Do I know what brings joy or sorrow to my heart? What are my strengths and weaknesses? How can I serve people better and prove most helpful to our world and to the Church? Where is my real place in this world? Indeed, these are serious questions—not only for the young but for everyone!