Youthfulness in the Church
“Youth is more than simply a period of time; it is a state of mind” asserts Pope Francis in Christus Vivit. “That is why an institution as ancient as the Church can experience renewal and a return to youth at different points in her age-old history. Indeed, at the most dramatic moments of her history, she feels called to return with all her heart to her first love” (34).
Recalling this perspective, the Second Vatican Council in its final message to youth stated: “Enriched by a long and living history, and advancing towards human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the Church is the real youth of the world.” In her, it is always possible to encounter Christ, “the companion and friend of youth” (34).
Pope Francis prays: “Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill.” May the Church receive 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.” Indeed, “the Church is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source” (35).
Becoming a Serving Church. The Pope also speaks in a straightforward manner as he directly addresses the youth in Christus Vivit. “Even though to many young people, God, religion and the Church seem empty words, they are sensitive to the figure of Jesus when he is presented in an attractive and effective way. Consequently, the Church should not be excessively caught up in herself, but instead, and above all, reflect Jesus Christ. This means humbly acknowledging that some things concretely need to change, and if that is to happen, she needs to appreciate the vision but also the criticisms of young people” (39). Note the Pope’s openness to bringing newness and youthfulness into the Church.
Pope Francis continues: “Although many young people are happy to see a Church that is humble yet confident in her gifts and capable of offering fair and fraternal criticism, others want a Church that listens more…. They do not want to see a Church that is silent and afraid to speak, but neither one that is always battling obsessively over two or three issues” (41).
For Francis, “To be credible to young people [and the entire world], there are times when she [the Church] needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the Gospel” (41). All Church members should feel challenged to take these insights to heart!
Young Missionary-Disciples. Still expounding on the contribution of the youth to the Church, Pope Francis devotes an entire section to youth as “Courageous Missionaries” (175-178). Francis asserts: “Filled with the love of Christ, young people are called to be witnesses of the Gospel wherever they find themselves, by the way they live. Saint Alberto Hurtado once said that ‘being an apostle does not mean wearing a lapel pin; it is not about speaking the truth but living it, embodying it, being transformed in Christ’” (175).
Speaking from the heart, Francis continues: “Young people, do not let the world draw you only into things that are wrong and superficial. Learn to swim against the tide, learn how to share Jesus and the faith that he has given you. May you be moved by that same irresistible impulse that led Saint Paul to say: ‘Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel’ (1 Cor 9:16)” (176).
“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us everywhere. The Gospel is for everyone…. The Lord seeks all…. That is how the Lord goes out to meet everyone. He loves you, dear young people, for you are the means by which he can spread his light and hope. He is counting on your courage, your boldness and your enthusiasm” (177). From his heart, Pope Francis speaks to our hearts; we, in turn, strive to be “open-hearted” missionary-disciples.