Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
1. Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38).
Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, and he has bent down to heal body and soul.
This is Jesus. This is his heart which looks to all of us, to our sicknesses, to our sins. The love of Jesus is great. And thus he enters Jerusalem, with this love, and looks at us. It is a beautiful scene, full of light - the light of the love of Jesus, the love of his heart - of joy, of celebration.
At the beginning of Mass, we too repeated it. We waved our palms, our olive branches. We too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives. Jesus is God, but he lowered himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother. He illumines our path here. And in this way we have welcomed him today. And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy! Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.
2. The second word. Why does Jesus enter Jerusalem? Or better: how does Jesus enter Jerusalem? The crowds acclaim him as King. And he does not deny it, he does not tell them to be silent (cf. Lk 19:39-40). But what kind of a King is Jesus? Let us take a look at him: he is riding on a donkey, he is not accompanied by a court, he is not surrounded by an army as a symbol of power. He is received by humble people, simple folk who have the sense to see something more in Jesus; they have that sense of the faith which says: here is the Saviour. Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, as Isaiah foretold in the First Reading (cf. Is 50:6). He enters to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision. He enters to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood. And this brings us to the second word: Cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross. And it is precisely here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross! It reminds me of what Benedict XVI said to the Cardinals: you are princes, but of a king crucified. That is the throne of Jesus. Jesus takes it upon himself… Why the Cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God. Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave. When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket. Love of power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And – as each one of us knows and is aware - our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection. This is the good that Jesus does for us on the throne of the Cross. Christ’s Cross embraced with love never leads to sadness, but to joy, to the joy of having been saved and of doing a little of what he did on the day of his death.
3. Today in this Square, there are many young people: for twenty-eight years Palm Sunday has been World Youth Day! This is our third word: youth! Dear young people, I saw you in the procession as you were coming in; I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him! You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always: a young heart, even at the age of seventy or eighty. Dear young people! With Christ, the heart never grows old! Yet all of us, all of you know very well that the King whom we follow and who accompanies us is very special: he is a King who loves even to the Cross and who teaches us to serve and to love. And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves, in giving ourselves, in emerging from ourselves that we have true joy and that, with his love, God conquered evil. You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year. You carry it so as to tell everyone that on the Cross Jesus knocked down the wall of enmity that divides people and nations, and he brought reconciliation and peace. Dear friends, I too am setting out on a journey with you, starting today, in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI. We are already close to the next stage of this great pilgrimage of the Cross. I look forward joyfully to next July in Rio de Janeiro! I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world. Young people must say to the world: to follow Christ is good; to go with Christ is good; the message of Christ is good; emerging from ourselves, to the ends of the earth and of existence, to take Jesus there, is good! Three points, then: joy, Cross, young people.
Let us ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary. She teaches us the joy of meeting Christ, the love with which we must look to the foot of the Cross, the enthusiasm of the young heart with which we must follow him during this Holy Week and throughout our lives. May it be so.
Your Eminence, My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
What joy I feel as I come to the house of the Mother of every Brazilian, the Shrine of our Lady of Aparecida! The day after my election as Bishop of Rome, I visited the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, in order to entrust my ministry to Our Lady. Today I have come here to ask Mary our Mother for the success of World Youth Day and to place at her feet the life of the people of Latin America.
There is something that I would like to say first of all. Six years ago the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean was held in this Shrine. Something beautiful took place here, which I witnessed at first hand. I saw how the Bishops – who were discussing the theme of encountering Christ, discipleship and mission – felt encouraged, supported and in some way inspired by the thousands of pilgrims who came here day after day to entrust their lives to Our Lady. That Conference was a great moment of Church. It can truly be said that the Aparecida Document was born of this interplay between the labours of the Bishops and the simple faith of the pilgrims, under Mary’s maternal protection. When the Church looks for Jesus, she always knocks at his Mother’s door and asks: “Show us Jesus”. It is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship. That is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.
Today, looking forward to the World Youth Day which has brought me to Brazil, I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary – who loved and raised Jesus – that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal. For this reason I would like to speak of three simple attitudes: hopefulness, openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy.
1. Hopefulness. The second reading of the Mass presents a dramatic scene: a woman – an image of Mary and the Church – is being pursued by a Dragon – the devil – who wants to devour her child. But the scene is not one of death but of life, because God intervenes and saves the child (cf. Rev 12:13a, 15-16a). How many difficulties are present in the life of every individual, among our people, in our communities; yet as great as these may seem, God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them. In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life, in our efforts to evangelize or to embody our faith as parents within the family, I would like to say forcefully: Always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Let us never lose hope! Let us never allow it to die in our hearts! The “dragon”, evil, is present in our history, but it does not have the upper hand. The one with the upper hand is God, and God is our hope! It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols which take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure. Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols. Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope! Let us maintain a positive outlook on reality. Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world. Young people are a powerful engine for the Church and for society. They do not need material things alone; also and above all, they need to have held up to them those non-material values which are the spiritual heart of a people, the memory of a people. In this Shrine, which is part of the memory of Brazil, we can almost read those values: spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy; they are values whose deepest root is in the Christian faith.
2. The second attitude: openness to being surprised by God. Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope – the great hope which faith gives us – knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and he surprises us. The history of this Shrine is a good example: three fishermen, after a day of catching no fish, found something unexpected in the waters of the Parnaíba River: an image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Whoever would have thought that the site of a fruitless fishing expedition would become the place where all Brazilians can feel that they are children of one Mother? God always surprises us, like the new wine in the Gospel we have just heard. God always saves the best for us. But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God! Cut off from him, the wine of joy, the wine of hope, runs out. If we draw near to him, if we stay with him, what seems to be cold water, difficulty, sin, is changed into the new wine of friendship with him.
3. The third attitude: living in joy. Dear friends, if we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy. Christians are joyful, they are never gloomy. God is at our side. We have a Mother who always intercedes for the life of her children, for us, as Queen Esther did in the first reading (cf Est 5:3). Jesus has shown us that the face of God is that of a loving Father. Sin and death have been defeated. Christians cannot be pessimists! They do not look like someone in constant mourning. If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will “light up” with a joy that spreads to everyone around us. As Benedict XVI said here, in this Shrine: “the disciple knows that without Christ, there is no light, no hope, no love, no future” (Inaugural Address, Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 13 May 2007, 3).
Dear friends, we have come to knock at the door of Mary’s house. She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). Yes, Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Young Friends,
“Go and make disciples of all nations”. With these words, Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying: “It was wonderful to take part in World Youth Day, to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go, now you must pass on this experience to others.” Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! Today, in the light of the word of God that we have heard, what is the Lord saying to us? What is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.
1. Go. During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of meeting Jesus, meeting him together with others, and you have sensed the joy of faith. But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history (cf. Rom 10:9).
Careful, though! Jesus did not say: “go, if you would like to, if you have the time”, but he said: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination, from the desire for power, but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and did not give us just a part of himself, but he gave us the whole of himself, he gave his life in order to save us and to show us the love and mercy of God. Jesus does not treat us as slaves, but as people who are free , as friends, as brothers and sisters; and he not only sends us, he accompanies us, he is always beside us in our mission of love.
Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.
In particular, I would like Christ’s command: “Go” to resonate in you young people from the Church in Latin America, engaged in the continental mission promoted by the Bishops. Brazil, Latin America, the whole world needs Christ! Saint Paul says: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). This continent has received the proclamation of the Gospel which has marked its history and borne much fruit. Now this proclamation is entrusted also to you, that it may resound with fresh power. The Church needs you, your enthusiasm, your creativity and the joy that is so characteristic of you. A great Apostle of Brazil, Blessed José de Anchieta, set off on the mission when he was only nineteen years old. Do you know what the best tool is for evangelizing the young? Another young person. This is the path for all of you to follow!
2. Do not be afraid. Some people might think: “I have no particular preparation, how can I go and proclaim the Gospel?” My dear friend, your fear is not so very different from that of Jeremiah, as we have just heard in the reading, when he was called by God to be a prophet. “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth”. God says the same thing to you as he said to Jeremiah: “Be not afraid ... for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:7,8). He is with us!
“Do not be afraid!” When we go to proclaim Christ, it is he himself who goes before us and guides us. When he sent his disciples on mission, he promised: “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). And this is also true for us! Jesus never leaves anyone alone! He always accompanies us .
And then, Jesus did not say: “One of you go”, but “All of you go”: we are sent together. Dear young friends, be aware of the companionship of the whole Church and also the communion of the saints on this mission. When we face challenges together, then we are strong, we discover resources we did not know we had. Jesus did not call the Apostles to live in isolation, he called them to form a group, a community. I would like to address you, dear priests concelebrating with me at this Eucharist: you have come to accompany your young people, and this is wonderful, to share this experience of faith with them! Certainly he has rejuvenated all of you. The young make everyone feel young. But this experience is only a stage on the journey. Please, continue to accompany them with generosity and joy, help them to become actively engaged in the Church; never let them feel alone! And here I wish to thank from the heart the youth ministry teams from the movements and new communities that are accompanying the young people in their experience of being Church, in such a creative and bold way. Go forth and don’t be afraid!
3. The final word: serve. The opening words of the psalm that we proclaimed are: “Sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 95:1). What is this new song? It does not consist of words, it is not a melody, it is the song of your life, it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus, it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, his actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. The life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.
In our Second Reading today, Saint Paul says: “I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor 9:19). In order to proclaim Jesus, Paul made himself “a slave to all”. Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did.
Three ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve. Go, do not be afraid, and serve. If you follow these three ideas, you will experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized, the one who transmits the joy of faith receives more joy. Dear young friends, as you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel. In the first Reading, when God sends the prophet Jeremiah, he gives him the power to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). It is the same for you. Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world. Dear young friends, Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you! May Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, always accompany you with her tenderness: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. Amen.
This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: the entire populace welcomes Jesus. The children and young people sing , praising Jesus.
But this week continues in the mystery of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. We have just listened to the Passion of our Lord. We might well ask ourselves just one question: Who am I? Who am I, before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd? Am I ready to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I stand back? Who am I, before the suffering Jesus?
We have just heard many, many names. The group of leaders, some priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who had decided to kill Jesus. They were waiting for the chance to arrest him. Am I like one of them?
We have also heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We have heard other names too: the disciples who understand nothing, who fell asleep while the Lord was suffering. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who did not realize what it was to betray Jesus? Or like that other disciple, who wanted to settle everything with a sword? Am I like them? Am I like Judas, who feigns loved and then kisses the Master in order to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those people in power who hastily summon a tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I think that in this way I am saving the people?
Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation is difficult, do I wash my hands and dodge my responsibility, allowing people to be condemned – or condemning them myself?
Am I like that crowd which was not sure whether they were at a religious meeting, a trial or a circus, and then chose Barabbas? For them it was all the same: it was more entertaining to humiliate Jesus.
Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, who find entertainment in humiliating him?
Am I like the Cyrenian, who was returning from work, weary, yet was good enough to help the Lord carry his cross?
Am I like those who walked by the cross and mocked Jesus: “He was so courageous! Let him come down from the cross and then we will believe in him!”. Mocking Jesus….
Am I like those fearless women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, and who suffered in silence?
Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who lovingly carries the body of Jesus to give it burial?
Am I like the two Marys, who remained at the Tomb, weeping and praying?
Am I like those leaders who went the next day to Pilate and said, “Look, this man said that he was going to rise again. We cannot let another fraud take place!”, and who block life, who block the tomb, in order to maintain doctrine, lest life come forth?
Where is my heart? Which of these persons am I like? May this question remain with us throughout the entire week.
Dear Young Friends,
The glory of the martyrs shines upon you! These words – a part of the theme of the Sixth Asian Youth Day – console and strengthen us all. Young people of Asia: you are the heirs of a great testimony, a precious witness to Christ. He is the light of the world; he is the light of our lives! The martyrs of Korea – and innumerable others throughout Asia – handed over their bodies to their persecutors; to us they have handed on a perennial witness that the light of Christ’s truth dispels all darkness, and the love of Christ is gloriously triumphant. With the certainty of his victory over death, and our participation in it, we can face the challenge of Christian discipleship today, in our own circumstances and time.
The words which we have just reflected upon are a consolation. The other part of this Day’s theme – Asian Youth! Wake up! – speaks to you of a duty, a responsibility. Let us consider for a moment each of these words.
First, the word “Asian”. You have gathered here in Korea from all parts of Asia. Each of you has a unique place and context where you are called to reflect God’s love. The Asian continent, imbued with rich philosophical and religious traditions, remains a great frontier for your testimony to Christ, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). As young people not only in Asia, but also as sons and daughters of this great continent, you have a right and a duty to take full part in the life of your societies. Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life!
As Asians too, you see and love, from within, all that is beautiful, noble and true in your cultures and traditions. Yet as Christians, you also know that the Gospel has the power to purify, elevate and perfect this heritage. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit given you in Baptism and sealed within you at Confirmation, and in union with your pastors, you can appreciate the many positive values of the diverse Asian cultures. You are also able to discern what is incompatible with your Catholic faith, what is contrary to the life of grace bestowed in Baptism, and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt, and lead to death.
Returning to the theme of this Day, let us reflect on a second word: “Youth”. You and your friends are filled with the optimism, energy and good will which are so characteristic of this period of life. Let Christ turn your natural optimism into Christian hope, your energy into moral virtue, your good will into genuine self-sacrificing love! This is the path you are called to take. This is the path to overcoming all that threatens hope, virtue and love in your lives and in your culture. In this way your youth will be a gift to Jesus and to the world.
As young Christians, whether you are workers or students, whether you have already begun a career or have answered the call to marriage, religious life or the priesthood, you are not only a part of the future of the Church; you are also a necessary and beloved part of the Church’s present! You are Church’s present! Keep close to one another, draw ever closer to God, and with your bishops and priests spend these years in building a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a holier, more missionary and humble Church, a Church which loves and worships God by seeking to serve the poor, the lonely, the infirm and the marginalized.
In your Christian lives, you will find many occasions that will tempt you, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, to push away the stranger, the needy, the poor and the broken-hearted. It is these people especially who repeat the cry of the woman of the Gospel: “Lord, help me!”. The Canaanite woman’s plea is the cry of everyone who searches for love, acceptance, and friendship with Christ. It is the cry of so many people in our anonymous cities, the cry of so many of your own contemporaries, and the cry of all those martyrs who even today suffer persecution and death for the name of Jesus: “Lord, help me!” It is often a cry which rises from our own hearts as well: “Lord, help me!” Let us respond, not like those who push away people who make demands on us, as if serving the needy gets in the way of our being close to the Lord. No! We are to be like Christ, who responds to every plea for his help with love, mercy and compassion.
Finally, the third part of this Day’s theme – “Wake up!” – This word speaks of a responsibility which the Lord gives you. It is the duty to be vigilant, not to allow the pressures, the temptations and the sins of ourselves or others to dull our sensitivity to the beauty of holiness, to the joy of the Gospel. Today’s responsorial psalm invites us constantly to “be glad and sing for joy”. No one who sleeps can sing, dance or rejoice. I don’t like to see young people who are sleeping. No! Wake up! Go! Go Forward! Dear young people, “God, our God, has blessed us!” (Ps 67:6); from him we have “received mercy” (Rom 11:30). Assured of God’s love, go out to the world so that, “by the mercy shown to you”, they – your friends, co-workers, neighbours, countrymen, everyone on this great continent – “may now receive the mercy of God” (cf. Rom 11:31). It is by his mercy that we are saved.
Dear young people of Asia, it is my hope that, in union with Christ and the Church, you will take up this path, which will surely bring you much joy. Now, as we approach the table of the Eucharist, let us turn to our Mother Mary, who brought Jesus to the world. Yes, Mother Mary, we long to have Jesus; in your maternal affection help us to bring him to others, to serve him faithfully, and to honour him in every time and place, in this country and throughout Asia. Amen.
Asian youth, wake up!
Dear Young People, Good Afternoon!
After having read the Gospel, Orlando came up to me and said, “I ask you to pray for the freedom of each one of us, of everyone”. This is the blessing which Orlando asked for each one of us. It is the blessing which all of us together now pray for: freedom. Freedom is a gift that God gives us, but we have to know how to accept it. We have to be able to have a free heart, because we all know that in the world there are so many things that bind our hearts and prevent them from being free. Exploitation, lack of means to survive, drug addiction, sadness, all those things take away our freedom. And so we can all thank Orlando for having asked for this blessing of having a free heart, a heart that can say what it thinks, that can express what it feels, and can act according to how it thinks and feels. That is a free heart! And that is what we are going to ask for together: the blessing which Orlando requested for all. Repeat with me: “Lord Jesus, give me a heart that is free, that I may not be a slave to all the snares in the world. That I may not be a slave to comfort and deception. That I may not be a slave to the good life. That I may not be a slave to vice. That I may not be a slave to a false freedom, which means doing what I want at every moment”. Thank you Orlando, for making us realize that we need to ask God for a heart that is free. Ask him for this everyday!
We heard two testimonies: from Liz and from Manuel. Liz has taught us all something. Just as Orlando taught us how to pray for a heart that is free, Liz, by sharing her experience, teaches us that we must not be like Pontius Pilate and wash our hands of things. Liz could quite easily have put her mother into one home, and her grandmother into another home, and then gone on to enjoy her youth, following the path of studies she desired. But Liz said, “No, there is my mother, and my grandmother”. Liz became a servant, and much more: she became a servant for her mother and her grandmother. And she did it with such love! She did it to the point, as she herself said, that the roles were reversed in her family, and she ended up being a mother to her mother, in the way she cared for her. Her mother, with that cruel illness which confuses everything. She still gives herself fully, even today, at age twenty-five, serving her mother and her grandmother. All by herself? Not at all. She told us two things that can help us. She talked about an angel, an aunt who for her was like an angel; and she talked about getting together with her friends on weekends, with a youth group committed to evangelization, a youth group that strengthened her faith. And those two angels, the aunt who watched out for her and the youth group, gave her the strength to keep going. This is what we call solidarity. What do we call it? [The young people all respond: “Solidarity!”]. This happens when we take interest in other people’s problems. There she found a haven to rest her weary heart. But there’s something still missing here. She didn’t say: “I do this and that is it”. She studied. She is a nurse. And what helps her is the solidarity she received from you, from your youth group, the solidarity she received from that aunt who was like an angel. All these helped her move forward. And today, at age twenty-five, she enjoys the grace that Orlando showed us how to pray for: she has a free heart. Liz is obeying the Fourth Commandment: “Honour your Father and your Mother”. Liz offers her life in service to her mother. It is indeed a high degree of solidarity, the highest degree of love. This is witness. “Father, is it possible to love?” There you have a person who shows us how to love.
So first of all: freedom, a free heart. So all together: [The young people repeat each phrase.] First: a free heart. Second: a solidarity that accompanies. Solidarity. This is the lesson of this testimony. And Manuel was not a spoiled child. He is not “a good kid”. He was never a “kid”, a young person who had it easy in life. He used strong words: “I was taken advantage of, I was mistreated, I risked falling into addiction, and I was alone”. Exploitation, mistreatment, and loneliness. But instead of going out and getting in trouble, instead of going out to steal, he found a job. Instead of wanting to take revenge on life, he looked ahead. And Manuel used a beautiful phrase: “I could move forward because in the situation I was in, it was hard even to talk about a future”. How many young people, how many of you, today have the opportunity to study, to sit at the table with your family every day, not to worry about the essentials. How many of you enjoy this? Altogether, those of you who have these things, let us say, “Thank you Lord!” [The young people repeat the phrase]. We have here a testimony from a young man who from childhood knew what it was to feel pain, sadness, to be exploited, mistreated, not to have food and to be alone. Lord, save all those young people who are in those conditions! And for ourselves let us pray, “Thank you, Lord!”. Everyone: “Thank you, Lord!”.
Freedom of heart. Do you remember? Freedom of heart. That is what Orlando told us. And service and solidarity. That is what Liz told us. Hope, employment, making an effort to live and to move forward. That is what Manuel told us. As you can see, life is not easy for many young people. And I want you to understand this, and I want you to keep it always in mind: “If my life is relatively easy, there are other young men and women whose lives are not relatively easy”. What is more, desperation drives them to crime, drives them to get involved in corruption. To those young people we want to say that we are close to them, we want to lend them a helping hand, we want to support them, with solidarity, love, and hope.
There were two things that Liz and Manuel both said. Two things that are beautiful. Listen to them. Liz said that she began to know Jesus and that this meant opening the door to hope. And Manuel said: “I came to know God as my strength”. To know God is strength. In other words, to know God, to draw closer to Jesus, is hope and strength. And that is what we need from young people today: young people full of hope and strength. We don’t want “namby-pambies”, young people who are just there, lukewarm, unable to say either yes or no. We don’t want young people who tire quickly and who are always weary, with bored faces. We want young people who are strong. We want young people full of hope and strength. Why? Because they know Jesus, because they know God. Because they have a heart that is free. A heart that is free, please repeat this. [The young people repeat each word]. Solidarity, work, hope, effort. To know Jesus. To know God, my strength. Can a young person who lives this way have a bored look on his face? [“No”!]. A sad heart? [“No!”]. This then is the path! But it is a path that requires sacrifice, it requires going against the tide. The plan... The plan is to go against the tide. Jesus said: “Happy are those who are poor in spirit”. He does not say, “Happy are the rich, those who make lots of money”. No. Those who are poor in spirit, those who are capable of approaching and understanding those who are poor. Jesus does not say: “Happy are those who have a good time of it”, but rather: “Happy are those who can suffer for the pain of others”. I would ask you to read at home, later on, the Beatitudes, which are in the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Which chapter? [“The fifth!”] Which Gospel? [ “Saint Matthew!”]. Read them and think about them; they will do you a lot of good.
I must thank you Liz; I thank you, Manuel, and I thank you, Orlando. A free heart, which is the way it should be. I have to go now [“No!”] The other day, a priest jokingly said to me: “Yes, keep telling young people to make a ruckus. But afterwards, we are the ones who have to clear it up”. So make a ruckus! But also help in cleaning it up. Two things: make a ruckus, but do a good job of it! A ruckus that brings a free heart, a ruckus that brings solidarity, a ruckus that brings us hope, a ruckus that comes from knowing Jesus and knowing that God, once I know him, is my strength. That is the kind of ruckus which you should make.
I already knew your questions, because I had them beforehand, so I wrote down some words for you, to share with you. But it’s boring to read a speech, so I am leaving it with the bishop in charge of the youth apostolate so that he can publish it. And now, before going [“No!”], I ask you, first of all, to continue to pray for me; second, that you carry on creating a ruckus; and third, that you organize that ruckus without ruining anything. And together now, in silence, let us raise our hearts to God. Each from the heart, in a quiet voice, let us repeat these words: “Lord Jesus, I thank you for being here, I thank you because you gave me brothers and a sister like Manuel, Orlando, and Liz. I thank you because you have given us many brothers and sisters like them. They found you, Jesus. They know you, Jesus. They know that you, their God, are their strength. Jesus, I pray for all those young boys and girls who do not know that you are their strength and who are afraid to live, afraid to be happy, afraid to have dreams. Jesus, teach them how to dream, to dream big, to dream beautiful things, things which, although they seem ordinary, are things which enlarge the heart. Lord Jesus, give us strength. Give us a free heart. Give us hope. Give us love and teach us how to serve. Amen.
And now I will give you my blessing and I ask you please, to pray for me and to pray for all the many young people who do not have the grace which you have had: the grace of knowing Jesus, who gives you hope, who gives you a free heart, and who makes you strong.
And may almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Prepared address by the Holy Father:
Dear Young People,
I am happy to be with you in this atmosphere of celebration. Happy to listen to your witness and to share your enthusiasm and love for Jesus.
I thank Bishop Ricardo Valenzuela, who is charge of the youth apostolate, for his kind words. I also thank Manuel and Liz for their courage in sharing their lives and their testimony at this meeting. It is not easy to speak about personal things, and even less so in front of so many people. You have shared the greatest treasure which you have: your stories, your lives and how Jesus became a part of them.
To answer your questions, I would like to speak about some of the things you shared.
Manuel, you told us something like this: “Today I really want to serve others, I want to be more generous”. You experienced hard times, and very painful situations, but today you really want to help others, to go out and share your love with others.
Liz, it is not easy to be a mother to your own parents, all the more when you are young, but what great wisdom and maturity your words showed, when you said: “Today I play with her, I change her diapers. These are all things I hand over to God today, but I am barely making up for everything my mother did for me”.
You, young Paraguayans, you certainly show great goodness and courage.
You also shared how you have tried to move forward. Where you found strength. Both of you said it was in your parish. In your friends from the parish and the spiritual retreats organized there. These two things are key: friends and spiritual retreats.
Friends: Friendship is one of the greatest gifts which a person, a young person, can have and can offer. It really is. How hard it is to live without friends! Think about it: isn’t that one of the most beautiful things that Jesus tells us? He says: “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15). One of the most precious things about our being Christians is that we are friends, friends of Jesus. When you love someone, you spend time with them, you watch out for them and you help them, you tell them what you are thinking, but also you never abandon them. That’s how Jesus is with us; he never abandons us. Friends stand by one another, they help one another, they protect another. The Lord is like that with us. He is patient with us.
Spiritual retreats: Saint Ignatius has a famous meditation on the two standards. He describes the standard of the devil and then the standard of Christ. It would be like the football jerseys of two different teams. And he asks us which team we want to play for.
In this meditation, he has us imagine: What it would be like to belong to one or the other team. As if he was saying to us: “In this life, which team do you want to play for?”
Saint Ignatius says that the devil, in order to recruit players, promises that those who play on his side will receive riches, honour, glory and power. They will be famous. Everyone will worship them.
Then, Ignatius tells us the way Jesus plays. His game is not something fantastic. Jesus doesn’t tell us that we will be stars, celebrities, in this life. Instead, he tells us that playing with him is about humility, love, service to others. Jesus does not lie to us; he takes us seriously.
In the Bible, the devil is called the father of lies. What he promises, or better, what he makes you think, is that, if you do certain things, you will be happy. And later, when you think about it, you realize that you weren’t happy at all. That you were up against something which, far from giving you happiness, made you feel more empty, even sad. Friends: the devil is a con artist. He makes promises after promise, but he never delivers. He’ll never really do anything he says. He doesn’t make good on his promises. He makes you want things which he can’t give, whether you get them or not. He makes you put your hopes in things which will never make you happy. That’s his game, his strategy. He talks a lot, he offers a lot, but he doesn’t deliver. He is a con artist because everything he promises us is divisive, it is about comparing ourselves to others, about stepping over them in order to get what we want. He is a con artist because he tells us that we have to abandon our friends, and never to stand by anyone. Everything is based on appearances. He makes you think that your worth depends on how much you possess.
Then we have Jesus, who asks us to play on his team. He doesn’t con us, nor does he promise us the world. He doesn’t tell us that we will find happiness in wealth, power and pride. Just the opposite. He shows us a different way. This coach tells his players: “Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. And he ends up by telling them: “Rejoice on account of all this!”.
Why? Because Jesus doesn’t lie to us. He shows us a path which is life and truth. He is the great proof of this. His style, his way of living, is friendship, relationship with his Father. And that is what he offers us. He makes us realize that we are sons and daughters. Beloved children.
He does not trick you. Because he knows that happiness, true happiness, the happiness which can fill our hearts, is not found in designer clothing, or expensive brand-name shoes. He knows that real happiness is found in drawing near to others, learning how to weep with those who weep, being close to those who are feeling low or in trouble, giving them a shoulder to cry on, a hug. If we don’t know how to weep, we don’t know how to laugh either, we don’t know how to live.
Jesus knows that in this world filled with competition, envy and aggressivity, true happiness comes from learning to be patient, from respecting others, from refusing to condemn or judge others. As the saying goes: “When you get angry, you lose”. Don’t let your heart give in to anger and resentment. Happy are the merciful. Happy are those who know how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, those who are able to embrace, to forgive. We have all experienced this at one time or another. And how beautiful it is! It is like getting our lives back, getting a new chance. Nothing is more beautiful than to have a new chance. It is as if life can start all over again.
Happy too are those who bring new life and new opportunities. Happy those who work and sacrifice to do this. All of us have made mistakes and been caught up in misunderstandings, a thousand of them. Happy, then, are those who can help others when they make mistakes, when they experience misunderstandings. They are true friends, they do not give up on anyone. They are the pure of heart, the ones who can look beyond the little things and overcome difficulties. Happy above all are the ones who can see the good in other people.
Liz, you mentioned Chikitunga, this Paraguayan servant of God. You told us how she was your sister, your friend, your model. Like so many others, she shows us that the way of the Beatitudes is a way of fulfilment, a path we can really follow, a path which can make our hearts brim over. The saints are our friends and models. They no longer play on our field, but we continue to look to them in our efforts to play our best game. They show us that Jesus is no con artist; he offers us genuine fulfilment. But above all, he offers us friendship, true friendship, the friendship we all need.
So we need to be friends the way Jesus is. Not to be closed in on ourselves, but to join his team and play his game, to go out and make more and more friends. To bring the excitement of Jesus’ friendship to the world, wherever you find yourselves: at work, at school, on WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter. When you go out dancing, or for a drink of tereré, when you meet in the town square or play a little match on the neighbourhood field. That is where Jesus’ friends can be found. Not by conning others, but by standing beside them and being patient with them. With the patience which comes from knowing that we are happy, because we have a Father who is in heaven.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).
Dear young friends, what an enormous responsibility the Lord gives us today! He tells us that the world will recognize the disciples of Jesus by the way they love one another. Love, in other words, is the Christian’s identity card, the only valid “document” identifying us as Christians. It is the only valid document. If this card expires and is not constantly renewed, we stop being witnesses of the Master. So I ask you: Do you wish to say yes to Jesus’ invitation to be his disciples? Do you wish to be his faithful friends? The true friends of Jesus stand out essentially by the genuine love; not some “pie in the sky” love; no, it is a genuine love that shines forth in their way of life. Love is always shown in real actions. Those who are not real and genuine and who speak of love are like characters is a soap opera, some fake love story. Do you want to experience his love? Do you want this love: yes or no? Let us learn from him, for his words are a school of life, a school where we learn to love. This is a task which we must engage in every day: to learn how to love.
Before all else, love is beautiful, it is the path to happiness. But it is not an easy path. It is demanding and it requires effort. Think, for example, of when we receive a gift. It makes us happy, but receiving a gift means that someone generous has invested time and effort; by their gift they also give us a bit of themselves, a sacrifice they have made. Think too of the gift that your parents and group leaders have given you in allowing you to come to Rome for this Jubilee day dedicated to you. They planned, organized, and prepared everything for you, and this made them happy, even if it meant that they had to give up a trip for themselves. This is putting love into action. To love means to give, not only something material, but also something of one’s self: one’s own time, one’s friendship, one’s own abilities.
Look to the Lord, who is never outdone in generosity. We receive so many gifts from him, and every day we should thank him… Let me ask you something. Do you thank the Lord every day? Even if we forget to do so, he never forgets, each day, to give us some special gift. It is not something material and tangible that we can use, but something even greater, a life-long gift. What does the Lord give to us? He offers us his faithful friendship, which he will never take back. The Lord is a friend forever. Even if you disappoint him and walk away from him, Jesus continues to want the best for you and to remain close to you; he believes in you even more than you believe in yourself. This is an example of genuine love that Jesus teaches to us. This is very important! Because the biggest threat to growing up well comes from thinking that no one cares about us - and that is always a sadness - from feeling that we are all alone. The Lord, on the other hand, is always with you and he is happy to be with you. As he did with his first disciples, he looks you in the eye and he calls you to follow him, to “put out into the deep” and to “cast your nets wide” trusting in his words and using your talents in life, in union with him, without fear. Jesus is waiting patiently for you. He awaits your response. He is waiting for you to say “yes”.
Dear young friends, at this stage in your lives you have a growing desire to demonstrate and receive affection. The Lord, if you let him teach you, will show you how to make tenderness and affection even more beautiful. He will guide your hearts to “love without being possessive”, to love others without trying to own them but letting them be free. Because love is free! There is no true love that is not free! The freedom that the Lord gives to us is his love for us. He is always close to each one of us. There is always a temptation to let our affections be tainted by an instinctive desire to “have to have” what we find pleasing; this is selfishness. Our consumerist culture reinforces this tendency. Yet when we hold on too tightly to something, it fades, it dies, and then we feel confused, empty inside. The Lord, if you listen to his voice, will reveal to you the secret of love. It is caring for others, respecting them, protecting them and waiting for them. This is putting tenderness and love into action.
At this point in life you feel also a great longing for freedom. Many people will say to you that freedom means doing whatever you want. But here you have to be able to say no. If you do not know how to say “no”, you are not free. The person who is free is he or she who is able to say “yes” and who knows how to say “no”. Freedom is not the ability simply to do what I want. This makes us self-centred and aloof, and it prevents us from being open and sincere friends; it is not true to say “it is good enough if it serves me”. No, this is not true. Instead, freedom is the gift of being able to choose the good: this is true freedom. The free person is the one who chooses what is good, what is pleasing to God, even if it requires effort, even if it is not easy. I believe that you young men and women are not afraid to make the effort, that you are indeed courageous! Only by courageous and firm decisions do we realize our greatest dreams, the dreams which it is worth spending our entire lives to pursue. Courageous and noble choices. Do not be content with mediocrity, with “simply going with the flow”, with being comfortable and laid back. Don’t believe those who would distract you from the real treasure, which you are, by telling you that life is beautiful only if you have many possessions. Be sceptical about people who want to make you believe that you are only important if you act tough like the heroes in films or if you wear the latest fashions. Your happiness has no price. It cannot be bought: it is not an app that you can download on your phones nor will the latest update bring you freedom and grandeur in love. True freedom is something else altogether.
That is because love is a free gift which calls for an open heart; love is a responsibility, but a noble responsibility which is life-long; it is a daily task for those who can achieve great dreams! Woe to your people who do not know how to dream, who do not dare to dream! If a person of your age is not able to dream, if they have already gone into retirement… this is not good. Love is nurtured by trust, respect and forgiveness. Love does not happen because we talk about it, but when we live it: it is not a sweet poem to study and memorize, but is a life choice to put into practice! How can we grow in love? The secret, once again, is the Lord: Jesus gives us himself in the Mass, he offers us forgives and peace in Confession. There we learn to receive his love, to make it ours and to give it to the world. And when loving seems hard, when it is difficult to say no to something wrong, look up at Jesus on the cross, embrace the cross and don’t ever let go of his hand. He will point you ever higher, and pick you up whenever you fall. Throughout life we will fall many times, because we are sinners, we are weak. But there is always the hand of God who picks us up, who raises us up. Jesus wants us to be up on our feet! Think of the beautiful word Jesus said to the paralytic: “Arise!”. God has created us to be on our feet. There is a lovely song that mountain climbers sing as they climb. It goes like this: “In climbing, the important thing is not to not fall, but to not remain fallen!. To have the courage to pick oneself up, to allow oneself to be raised up by Jesus. And his hand is often given through the hand of a friend, through the hand of one’s parents, through the hand of those who accompany us throughout life. Jesus himself is present in them. So arise! God wants us up on our feet, ever on our feet!
I know that you are capable of acts of great friendship and goodness. With these you are called to build the future, together with others and for others, but never against anyone! One never builds “against”; this is called “destruction”. You will do amazing things if you prepare well, starting now, by living your youth and all its gifts to the fullest and without fear of hard work. Be like sporting champions, who attain high goals by quiet daily effort and practice. Let your daily programme be the works of mercy. Enthusiastically practice them, so as to be champions in life, champions in love! In this way you will be recognized as disciples of Jesus. In this way, you will have the identification card of the Christian. And I promise you: your joy will be complete.
Today’s celebration can be said to be bittersweet. It is joyful and sorrowful at the same time. We celebrate the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem to the cries of his disciples who acclaim him as king. Yet we also solemnly proclaim the Gospel account of his Passion. In this poignant contrast, our hearts experience in some small measure what Jesus himself must have felt in his own heart that day, as he rejoiced with his friends and wept over Jerusalem.
For thirty-two years now, the joyful aspect of this Sunday has been enriched by the enthusiasm of young people, thanks to the celebration of World Youth Day. This year, it is being celebrated at the diocesan level, but here in Saint Peter’s Square it will be marked by the deeply moving and evocative moment when the WYD cross is passed from the young people of Kraków to those of Panama.
The Gospel we heard before the procession (cf. Mt 21:1-11) describes Jesus as he comes down from the Mount of Olives on the back of a colt that had never been ridden. It recounts the enthusiasm of the disciples who acclaim the Master with cries of joy, and we can picture in our minds the excitement of the children and young people of the city who joined in the excitement. Jesus himself sees in this joyful welcome an inexorable force willed by God. To the scandalized Pharisees he responds: “I tell you that if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Lk 19:40).
Yet Jesus who, in fulfilment of the Scriptures, enters the holy city in this way is no misguided purveyor of illusions, no new age prophet, no imposter. Rather, he is clearly a Messiah who comes in the guise of a servant, the servant of God and of man, and goes to his passion. He is the great “patient”, who suffers all the pain of humanity.
So as we joyfully acclaim our King, let us also think of the sufferings that he will have to endure in this week. Let us think of the slanders and insults, the snares and betrayals, the abandonment to an unjust judgment, the blows, the lashes and the crown of thorns… And lastly, the way of the cross leading to the crucifixion.
He had spoken clearly of this to his disciples: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Jesus never promised honour and success. The Gospels make this clear. He had always warned his friends that this was to be his path, and that the final victory would be achieved through the passion and the cross. All this holds true for us too. Let us ask for the grace to follow Jesus faithfully, not in words but in deeds. Let us also ask for the patience to carry our own cross, not to refuse it or set it aside, but rather, in looking to him, to take it up and to carry it daily.
This Jesus, who accepts the hosannas of the crowd, knows full well that they will soon be followed by the cry: “Crucify him!” He does not ask us to contemplate him only in pictures and photographs, or in the videos that circulate on the internet. No. He is present in our many brothers and sisters who today endure sufferings like his own: they suffer from slave labour, from family tragedies, from diseases… They suffer from wars and terrorism, from interests that are armed and ready to strike. Women and men who are cheated, violated in their dignity, discarded… Jesus is in them, in each of them, and, with marred features and broken voice, he asks to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved.
It is not some other Jesus, but the same Jesus who entered Jerusalem amid the waving of palm branches. It is the same Jesus who was nailed to the cross and died between two criminals. We have no other Lord but him: Jesus, the humble King of justice, mercy and peace.
Forty days after Christmas, we celebrate the Lord who enters the Temple and comes to encounter his people. In the Christian East, this feast is called the “Feast of Encounter”: it is the encounter between God, who became a child to bring newness to our world, and an expectant humanity, represented by the elderly man and woman in the Temple.
In the Temple, there is also an encounter between two couples: the young Mary and Joseph, and the elderly Simeon and Anna. The old receive from the young, while the young draw upon the old. In the Temple, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their people. This is important, because God’s promise does not come to fulfilment merely in individuals, once for all, but within a community and throughout history. There too, Mary and Joseph find the roots of their faith, for faith is not something learned from a book, but the art of living with God, learned from the experience of those who have gone before us. The two young people, in meeting the two older people, thus find themselves. And the two older people, nearing the end of their days, receive Jesus, the meaning of their lives. This event fulfils the prophecy of Joel: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (2:28). In this encounter, the young see their mission and the elderly realize their dreams. All because, at the centre of the encounter, is Jesus.
Let us look to our own lives, dear consecrated brothers and sisters. Everything started in an encounter with the Lord. Our journey of consecration was born of an encounter and a call. We need to keep this in mind. And if we remember aright, we will realize that in that encounter we were not alone with Jesus; there was also the people of God, the Church, young and old, just as in today’s Gospel. It is striking too, that while the young Mary and Joseph faithfully observe the Law – the Gospel tells us this four times – and never speak, the elderly Simeon and Anna come running up and prophesy. It seems it should be the other way around. Generally, it is the young who speak enthusiastically about the future, while the elderly protect the past. In the Gospel, the very opposite occurs, because when we meet one another in the Lord, God’s surprises immediately follow.
For this to occur in the consecrated life, we have to remember that we can never renew our encounter with the Lord without others; we can never leave others behind, never pass over generations, but must accompany one another daily, keeping the Lord always at the centre. For if the young are called to open new doors, the elderly hold the keys. An institute remains youthful by going back to its roots, by listening to its older members. There is no future without this encounter between the old and the young. There is no growth without roots and no flowering without new buds. There is never prophecy without memory, or memory without prophecy. And constant encounter.
Today’s frantic pace leads us to close many doors to encounter, often for fear of others. Only shopping malls and internet connections are always open. Yet that is not how it should be with consecrated life: the brother and the sister given to me by God are a part of my history, gifts to be cherished. May we never look at the screen of our cellphone more than the eyes of our brothers or sisters, or focus more on our software than on the Lord. For whenever we put our own projects, methods and organization at the centre, consecrated life stops being attractive; it no longer speaks to others; it no longer flourishes because it forgets its very foundations, its very roots.
Consecrated life is born and reborn of an encounter with Jesus as he is: poor, chaste and obedient. We journey along a double track: on the one hand, God’s loving initiative, from which everything starts and to which we must always return; on the other, our own response, which is truly loving when it has no “ifs” or “buts”, when it imitates Jesus in his poverty, chastity and obedience. Whereas the life of this world attempts to take hold of us, the consecrated life turns from fleeting riches to embrace the One who endures forever. The life of this world pursues selfish pleasures and desires; the consecrated life frees our affections of every possession in order fully to love God and other people. Worldly life aims to do whatever we want; consecrated life chooses humble obedience as the greater freedom. And while worldly life soon leaves our hands and hearts empty, life in Jesus fills us with peace to the very end, as in the Gospel, where Simeon and Anna come happily to the sunset of their lives with the Lord in their arms and joy in their hearts.
How good it is for us to hold the Lord “in our arms” (Lk 2:28), like Simeon. Not only in our heads and in our hearts, but also “in our hands”, in all that we do: in prayer, at work, at the table, on the telephone, at school, with the poor, everywhere. Having the Lord “in our hands” is an antidote to insular mysticism and frenetic activism, since a genuine encounter with Jesus corrects both saccharine piety and frazzled hyperactivity. Savouring the encounter with Jesus is also the remedy for the paralysis of routine, for it opens us up to the daily “havoc” of grace. The secret to fanning the flame of our spiritual life is a willingness to allow ourselves to encounter Jesus and to be encountered by him; otherwise we fall into a stifling life, where disgruntlement, bitterness and inevitable disappointments get the better of us. To encounter one another in Jesus as brothers and sisters, young and old, and thus to abandon the barren rhetoric of “the good old days” – a nostalgia that kills the soul – and to silence those who think that “everything is falling apart”. If we encounter Jesus and our brothers and sisters in the everyday events of our life, our hearts will no longer be set on the past or the future, but will experience the “today of God” in peace with everyone.
At the end of the Gospels, there is another encounter with Jesus that can inspire the consecrated life. It is that of the women before the tomb. They had gone to encounter the dead; their journey seemed pointless. You too are journeying against the current: the life of the world easily rejects poverty, chastity and obedience. But like those women, keep moving forward, without worrying about whatever heavy stones need to be removed (cf. Mk 16:3). And like those women, be the first to meet the Lord, risen and alive. Cling to him (cf. Mt 28:9) and go off immediately to tell your brothers and sisters, your eyes brimming with joy (cf. v. 8). In this way, you are the Church’s perennial dawn. You, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, are the Church’s perennial dawn! I ask you to renew this very day your encounter with Jesus, to walk together towards him. And this will give light to your eyes and strength to your steps.
Jesus enters Jerusalem. The liturgy invites us to share in the joy and celebration of the people who cry out in praise of their Lord; a joy that will fade and leaves a bitter and sorrowful taste by the end of the account of the Passion. This celebration seems to combine stories of joy and suffering, mistakes and successes, which are part of our daily lives as disciples. It somehow expresses the contradictory feelings that we too, the men and women of today, experience: the capacity for great love… but also for great hatred; the capacity for courageous self-sacrifice, but also the ability to “wash our hands” at the right moment; the capacity for loyalty, but also for great abandonment and betrayal.
We also see clearly throughout the Gospel account that the joy Jesus awakens is, for some, a source of anger and irritation.
Jesus enters the city surrounded by his people and by a cacophony of singing and shouting. We can imagine that amid the outcry we hear, all at the same time, the voice of the forgiven son, the healed leper, or the bleating of the lost sheep. Then too, the song of the publican and the unclean man; the cry of those living on the edges of the city. And the cry of those men and women who had followed Jesus because they felt his compassion for their pain and misery… That outcry is the song and the spontaneous joy of all those left behind and overlooked, who, having been touched by Jesus, can now shout: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. How could they not praise the one who had restored their dignity and hope? Theirs is the joy of so many forgiven sinners who are able to trust and hope once again. And they cry out. They rejoice. This is joy.
All this joy and praise is a source of unease, scandal and upset for those who consider themselves righteous and “faithful” to the law and its ritual precepts. A joy unbearable for those hardened against pain, suffering and misery. Many of these think to themselves: “Such ill-mannered people!” A joy intolerable for those who have forgotten the many chances they themselves had been given. How hard it is for the comfortable and the self-righteous to understand the joy and the celebration of God’s mercy! How hard it is for those who trust only in themselves, and look down on others, to share in this joy.
And so here is where another kind of shouting comes from, the fierce cry of those who shout out: “Crucify him!” It is not spontaneous but already armed with disparagement, slander and false witness. It is a cry that emerges in moving from the facts to an account of the facts; it comes from this “story”. It is the voice of those who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others. This is a false account. The cry of those who have no problem in seeking ways to gain power and to silence dissonant voices. The cry that comes from “spinning” facts and painting them such that they disfigure the face of Jesus and turn him into a “criminal”. It is the voice of those who want to defend their own position, especially by discrediting the defenceless. It is the cry born of the show of self-sufficiency, pride and arrogance, which sees no problem in shouting: “Crucify him, crucify him”.
And so the celebration of the people ends up being stifled. Hope is demolished, dreams are killed, joy is suppressed; the heart is shielded and charity grows cold. It is cry of “save yourself”, which would dull our sense of solidarity, dampen our ideals, and blur our vision... the cry that wants to erase compassion, that “suffering with” that is compassion, that is the weakness of God.
Faced with such people, the best remedy is to look at Christ’s cross and let ourselves be challenged by his final cry. He died crying out his love for each of us: young and old, saints and sinners, the people of his times and of our own. We have been saved by his cross, and no one can repress the joy of the Gospel; no one, in any situation whatsoever, is far from the Father’s merciful gaze. Looking at the cross means allowing our priorities, choices and actions to be challenged. It means questioning ourselves about our sensitivity to those experiencing difficulty. Brothers and sisters, where is our heart focused? Does Jesus Christ continue to be a source of joy and praise in our heart, or does its priorities and concerns make us ashamed to look at sinners, the least and forgotten?
And you, dear young people, the joy that Jesus awakens in you is a source of anger and even irritation to some, since a joyful young person is hard to manipulate. A joyful young person is hard to manipulate!
But today, a third kind of shouting is possible: “And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”” (Lk 19: 39-40).
The temptation to silence young people has always existed. The Pharisees themselves rebuke Jesus and ask him to silence them.
There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anaesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. “Keep quiet, you!” There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.
On this Palm Sunday, as we celebrate World Youth Day, we do well to hear Jesus’ answer to all those Pharisees past and present, even the ones of today: “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40).
Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, so as not to fall into Friday’s “Crucify him!”... It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?
Please, make that choice, before the stones themselves cry out.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!
Today is the Feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. Who among you is named Anthony? A round of applause for all the ‘Anthony's’.
Today, we shall begin a new series of catechesis on the theme of the Commandments. The Commandments of the Law of God. To introduce it, let us draw from the passage just heard: the encounter between Jesus and a man — he is a young man — who, on his knees, asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life (cf. Mk 10:17-21). And in that question is the challenge of every life, ours too: the desire for a full, infinite life. What must we do to achieve it? What path must we take? To truly live, to live a noble life.... How many young people try to ‘live’ and destroy themselves by following things that are fleeting.
Some think that it would be better to extinguish this impulse — the impulse to live — because it is dangerous. I would like to say, especially to young people: our worst enemy is not practical problems, no matter how serious and dramatic: life’s greatest danger is a poor spirit of adaptation which is neither meekness nor humility, but mediocrity, cowardice.  Is a mediocre young person a youth with a future or not? No! He or she remains there, will not grow, will not have success. Mediocrity or cowardice. Those young people who are afraid of everything: ‘No, this is how I am...’. These young people will not move forward. Meekness, strength, and not cowardice, not mediocrity.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati — he was a young man — used to say that one must live, not just get by.  The mediocre just get by, living by their life force. One must ask the heavenly Father, for today’s young people, for the gift of a healthy restlessness. But, at home, in your homes, in every family, when a young person is seen sitting idle all day, at times mom and dad wonder: “is he sick; is something wrong?”, and they take him to the doctor. The life of young people is about moving forward, being restless, healthy restlessness, the capacity not to be content with a life without beauty, without colour. If young people are not hungry for an authentic life, I wonder, where will humanity end up? Where will humanity go with young people who are idle and not restless?
The question of that man in the Gospel passage that we have heard is inside of each of us: how can we find life, life in abundance, happiness? Jesus answers: “You know the commandments” (v. 19), and cites part of the Ten Commandments. It is a pedagogical process, by which Jesus wishes to lead to an exact place; in fact it is already clear, from that man’s question, that he does not have a full life; he seeks more and is restless. Thus, what does he need in order to understand? He says: “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth” (v. 20).
How do we pass from youth to maturity? When we begin to accept our own limitations. We become adults when we ‘relativize’ and become aware of ‘what is lacking’ (cf. v. 21). This man is forced to acknowledge that everything he is able to “do” does not rise above a “ceiling”; it does not exceed a margin.
How great it is to be men and women! How precious our existence is! Yet, there is a truth that, in the history of the last centuries, mankind has often rejected, with tragic consequences: the truth of our limitations.
In the Gospel Jesus says something that can help us: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Mt 5:17). The Lord Jesus gives us the fulfilment; he came for this. That man had to come to the brink, where he had to take a decisive leap, where the possibility was presented to stop living for himself, for his own deeds, for his own goods and — precisely because he lacked a full life — to leave everything to follow the Lord. Clearly, in Jesus’ final — immense, wonderful — invitation, there is no proposal of poverty, but of wealth, of the true richness: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21).
Being able to choose between an original and a copy, who would choose the copy? Here is the challenge: finding life’s original, not the copy. Jesus does not offer surrogates, but true life, true love, true richness! How will young people be able to follow us in faith if they do not see us choose the original, if they see us adjusting to half measures? It is awful to find half-measure Christians, — allow me the word — ‘dwarf’ Christians; they grow to a certain height and no more; Christians with a miniaturized, closed heart. It is awful to find this. We need the example of someone who invites me to a ‘beyond’, a ‘plus’, to grow a little. Saint Ignatius called it the ‘magis’, “the fire, the fervour of action that rouses us from slumber”.
The path of what is lacking passes through what there is. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law nor the Prophets, but to fulfil. We must start from reality in order to take the leap into ‘what we lack’. We must scrutinize the ordinary in order to open ourselves to the extraordinary.
In these catechesis we will take the two tablets of Moses as Christians, taking Jesus’ hand, in order to pass from the illusions of youth to the treasure that is in heaven, walking behind Him. We will discover, in each of these laws, ancient and wise, the door opened by the Father who is in heaven so that the Lord Jesus, who has crossed the threshold, may lead us to true life. His life. The life of the children of God.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, and Dear Italian Young People, Good morning!
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul addresses an urgent invitation to us: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). But I ask myself: how does the Holy Spirit become saddened? We all received him in Baptism and in Confirmation. Thus, in order not to sadden the Holy Spirit, it is necessary to live in a manner consistent with the promises of Baptism that are renewed in Confirmation. In a consistent manner, not with hypocrisy. Do not forget this. Christians cannot be hypocrites. They must live in a consistent manner. The promises of Baptism have two aspects: rejecting evil and clinging to good.
Rejecting evil means saying ‘no’ to temptation, to sin, to Satan. More concretely, it means saying ‘no’ to a culture of death that manifests itself in escaping from reality towards a false happiness that is expressed in lies, deceit, injustice and in despising others. ‘No’ to all this. The new life given to us in Baptism has the Spirit as its wellspring and rejects any behaviour dominated by feelings of division and discord. This is why the Apostle Paul urges that “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from your hearts, with all malice” (cf. v. 31). This is what Paul says. These six elements or vices which unsettle the joy of the Holy Spirit, poison the heart and lead to cursing God and our neighbours.
But, it is not enough to refrain from doing evil in order to be a good Christian. It is necessary to cling to good and to do good. And then Saint Paul continues: “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32). Often, we happen to hear someone say: “I do no harm to anyone”. And they think they are saints. All right, but do you do good? How many people do no evil but, at the same time, do no good, and their life goes by in indifference, apathy and tepidness. This attitude is contrary to the Gospel and it also goes against the temperament of you young people, who are by nature dynamic, passionate and brave. Remember this — if you remember it we can repeat it together: “It is good to do no evil, but it is evil to do no good”. Saint Alberto Hurtado used to say this.
Today, I urge you to be protagonists in good! Protagonists in good. Do not feel all is well when you refrain from doing evil. Everyone is guilty of not doing the good they could have done. It is not enough to refrain from hate. One must forgive. It is not enough to refrain from bearing grudges. One must pray for one’s enemies. It is not enough not to refrain from causing division. We must bring peace where there is none. It is not enough to refrain from speaking ill of others. We must interrupt when we hear others speak badly about someone: stopping the gossip: this is doing good. If we do not oppose evil, we feed it tacitly. It is necessary to intervene where evil spreads because evil spreads in the absence of audacious Christians who oppose it with good, walking in love (cf. 5:2), according to Saint Paul’s admonition.
Dear young people, you have walked a lot in these days! Therefore you are in good shape and I can tell you: walk in charity, walk in love! And let us walk together toward the upcoming Synod of Bishops. May the Virgin Mary sustain us with her maternal intercession so that, every day, each of us may say ‘no’ to evil and ‘yes’ to good, through our actions.
“He receives sinners and eats with them”. We just heard this in the Gospel reading (Lk 15:2). They are the words muttered by some of the Pharisees and scribes, doctors of the law, who were greatly upset and scandalized by the way Jesus was behaving.
With those words, they tried to discredit and dismiss Jesus in the eyes of everyone. But all they managed to do was point out one of his most ordinary, most distinctive, most beautiful ways of relating to others: “He receives sinners and eats with them”. Now we are all sinners, all of us, and for that reason Jesus receives with care all of us who are here, and if anyone does not feel that they are sinners – among all of us who are here – they should know that Jesus is not going to receive them, and they would miss out on the best part.
Jesus is not afraid to approach those who, for countless reasons, were the object of social hatred, like the publicans – we know that tax collectors grew rich by exploiting their own people and they caused great resentment –or those on the receiving end of social hatred because they had made an error in their lives, because of their errors and mistakes, some fault, and now they were called sinners. Jesus does this because he knows that in heaven there is more joy for a single one of those who make mistakes, for a single converted sinner, than for ninety-nine righteous people who remain good (Lk 15:7).
And whereas these people were content to grumble or complain because Jesus was meeting people who were marked by some kind of social error, some sin, and closed the doors on conversion, on dialogue with him – Jesus approaches and engages, Jesus puts his reputation at risk. He asks us, as he always does, to lift our eyes to a horizon that can renew our life, that can renew our history. All of us, all have a horizon. All of us. Someone may say: “I do not have one”. Open the window and you will find it, open the window of love which is Jesus and you will find him. We all have a horizon. They are two very different, contrasting approaches, Jesus’ one, and that of the doctors of the law. A sterile, fruitless approach – that of complaining and gossip, the person who is always speaking badly about others and is self-righteous – and another, one that invites us to change and to conversion, which is the Lord’s approach, a new life as you have just said a short while ago [turning to the young man who gave testimony].
The approach of complaining and of gossip
Now this is not something from a long time ago, it is current. Many people do not tolerate this attitude of Jesus; they don’t like it. First by complaining under their breath and then by shouting, they make known their displeasure, seeking to discredit Jesus’ way of acting and that of all those who are with him. They do not accept and they reject this option of drawing near to others and giving them another chance. These people condemn once and for all, they discredit once and for all and forget that in God’s eyes they are disqualified and need tenderness, need love and understanding, but do not wish to accept it. Where people’s lives are concerned, it seems easier to attach signs and labels that petrify and stigmatize not only people’s past but also their present and future. We put labels on people: “this one is like that”, “this one did that thing, and that’s it”, and he has to bear this for the rest of his days. That’s how people are who mutter – the gossips – they are like this. And labels ultimately serve only to divide: good people over here, and bad ones over there; the righteous over here and sinners over there. And this Jesus does not accept; this is the culture of the adjective; we delight in “adjectivizing” people, it gives us delight: “What is your name? My name is ‘good’”. No, that is an adjective. “What is your name?” Go to the person’s name: Who are you? What do you do? What dreams do you have? What does your heart feel? Gossips are not interested in this; they are quickly looking for a label to knock someone down off their pedestal. The culture of the adjective which discredits people. Think about that so as not to fall into what society so easily offers us.
This attitude spoils everything, because it erects an invisible wall that makes people think that, if we marginalize, separate and isolate others, all our problems will magically be solved. When a society or community allows this, and does nothing more than complain, gossip and backbite, it enters into a vicious circle of division, blame and condemnation. Strange that these people who do not accept Jesus, and what Jesus is teaching us, are people who are always on bad terms with each other, among those who call themselves righteous. And what’s more, it is an attitude of discrimination and exclusion, of confrontation leading people to say irresponsibly, like Caiaphas: “It is better that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (Jn 11:50). Better that they should all be kept over there, so that they will not give trouble; we want to live in peace. This is hard-hearted, and Jesus had to confront this; and we are also confronted with this today. Normally the thread is cut at the thinnest part: that of the poor and the defenceless. And it is they who suffer the most from this social disapproval that does allow them to raise themselves up.
How painful it is to see a society concentrate its energies more on complaining and backbiting than on fighting tirelessly to create opportunities and change.
The approach of conversion: the other approach
The Gospel, on the other hand, is completely characterized by this other approach, which is nothing more or less than that of God’s own heart. God never chases you away, God never chases anyone away; God says to you: “Come”. God waits for you and embraces you, and if you do not know the way, he is going to show you, as this shepherd did with the sheep. The other approach, however, excludes. The Lord wants to celebrate when he sees his children returning home (Lk 15:11-31). And Jesus testified to this by showing to the very end the merciful love of the Father. We have a Father – you said it yourself – I enjoyed your testimony: we have a Father. I have a Father who loves me, a beautiful thing. A love, Jesus’ love, that has no time for complaining, but seeks to break the circle of useless, needless, cold and sterile criticism. “I give you thanks, Lord – said that doctor of the law – that I am not like that one, I am not like him. The ones who believe they have a soul ten times purified in the illusion of a sterile life that is no good for anything. I once heard a country farmer saying something that struck me: “What is the purest water? Yes, distilled water”, he said; “You know, Father, that when I drink it, it has no flavour at all”. This is how life is for those who criticize and gossip and separate themselves from others: they feel so pure, so sterile, that they have no flavour at all; they are incapable of inviting someone; they live to take care of themselves, to have cosmetic surgery done on their souls and not to hold out their hand to others and help them to grow, which is what Jesus does; he accepts the complexity of life and of every situation. The love of Jesus, the love of God, the love of God our Father – as you said to us – is a love that initiates a process capable of inventing ways, offering means for integration and transformation, healing, forgiveness and salvation. By eating with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus shatters the mentality that separates, that excludes, that isolates, that falsely separates “the good and the bad”. He does not do this by decree, or simply with good intentions, or with slogans or sentimentality. How does Jesus do it? By creating bonds, relationships capable of enabling new processes; investing in and celebrating every possible step forward. That’s why Jesus does not say to Matthew when he converts – you will see it in the Gospel: “Well, this is good, I congratulate you, come with me”. No, he says to him: “Let us celebrate in your home”, and he invites all his friends, who with Matthew had been condemned by the society, to celebrate. The gossipmonger, the one who separates, does not know how to celebrate because he has an embittered heart.
Creating relationships, celebrating. This is what Jesus does, and that way he breaks with another form of complaining, one even harder to detect, one that “stifles dreams” because it keeps whispering: “you can’t do it, you can’t do it”. How many times you have heard this: “you can’t do it”. Watch out! This is like a woodworm that eats you from the inside out. Watch out when you feel “you can’t do it”, give yourself a slap: “Yes, I can and I will show you”. The whisper, the interior whisper that haunts those who repent of their sin and acknowledge their mistakes, but don’t think that they can change. And this happens when they think that those who are born publicans will always die publicans; and that is not true. The Gospel tell us quite the opposite. Eleven of the twelve disciples were bad sinners, because they committed the worst sin: they abandoned their Master, others disowned him, others ran far away. The Apostles betrayed him, and Jesus went to look for them one by one, and they are the ones who changed the whole world. It did not occur to any of them to say: “you can’t do it”, because having seen Jesus’ love after their betrayal, “I am going to be able to do it, because you give me the strength”. Watch out for the “you-can’t-do-it” woodworm, be very careful.
Friends, each of us is much more than our labels which people attach to us; each is much more than the adjectives that they want to give us, each is much more than the condemnation foisted on us. And that is what Jesus teaches us and asks us to believe. Jesus’ approach challenges us to ask and seek help when setting out on the path of improvement. There are times when complaining seems to have the upper hand, but don’t believe it, don’t listen to it. Seek out and listen to the voices that encourage you to look ahead, not those that pull you down. Listen to the voices that open the window for you and let you see the horizon: “Yes, but it’s far off”. “But you can do it. Focus on it carefully and you will be able to do it”. And every time the woodworm comes with “you can’t do it”, answer it from within: “I can do it”, and focus on the horizon.
The joy and hope of every Christian – of all of us, and the Pope too – comes from having experienced this approach of God, who looks at us and says, “You are part of my family and I cannot leave you at the mercy of the elements”; this is what God says to each one of us, because God is Father – you said it yourself: “You are part of my family and I am not going to leave you to the mercy of the elements, I am not going to leave you lying in the ditch, no, I cannot lose you along the way – God says to us, to each of us, by name and surname – I am here at your side”. Here? Yes, Lord. It is that feeling that you, Luis, described at those times when it seemed it was all over, yet something said: “No! It is not all over”, because you have a bigger purpose that lets you see that God our Father is always with us. He gives us people with whom we can walk, people to help us achieve new goals.
So Jesus turns complaining into celebration, and tells us: “Rejoice with me, we are going to celebrate!” In the parable of the prodigal son – I like a translation I found once – it says that the father said, when he saw his son who had returned home: “We are going to celebrate”, and then the feast began. And one translation said: “And then the dance began”. The joy, the joy with which God receives us, with the Father’s embrace; the dance began.
Brothers and sisters: You are part of the family; you have a lot to share with others. Help us to discern how best to live and to accompany one another along the path of change that we, as a family, all need.
A society grows sick when it is unable to celebrate change in its sons and daughters. A community grows sick when it lives off relentless, negative and heartless complaining, gossip. But a society is fruitful when it is able to generate processes of inclusion and integration, of caring and trying to create opportunities and alternatives that can offer new possibilities to the young, to build a future through community, education and employment. Such a community is healthy. Even though it may feel the frustration of not knowing how to do so, it does not give up, it keeps trying. We all have to help each other to learn, as a community, to find these ways, to try again and again. It is a covenant that we have to encourage one another to keep: you, young men and women, those responsible for your custody and the authorities of the Centre and the Ministry, and all your families, as well as your pastoral assistants. Keep fighting, all of you – but not among yourselves, please –fighting for what? – to seek and find the paths of integration and transformation. And this the Lord blesses, this the Lord sustains and this the Lord accompanies.
Shortly we will continue with the penitential service, where we will all be able to experience the Lord’s gaze, which never looks at adjectives, but looks at a name, looks into our eyes, looks at our heart; he does not look at labels and condemnation, but at his sons and daughters. That is God’s approach, his way of seeing things, which rejects exclusion and gives us the strength to build the covenants needed to help us all to reject complaining: those fraternal covenants that enable our lives to be a constant invitation to the joy of salvation, to the joy of keeping a horizon open before us, to the joy of the son’s feast. Let us go this way. Thank you.
Let us go out to meet Christ the Lord, for he is coming!
The Gospel we have just heard invites us to set out, to look to the future in order to encounter the most beautiful thing that it can bring us: the definitive coming of Christ into our lives and into our world. Let us welcome him into our midst with immense joy and love, as only you young people can do! Even before we set out to seek him, we know that the Lord is seeking us; he comes out to meet us and calls us to make, create and shape a future. We set out joyfully, for we know he is waiting for us there.
The Lord knows that through you, young people, the future is coming into this land and the world, and he is counting on you to carry out your mission today (cf. Christus Vivit, 174). Just as God had a plan for the Chosen People, so he has a plan for each of you. He first dreamed of inviting all of us to a banquet that we have to prepare together, with him, as a community: the banquet of his kingdom, from which no one could remain s excluded.
Today’s Gospel speaks of ten young women called to look ahead and share in the Lord’s banquet. The problem was that some of them were not prepared, not because they had fallen asleep, but because they lacked the oil they needed for their lamps, the inner fuel to keep the fire of love burning. They had great excitement and motivation; they wanted to take part in the feast to which the Master had invited them. But as time passed, they grew weary, lost their energy and enthusiasm, and they arrived too late. This parable is about what can happen to any Christian. Full of excitement and interest, we hear the Lord’s call to be a part of his kingdom and share his joy with others. But often, as each of you is well aware, in the face of problems and obstacles like the suffering of our loved ones, or our own helplessness before apparently hopeless situations, unbelief and bitterness can take over and silently seep into our dreams, making our hearts grow cold, causing us to lose our joy and to arrive late.
So I would like to ask you three questions. Do you want to keep alive the fire that keeps you burning brightly amid darkness and difficulties? Do you want to be prepared to answer the Lord’s call? Do you want to be ready to do his will?
How can you obtain the oil that will keep you moving forward, that impels you to seek the Lord in every situation?
You are heirs to a precious history of evangelization that has been handed down to you as a sacred treasure. This beautiful cathedral is a witness to your ancestors’ faith in Jesus Christ. Their deeply rooted faithfulness led them to do good works, to build that other, even more beautiful temple, made up of living stones, in order to bring God’s merciful love to all the people of their time. They were able to do this because they were convinced of what the prophet Hosea proclaimed in today’s first reading: God had spoken to them tenderly; he had embraced them with steadfast love forever (cf. Hos 2:14.19).
Dear friends, in order that the fire of the Spirit will keep burning, so that you can keep your eyes bright and your hearts aflame, you need to be deeply rooted in the faith of your ancestors: your parents, grandparents and teachers. Not to be stuck in the past, but to learn to find the courage that can help us respond to ever new situations. They had to endure many trials and much suffering in their lives. Yet along the way, they discovered that the secret to a happy heart is the security we find when we are anchored, rooted in Jesus: in the life of Jesus, in his words, in his death and resurrection.
“I have sometimes seen young and beautiful trees, their branches reaching to the sky, pushing ever higher, and they seemed a song of hope. Later, following a storm, I would find them fallen and lifeless. They lacked deep roots. They spread their branches without being firmly planted, and so they fell as soon as nature unleashed her power. That is why it pains me to see young people sometimes being encouraged to build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now. For “it is impossible to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and to keep us firmly grounded. Dear young friends, it is easy to drift off, when there is nothing to clutch onto, to hold onto” (Christus Vivit, 179).
Without this firm sense of rootedness, we can be swayed by the “voices” of this world that compete for our attention. Many of those voices are attractive and nicely packaged; at first they seem appealing and exciting, but in the long run they will leave you only empty, weary, alone and disenchanted (cf. ibid., 277), and slowly extinguish that spark of life that the Lord once ignited in the heart of each of us.
Dear young people, you are a new generation, with new hopes, new dreams and new questions, and surely some doubts as well, yet firmly rooted in Christ. I urge you to maintain your joy and to look to the future with confidence. Rooted in Christ, view all things with the joy and confidence born of knowing that the Lord has sought us out, found us and loved us infinitely. Friendship cultivated with Jesus is the oil needed to light up your path in life and the path of all those around you: your friends and neighbours, your companions at school and work, including those who think completely unlike yourselves.
Let us go out to meet Christ the Lord, for he is coming! Do not be afraid of the future or allow yourselves to be intimidated. Rather, know that the Lord is waiting for you there, in that future, in order to prepare and celebrate the banquet of his kingdom.
Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). Let us allow these words of the Apostle Paul to lead us into these holy days, when the word of God, like a refrain, presents Jesus as a servant: on Holy Thursday, he is portrayed as the servant who washes the feet of his disciples; on Good Friday, he is presented as the suffering and victorious servant (cf. Is 52:13); and tomorrow we will hear the prophecy of Isaiah about him: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold” (Is 42:1). God saved us by serving us. We often think we are the ones who serve God. No, he is the one who freely chose to serve us, for he loved us first. It is difficult to love and not be loved in return. And it is even more difficult to serve if we do not let ourselves be served by God.
But – just one question – how did the Lord serve us? By giving his life for us. We are dear to him; we cost him dearly. Saint Angela of Foligno said she once heard Jesus say: “My love for you is no joke”. His love for us led him to sacrifice himself and to take upon himself our sins. This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love. And the Father upheld Jesus in his service. He did not take away the evil that crushed him, but rather strengthened him in his suffering so that our evil could be overcome by good, by a love that loves to the very end.
The Lord served us to the point of experiencing the most painful situations of those who love: betrayal and abandonment.
Betrayal. Jesus suffered betrayal by the disciple who sold him and by the disciple who denied him. He was betrayed by the people who sang hosanna to him and then shouted: “Crucify him!” (Mt 27:22). He was betrayed by the religious institution that unjustly condemned him and by the political institution that washed its hands of him. We can think of all the small or great betrayals that we have suffered in life. It is terrible to discover that a firmly placed trust has been betrayed. From deep within our heart a disappointment surges up that can even make life seem meaningless. This happens because we were born to be loved and to love, and the most painful thing is to be betrayed by someone who promised to be loyal and close to us. We cannot even imagine how painful it was for God who is love.
Let us look within. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see our infidelities. How many falsehoods, hypocrisies and duplicities! How many good intentions betrayed! How many broken promises! How many resolutions left unfulfilled! The Lord knows our hearts better than we do. He knows how weak and irresolute we are, how many times we fall, how hard it is for us to get up and how difficult it is to heal certain wounds. And what did he do in order to come to our aid and serve us? He told us through the Prophet: “I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them deeply” (Hos 14:5). He healed us by taking upon himself our infidelity and by taking from us our betrayals. Instead of being discouraged by the fear of failing, we can now look upon the crucifix, feel his embrace, and say: “Behold, there is my infidelity, you took it, Jesus, upon yourself. You open your arms to me, you serve me with your love, you continue to support me… And so I will keep pressing on”.
Abandonment. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says one thing from the Cross, one thing alone: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). These are powerful words. Jesus had suffered the abandonment of his own, who had fled. But the Father remained for him. Now, in the abyss of solitude, for the first time he calls him by the generic name “God”. And “in a loud voice” he asks the question “why?”, the most excruciating “why?”: “Why did you too abandon me?”. These words are in fact those of a Psalm (cf. 22:2); they tell us that Jesus also brought the experience of extreme desolation to his prayer. But the fact remains that he himself experienced that desolation: he experienced the utmost abandonment, which the Gospels testify to by quoting his very words.
Why did all this take place? Once again, it was done for our sake, to serve us. So that when we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone. Jesus experienced total abandonment in a situation he had never before experienced in order to be one with us in everything. He did it for me, for you, for all of us; he did it to say to us: “Do not be afraid, you are not alone. I experienced all your desolation in order to be ever close to you”. That is the extent to which Jesus served us: he descended into the abyss of our most bitter sufferings, culminating in betrayal and abandonment. Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: “Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you”.
Dear brothers and sisters, what can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned? We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbours. Everything else passes away, only this remains. The tragedy we are experiencing at this time summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love. So, in these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One – look upon the Crucified One! – the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and, – fixing our gaze on the Crucified One – let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve. May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others.
Behold my servant, whom I uphold. The Father, who sustained Jesus in his Passion also supports us in our efforts to serve. Loving, praying, forgiving, caring for others, in the family and in society: all this can certainly be difficult. It can feel like a crossroads. But the path of service is the victorious and life giving path by which we were saved. I would like to say this especially to young people, on this Day which has been dedicated to them for thirty-five years now. Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving themselves in order to serve others. Feel called yourselves to put your lives on the line. Do not be afraid to devote your life to God and to others; it pays! For life is a gift we receive only when we give ourselves away, and our deepest joy comes from saying yes to love, without ifs and buts. To truly say yes to love, without ifs and buts. As Jesus did for us.
We have just heard the page of Matthew’s Gospel that comes immediately before the account of Christ’s Passion. Before pouring out his love for us on the cross, Jesus shares his final wishes. He tells us that the good we do to one of our least brothers and sisters – whether hungry or thirsty, a stranger, in need, sick or in prison – we do to him (cf. Mt 25:37-40). In this way, the Lord gives us his “gift list” for the eternal wedding feast he will share with us in heaven. Those gifts are the works of mercy that make our life eternal. Each of us can ask: Do I put these works into practice? Do I do anything for someone in need? Or do I do good only for my loved ones and my friends? Do I help someone who cannot give anything back to me? Am I the friend of a poor person? And there are many other similar questions we can ask ourselves. “There I am”, Jesus says to you, “I am waiting for you there, where you least think and perhaps may not even want to look: there, in the poor”. I am there, where the dominant thought, according to which life is going well if it goes well for me, does not find interesting. I am there. Jesus also says these words to you, young people, as you strive to realize your dreams in life.
I am there. Jesus spoke these words centuries ago, to a young soldier. He was eighteen years old and not yet baptized. One day he saw a poor man who was begging people for help but received none, since “everyone walked by”. That young man, “seeing that others were not moved to compassion, understood that the poor person was there for him. However, he had nothing with him, only his uniform. He cut his cloak in two and gave half to the poor person, and was met with mocking laughter from some of the bystanders. The following night he had a dream: he saw Jesus, wearing the half of the cloak he had wrapped around the poor person, and he heard him say: ‘Martin, you covered me with this cloak’” (cf. Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini, III). Saint Martin was that young man. He had that dream because, without knowing it, he had acted like the righteous in today’s Gospel.
Dear young people, dear brothers and sisters, let us not give up on great dreams. Let us not settle only for what is necessary. The Lord does not want us to narrow our horizons or to remain parked on the roadside of life. He wants us to race boldly and joyfully towards lofty goals. We were not created to dream about vacations or the weekend, but to make God’s dreams come true in this world. God made us capable of dreaming, so that we could embrace the beauty of life. The works of mercy are the most beautiful works in life. They go right to the heart of our great dreams. If you are dreaming about real glory, not the glory of this passing world but the glory of God, this is the path to follow. Read today’s Gospel passage again and reflect on it. For the works of mercy give glory to God more than anything else. Listen carefully: the works of mercy give glory to God more than anything else. In the end we will be judged on the works of mercy.
Yet how do we begin to make great dreams come true? With great choices. Today’s Gospel speaks to us about this as well. Indeed, at the last judgement, the Lord will judge us on the choices we have made. He seems almost not to judge, but merely to separate the sheep from the goats, whereas being good or evil depends on us. He only draws out the consequences of our choices, brings them to light and respects them. Life, we come to see, is a time for making robust, decisive, eternal choices. Trivial choices lead to a trivial life; great choices to a life of greatness. Indeed, we become what we choose, for better or for worse. If we choose to steal, we become thieves. If we choose to think of ourselves, we become self-centred. If we choose to hate, we become angry. If we choose to spend hours on a cell phone, we become addicted. Yet if we choose God, daily we grow in his love, and if we choose to love others, we find true happiness. Because the beauty of our choices depends on love. Remember this because it is true: the beauty of our choices depends on love. Jesus knows that if we are self-absorbed and indifferent, we remain paralyzed, but if we give ourselves to others, we become free. The Lord of life wants us to be full of life, and he tells us the secret of life: we come to possess it only by giving it away. This is a rule of life: we come to possess life, now and in eternity, only by giving it away.
It is true that there are obstacles that can make our choices difficult: fear, insecurity, so many unanswered questions… Love, however, demands that we move beyond these, and not keep wondering why life is the way it is, and expecting answers to fall down from heaven. The answer has come: it is the gaze of the Father who loves us and who has sent us his Son. No, love pushes us to go beyond the why, and instead to ask for whom, to pass from asking, “Why am I alive?” to “For whom am I living?” From “Why is this happening to me?” to “Whom can I help?” For whom? Not just for myself! Life is already full of choices we make for ourselves: what to study, which friends to have, what home to buy, what interests or hobbies to pursue. We can waste years thinking about ourselves, without ever actually starting to love. Alessandro Manzoni offered a good piece of advice: “We ought to aim rather at doing well than being well: and thus we should come, in the end, to be even better” (I Promessi Sposi [The Betrothed], Chapter XXXVIII - 78).
Not only doubts and questions can undermine great and generous choices, but many other obstacles as well every day. Feverish consumerism can overwhelm our hearts with superfluous things. An obsession with pleasure may seem the only way to escape problems, yet it simply postpones them. A fixation with our rights can lead us to neglect our responsibilities to others. Then, there is the great misunderstanding about love, which is more than powerful emotions, but primarily a gift, a choice and a sacrifice. The art of choosing well, especially today, means not seeking approval, not plunging into a consumerist mentality that discourages originality, and not giving into the cult of appearances. Choosing life means resisting the “throwaway culture” and the desire to have “everything now”, in order to direct our lives towards the goal of heaven, towards God’s dreams. To choose life is to live, and we were born to live, not just get by. A young man like yourselves, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, said this: “I want to live, not just get by”.
Each day, in our heart, we face many choices. I would like to give you one last piece of advice to help train you to choose well. If we look within ourselves, we can see two very different questions arising. One asks, “What do I feel like doing?” This question often proves misleading, since it suggests that what really counts is thinking about ourselves and indulging in our wishes and impulses. The question that the Holy Spirit plants in our hearts is a very different one: not “What do you feel like doing?” but “What is best for you?” That is the choice we have to make daily: what do I feel like doing or what is best for me? This interior discernment can result either in frivolous choices or in decisions that shape our lives – it depends on us. Let us look to Jesus and ask him for the courage to choose what is best for us, to enable us to follow him in the way of love. And in this way to discover joy. To live, and not just get by.
Dear young people, dear brothers and sisters, dobrý večer! [good evening!]
I was pleased to listen to Archbishop Bernard’s words, and to your testimonies and questions. The questions were three, and I would now like to try, with you, to come up with some answers to them.
Let me start with Peter and Zuzka, and your question about love between two people. Love is our greatest dream in life, but it does not come cheap. Like all great things in life, love is magnificent, but not easy. It is our greatest dream, but not easy to explain. I will steal your words. You said: “We began to look at this gift with totally new eyes”. You are right: we need to have new eyes, eyes that are not taken in by appearances. Dear friends, let us not trivialize love, because love is not simply an emotion or feeling, even though it may start that way. Love is not about having everything now; it is not part of today’s throwaway culture. Love is fidelity, gift and responsibility.
Today, being really original and revolutionary means rebelling against the culture of the ephemeral, going beyond shallow instincts and momentary pleasures, and choosing to love with every fibre of your being, for the rest of your life. We were not put here just to make do, but to make something of our lives. If you think about some of the great stories you read in novels, or see in unforgettable movies or hear in some moving tale, there are always two things that go together. One is love, and the other is adventure, heroism. They always go together. For our life to be great, we need love and heroism alike. If we look to the crucified Jesus, we find both boundless love and the courage to give one’s life to the utmost, without half-measures. We also have before us Blessed Anna (Kolesárová), a heroine of love. She tells us to aim high. Please, don’t let your lives just pass by like so many episodes in a soap opera.
And when you dream of love, don’t go looking for special effects, but realize that each of you is special, each of you. Every one of us is a gift and we can make our own lives a gift. Other people await you: your communities, the poor... Dream of a beauty that goes beyond appearances, beyond cosmetic impressions, beyond the fads of the moment. Dream fearlessly of creating a family, having children and raising them well, spending your life in sharing everything with another person. Don’t be ashamed of your faults and flaws, for there is someone out there ready to accept and love them, someone who will love you just as you are. This is what love means: loving someone as he or she is, and this is beautiful. Our dreams reveal the kind of life we want. Great dreams are not about powerful cars, fashionable clothes or wild vacations. Give no heed to those who appeal to dreams but instead peddle illusions. Dreaming is one thing; having illusions is another. Those who peddle illusions by speaking about dreams use happiness as a ploy for something else. We were created for a joy that is much greater. Each of us is unique. We were put in this world to be loved for who we are, and to love others in our own unique and special way. Life is not a game, where we can sit on the bench, waiting to be called. No, each of us is unique in God’s eyes. So never let yourselves be “homogenized”, or turned into a nameless piece on an assembly line. None of us is “standard issue”; instead, we are unique, free and alive, called to live a love story with God, to make bold and firm decisions, to accept the marvellous risk of loving. So I ask you: Do you believe this? Is this your dream?
I would like to give you another bit of advice. For love to be fruitful, don’t forget your roots. What are your roots? Surely, they are your parents and especially your grandparents. Take heed: your grandparents. They prepared the soil in which you have grown. Cultivate your roots, visit your grandparents; it will do you good. Ask them questions, take time to listen to their stories. Today, there is a danger of growing up rootless, because we feel we always have to be on the go, to do everything in a hurry. What we see on the internet immediately enters our homes; just one click and people and things pop up on our screen. Those faces can end up becoming more familiar than those of our own families. Bombarded by virtual messages, we risk losing our real roots. To grow disconnected from life, or to fantasize in a void, is not a good thing; it is a temptation from the evil one. God wants us to be firmly grounded, connected to life. Never closed, but always open to others! Grounded and open. Understood? Grounded and open.
Yes, but you are going to tell me that the world thinks otherwise. We talk a lot about love, but we see another principle at work: people are only concerned about themselves. Dear young friends, don’t let this affect you; don’t be disheartened by the things that are not right, by the evil all around us. Don’t be dismayed or yield to those who tell you that nothing will ever change. Once you start believing that, you will soon yield to pessimism. Have you seen the face of a pessimistic young person? Have you seen what kind of face he or she has? An embittered face, a disappointed one. Pessimism makes us sick with bitterness, it ages us from within; your youth will quickly grow old. Today, there are so many disruptive forces, so many people ready to blame everyone and everything, spreaders of negativity, professional complainers. Pay no attention to them, no, for pessimism and complaining are not Christian. The Lord detests glumness and victimhood. We were not made to be downcast, but to look up to heaven, to others, to society.
But when we do feel downcast – because at certain moments in life everyone is a little downcast, we all know what this feels like – when we do feel downcast, what are we to do? There is one infallible remedy that can put us back on our feet. Petra, it is what you said: go to Confession. Did you hear Petra’s words? The remedy of Confession. You asked me how young people can overcome obstacles on the path to God’s mercy. Here too it is a matter of how we see things, of looking to what really matters. If I were to ask all of you what you think about when you go to Confession – don’t answer out loud – I am quite sure your answer will be “our sins”. But let me ask you, and please answer me, are sins really the centre of Confession? Does God want you to approach him thinking just about yourself and your sins; or about him? What does God want? That you approach him thinking about him or about your sins? What does he want? What is central, our sins or the Father who forgives everything? It is the Father. We do not go to confession to be punished and humiliated, but as children who run towards the Father’s loving arms. And the Father lifts us up in every situation, he forgives all our sins. Listen well to this: God always forgives! Understood? God always forgives!
I will give you a little piece of advice: after each Confession, sit still for a few moments in order to remember the forgiveness you received. Hold on to that peace in your heart, that inner freedom you are feeling; not your sins, which no longer exist, but the forgiveness that God has granted you, the caress of God the Father. Just hold on to that; don’t let it fade. The next time you go to confession, think: I am going to receive again the embrace that did me so much good. I am not going to stand before a judge, but before Jesus, who loves us and heals us. Now I would like to give some advice to priests: priests should feel that they take the place of God the Father who always forgives, embraces and welcomes. In Confession, let us give God first place. Once he is in charge, everything becomes beautiful and Confession becomes the sacrament of joy. Yes, joy; not fear and judgement but joy. It is also important for priests to be merciful. Never curious or inquisitorial, but acting as brothers who convey the Father’s forgiveness, brothers who accompany others in this embrace of the Father.
Someone might say, “But I am ashamed, I can’t get over the embarrassment of going to confession”. This is not a problem; in fact, feeling ashamed is a good thing. In life, feeling ashamed sometimes does you good, because it means you are not happy about what you did. Feeling ashamed is a good sign, but like any other sign, it points to the road we need to follow. Don’t let shame imprison you, because God is never ashamed of you. He loves you in the very place where you feel ashamed. And he loves you always. I will tell you something not in my original text: in my country, we call those brazen individuals who do all the wrong things “shameless”.
One last thing. You may say: “But Father, I can’t forgive myself, so how can God forgive me if I am always falling into the same sins?” Listen, is God ever offended? Is he offended if you go to him and ask for forgiveness? No! Never. God suffers when we think that he can’t forgive us, because that is like us telling him: “Your love is not strong enough!” Saying to God, “Your love is not strong enough” is not good! Instead, God rejoices in forgiving us, time and time again. Whenever he picks us up, he believes in us as if it were the first time. He never grows discouraged. We are the ones who get discouraged, not he. He does not label us as sinners: he sees us as children to be loved. He does not see us as lost causes, but as beloved and hurting children; and then he feels all the more compassion and tenderness. So never forget, whenever we go to confession, there is a party in heaven. May it also be so on earth!
Finally, Peter and Lenka, you experienced the cross in your lives. Thank you for your testimony. You asked how young people can be encouraged not to be afraid to embrace the cross. To embrace: that is a fine verb. Embracing helps us overcome fear. Whenever someone embraces us, we regain confidence in ourselves and also in life. So let us allow ourselves to be embraced by Jesus. Because when we embrace Jesus we once more embrace hope. We cannot embrace the cross all by ourselves; pain, in and of itself, saves no one. It is love that transforms pain. So let us embrace the cross, always with Jesus and never alone! When we embrace Jesus, joy is reborn. And the joy of Jesus helps us find peace, even in the midst of sorrow. More than anything, dear young people, I want this joy for you. I want you to bring it to your friends. Not sermons, but joy. Bring joy! Not words, but smiles and fraternal closeness. Thank you for listening! Let me ask you one last thing: do not forget to pray for me. Ďakujem! [Thank you!]
Now let us all stand and pray to God who loves us. Let us pray the Our Father.
Two images drawn from the word of God that we have heard, can help us approach Jesus as King of the Universe. The first, taken from the Book of Revelation and foreshadowed by the prophet Daniel in the first reading, is described in the words, “He is coming with the clouds” (Rev 1:7; Dan 7:13). The reference is to the glorious coming of Jesus as Lord at the end of history. The second image is from the Gospel: Christ who stands before Pilate and tells him: “I am a king” (Jn 18:37). Dear young friends, it is good to stop and think about these two images of Jesus, as we begin our journey towards the 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon.
Let us reflect, then, on the first image: Jesus who comes with the clouds. The imagery evokes Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time; it makes us realize that the final word on our life will belong to Jesus, not to us. He is – so the Scriptures tell us – the one who “rides upon the clouds” (Ps 68:5), whose power is in the heavens (cf. ibid., v. 34). He is the Lord, the sun that dawns from on high and never sets, the One who endures while everything else passes away, our sure and eternal hope. He is the Lord. This prophecy of hope illumines our nights. It tells us that God is indeed coming, that he is present and at work, guiding our history towards himself, towards all goodness. He comes “with the clouds” to reassure us. As if to say: “I will not leave you alone when storms gather over your life. I am always with you. I come to bring back the bright sky”.
The prophet Daniel, on the other hand, tells us that he saw the Lord coming with the clouds as he “watched in the night visions” (Dan 7:13). Night visions: God also comes in the night, amid the often dark clouds that gather over our life. We all know such moments. We need to be able to recognize him, to look beyond the night, to lift our gaze in order to see him amid the gloom.
Dear young people, may you too “watch in the night visions”! What does this mean? It means letting your eyes remain bright even amid the darkness. Never stop seeking the light amid whatever darkness we may often bear in our hearts or see all around us. Lift your gaze from earth to heaven, not in order to flee but to resist the temptation to remain imprisoned by our fears, for there is always the danger that our fears will rule us. Do not remain closed in on ourselves and our complaints. Lift up your eyes! Get up! This is the word of encouragement that the Lord speaks to us, the invitation to lift up our eyes, to get up, and I wanted to repeat it in my Message to you for this year of journeying together. You have been entrusted with an exciting but also challenging task: to stand tall while everything around us seems to be collapsing; to be sentinels prepared to see the light in night visions; to be builders amid the many ruins of today’s world; to be capable of dreaming. This is crucial: a young person unable to dream, has sadly become old before his time! To be capable of dreaming, because this is what people who dream do: they do not remain in the darkness, but light a candle, a flame of hope that announces the coming of the dawn. Dream, make haste, and look to the future with courage.
I would like to tell you something: we, all of us, are grateful to you when you dream. “But really? When young people dream, sometimes they make a din…”. Make a noise, because your noise is the fruit of your dreams. When you make Jesus your life’s dream, and you embrace him with joy and a contagious enthusiasm, it means you do not wish to live in the night. This does us good! Thank you for all those times when you work courageously to make your dreams come true, when you keep believing in the light even in dark moments, when you commit yourselves passionately to making our world more beautiful and humane. Thank you for all those times when you cultivate the dream of fraternity, work to heal the wounds of God’s creation, fight to ensure respect for the dignity of the vulnerable and spread the spirit of solidarity and sharing. Thank you above all, because in a world that thinks only of present gain, that tends to stifle grand ideals, you have not lost the ability to dream in this world! Do not live your lives numbly or asleep. Instead, dream and live. This helps us adults, and the Church as well. Yes, as a Church too, we need to dream, we need youthful enthusiasm in order to be witnesses of the God who is always young!
Let me tell you another thing: many of your dreams are the same as those of the Gospel. Fraternity, solidarity, justice, peace: these are Jesus’ own dreams for humanity. Don’t be afraid to encounter Jesus: he loves your dreams and helps you to make them come true. Cardinal Martini used to say that the Church and society need “dreamers who remain ever open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit” (Conversazioni notturne a Gerusalemme, Sul rischio della fede, p. 61). Dreamers who keep us open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit. This is beautiful! I hope and pray that you will be one of these dreamers!
Now we come to the second image, to Jesus who says to Pilate: “I am a king”. We are struck by Jesus’ determination, his courage, his supreme freedom. Jesus was arrested, led to the praetorium, interrogated by those who had the power to condemn him to death. In such a situation, he had every right to defend himself, and even “make an arrangement” by coming to a compromise. Instead, Jesus did not hide his identity, he did not mask his intentions, or take advantage of the opening that even Pilate had left for him. With the courage born of truth, he answered: “I am a king”. He took responsibility for his own life: I have a mission and I will carry it to fulfilment in order to bear witness to my Father’s Kingdom. “For this”, he says, “I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37). This is Jesus, who came without duplicity, in order to proclaim by his life that his Kingdom is different from the kingdoms of the world; that God does not reign in order to increase his power and to crush others; he does not reign by force of arms. His is the Kingdom of love: “I am a king”, but of this Kingdom of love; “I am a king” of the Kingdom of those who give their lives for the salvation of others.
Dear young people, Jesus’ freedom draws us in. Let us allow it to resonate within us, to challenge us, to awaken in us the courage born of truth. Let us ask ourselves this: Were I in Pilate’s place, looking Jesus in the eye, what would I be ashamed of? Faced with the truth of Jesus, the truth that is Jesus, what are the ways I am deceitful or duplicitous, the ways I displease him? Each of us will find such ways. Look for them, seek them out. We all have these duplicities, these compromises, this “arranging things” so that the cross will go away. It is good to stand before Jesus, who is truth, in order to be set free from our illusions. It is good to worship Jesus, and as a result, to be inwardly free, to see life as it really is, and not be deceived by the fashions of the moment and the displays of consumerism that dazzle but also deaden. Friends, we are not here to be enchanted by the sirens of the world, but to take our lives in hand, to “take a bite out of life”, in order to live it to the full!
In this way, with the freedom of Jesus, we find the courage we need to swim against the current. I would like to emphasize this: swimming against the current, having the courage to swim against the current. Not the daily temptation to swim against other people, like those perpetual victims and conspiracy theorists who are always casting blame on others; but rather against the unhealthy current of our own selfishness, closed-mindedness and rigidity, that often seeks like-minded groups to survive. Not this, but swimming against the tide so as to become more like Jesus. For he teaches us to meet evil only with the mild and lowly force of good. Without shortcuts, without deceit, without duplicity. Our world, beset by so many evils, does not need any more ambiguous compromises, people who move back and forth like the tide – wherever the wind blows them, wherever their own interests take them – or swing to the right or left, depending on what is most convenient, those who “sit on the fence”. A Christian like that seems more of an “equilibrist” than a Christian. Those who are always performing a balancing act are looking for ways to avoid getting their hands dirty, so as not to compromise their lives, not to take life seriously. Please, be afraid of being young people like that. Instead, be free and authentic, be the critical conscience of society. Don’t be afraid to criticize! We need your criticism. Many of you, for example, are critical of environmental pollution. We need this! Be free in criticism. Be passionate about truth, so that, with your dreams, you can say: “My life is not captive to the mindset of the world: I am free, because I reign with Jesus for justice, love and peace!” Dear young people, it is my hope and prayer that each of you can joyfully say: “With Jesus, I too am a king”. I too reign: as a living sign of the love of God, of his compassion and his tenderness. I am a dreamer, dazzled by the light of the Gospel, and I watch with hope in the night visions. And whenever I fall, I discover anew in Jesus the courage to continue fighting and hoping, the courage to keep dreaming. At every stage in life.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, kaliméra sas! [Good morning!]
Thank you for coming here today, many of you from faraway places: efcharistó! [Thank you!]. I am happy to be with you as my visit to Greece draws to a close. I take this occasion to renew my gratitude for the welcome I have received and all the work done to organize this visit: efcharistó!
I was impressed by your very fine testimonies. I had already read them, and now I would like to reflect with you on some of the points you raised.
Katerina, you told us about your recurring doubts of faith. I want to say to you and to everyone here: don’t be afraid of doubts, because they are not a sign of the lack of faith. Don’t be afraid of doubts. On the contrary, doubts are “vitamins of faith”: they help strengthen faith and make it more robust. They enable faith to grow, to become more conscious, free and mature. They make you more eager to set out, to persevere with humility, day after day. Faith is precisely that: a daily journey with Jesus who takes us by the hand, accompanies us, encourages us, and, when we fall, lifts us up. He is never afraid to do this. Faith is like a love story, where we press forward together, day after day. Like a love story too, there are times when we have to think, to face questions, to look into our hearts. And that is good, because it raises the quality of the relationship! This is very important for you, because you cannot travel the path of faith blind, no; instead, dialogue with God, with your conscience and with others.
In Katerina’s experience, I would like to highlight something very important. There are times when, faced with misunderstanding or the difficulties of life, with loneliness or disappointment, doubt can come knocking on the door of our heart. We can think: “Maybe something is wrong with me... I think I may have made a mess of things...” That, my friends, is a temptation! A temptation to be rejected. The devil sows this doubt in our hearts in order to make us gloomy and depressed. What should we do? What can we do when that kind of doubt becomes stifling and persistent, when we lose confidence and no longer even know where to begin? We need to go back to the starting point. What is that starting point? To understand it, let us listen to what your great classical culture has to say. Do you know the starting point for all philosophy, but also for art, culture and science? Do you know what it was? All that began with a spark, a realization, captured in the magnificent word: thaumàzein. It began with wonder, with amazement. Philosophy emerged from the sense of wonder about things that exist, about our own lives, about the harmony of nature all around us, and about the mystery of life itself.
Wonder, amazement, is the beginning not only of philosophy, but also of our faith. Frequently the Gospel tells us that when people encountered Jesus, they were amazed. In the encounter with God, amazement is always present, for it is the beginning of dialogue with God. And the reason is because faith is not primarily about a list of things to believe and rules to follow. In the deepest sense, faith is not an idea or a system of morality, but a reality, a beautiful truth that does not depend on us and that leaves us amazed: we are God’s beloved children! This is what faith is in its deepest sense: we are God’s beloved children! We are beloved children because we have a Father who watches over us and who never stops loving us. Think about this: whatever you may think or do, even the worst things possible, God continues to love you. I want you to understand this well: God never tires of loving. Someone might say to me: “But if I slip into the worst of things, does God love me?” God loves you. “And if I am a traitor, a terrible sinner and end up badly, in drugs… does God love me?” God loves you. God always loves. He cannot stop loving. He loves always, without exception. He looks at your life and sees that it is good (cf. Gen 1:31). He never abandons us. If we stand before a mirror, we may not see ourselves the way we would like, because we are too concerned with the things we don’t like. But if we stand before God, the perspective changes. We cannot help but be amazed that, for all our sins and failings, for him we are, and always will be, his beloved children. So, instead of starting the day by looking in the mirror, why not open your bedroom window and focus on everything beautiful that exists, on the beauty that you see all around you? Go out of yourself. Dear young people, think about this: if nature is beautiful in our eyes, in God’s eye each of you is infinitely more beautiful! Scripture says: “He has wondrously made us” (cf. Ps 139:14). In God’s eyes we are a wonder. Allow yourself to be caught up in that wonder. Let yourself be loved by the One who always believes in you, by the One who loves you even more than you succeed in loving yourself. It is not easy to understand the breadth and depth of God’s love, it is not easy to grasp it, but it is like this: simply let yourself be gazed upon by the gaze of God.
When you feel sorrow for something you have done, you should feel another kind of wonder: the wonder of forgiveness. I want to be clear about this: God always forgives. We can grow tired of asking for forgiveness, but he always forgives. In that wonder of forgiveness, we rediscover the Father’s loving face and peace of heart. He gives us a new beginning and he pours out his love in an embrace that lifts us up, dispels the evil we have done, restores the irrepressible beauty that is within us as his beloved children, and enables it to shine forth. May we never let laziness, fear or shame rob the treasure of forgiveness. May we always be amazed by God’s love! We will rediscover ourselves: not what other people say about us, or where the whims of the moment may lead us, or the hype we are in advertisements, but our deepest reality, the truth that God sees, the one he believes in: our unique beauty.
Remember those famous words engraved on the pediment of the Delphi temple? γνωθι σεαυτόν, “Know thyself”. Nowadays, we risk forgetting who we are, becoming obsessed with appearances, bombarded with messages that make life depend on what we wear, the car we drive, how others see us... Yet those ancient words – know thyself – remain valid today. Realize that your worth is in who you are and not what you have. Your worth is not in the brand of the dress or shoes you wear, but because you are unique. Here I think of another ancient image, that of the sirens. Like Odysseus on his voyage home, in the course of this life, which is an adventure-filled journey to the Father’s House, you too will come across sirens. In mythology, the sirens by their songs enchanted sailors and made them crash against the rocks. Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs... All these are like fireworks: they flare up for a moment, but then turn to smoke in the air. I understand, they are not easy to resist. Do you remember how Odysseus did it, threatened by the sirens? He had himself tied to the ship’s mast. Another ancient figure, Orpheus, teaches us a better way. He sang a more beautiful melody than that of the sirens, and thus reduced them to silence. That is why it is important to cherish the wonder, the amazement, the beauty of faith! We are Christians not out of duty, but out of beauty. And precisely because we want to cherish that beauty, we have to say no to anything that would mar it. The joy of the Gospel, the wonder of Jesus, makes our sacrifices and struggles fade into the background. Don’t you agree? Remember this: being a Christian is not essentially about doing this or that, about doing things. We must do things, but Christianity is not essentially that. In the end, being a Christian is about letting God love you and recognizing that you are a unique individual in the face of the love of God.
Let’s move on to another topic. The faces of other people. Ioanna, I liked how, in telling us about your life, you talked about other people. Above all, the two most important women in your life, your mother and grandmother, who “taught you to pray, to thank God every day”. In that way, you assimilated the faith naturally, genuinely. You made a very helpful suggestion: we need to turn to the Lord for everything, “to talk to him, to share our worries with him”. That is how Jesus became your friend. How happy he is when we open our hearts to him! That is how we come to know God. Because to know God, it is not enough to have clear ideas about him – this is a small part, yet it is not enough – but to bring your life before him. Maybe that is the reason why so many people do not know God: because all they hear are sermons and speeches. Jesus, on the other hand, makes himself known through real faces and real people. Pick up the Acts of the Apostles; there you will see how many different people, how many different faces, you come across. That is how our forebears in faith came to know Jesus. God does not hand us a catechism; he makes himself present through people’s life stories. He walks among us. God does not give us a book to learn things by heart, no. God makes himself understood with closeness, accompanying us on the path of life. Knowing Jesus is the real core of our faith.
In this regard, Ioanna, you mentioned a third person who was very important in your life: a religious sister who showed you the joy “of seeing life as service”. I want to stress this: seeing life as service. How true it is: serving others is the path to true joy! Helping others is not for losers, but for winners; it is the way to bring about something truly new in history. I am told that in Greek, the same word can mean “new” and “young”. Service is the newness of Jesus; service, dedication to others is the newness that makes life ever youthful. Do you want to do something new in life? Do you want to stay youthful? Then don’t settle for posting a few tweets. Don’t settle for virtual encounters; look for real ones, especially with people who need you. Don’t look for visibility, but for those who are invisible in our midst. That is new, even revolutionary. Going out of ourselves to encounter others. For if you live imprisoned within yourself, you will never encounter others, you will never know what it means to serve. Service is the noblest kind of act, greater than an individual: serving others. Many people today are constantly using social media, but are not themselves very social: they are caught up in themselves, prisoners of the cell phone in their hand. What appears on the screen is not the reality of other persons: their eyes, their breath and their hands. The screen can easily become a mirror, where you think you are looking at the world, but in reality you are all alone before a virtual world full of appearances, of photos dressed up to look always beautiful and acceptable. Yet how beautiful it is simply to be together with other people, to discover the newness of others! Speak with others, cultivate the mystique of togetherness, the joy of sharing, the enthusiasm of serving!
In my meeting with young people in Slovakia last September, some of them waved a banner with only two words: “Fratelli Tutti”, “brothers and sisters all”. I liked that: often in stadiums, in demonstrations, in the streets, people display banners to support their side, their ideas, their team, their rights. Yet that banner said something new: that it is wonderful for everyone to be brothers and sisters, to think of others as part of ourselves, not people to keep at a distance. I am happy to see you all here together, united, despite the fact that you come from such different countries and histories! Keep dreaming of fraternity!
In Greek, there is an illuminating saying: o fílos ine állos eaftós, “a friend is another self”. Yes, other people are the path to discovering ourselves. Not a mirror, but other people. Naturally, it isn’t easy to get out of your comfort zone; it’s easier to sit on the couch in front of the TV. But that is for old people, not for the young. Look: a young person on the couch – what an old thing that is! Young people react: when you feel lonely, you open up; when you are tempted to close in on yourself, you look for others. You practice a kind of “spiritual gymnastics”. This country gave birth to the greatest sporting events: the Olympics, the marathon... In addition to athletics that are good for the body, there is also a kind of athletics good for the soul. Training yourselves to be open to others, taking a few extra steps so as to shorten your distance from others, vaulting with your heart over obstacles; lifting one another’s burdens... This kind of training will make you happy, keep you young and help you feel the adventure of living!
Speaking of adventure, Aboud, all of us were struck by the story of your escape, together with your family, from beloved war-torn Syria, after facing more than once the risk of being killed in the conflict. Then, after so many refusals and a thousand difficulties, you landed in this country in the only way possible, by boat, remaining “on a rock without water and without food, waiting for dawn and a coast guard ship”. A true modern-day odyssey. It occurred to me that, in Homer’s Odyssey, the first hero to appear is not Odysseus, but a young man: Telemachus, his son, who embarks upon a great adventure.
Telemachus had never known his father; he was distressed and disheartened because he did not know where Odysseus was or even if he was still alive. He felt rootless and found himself at crossroads. Should he stay at home waiting, or go off on a wild search? Various voices, including that of the goddess Athena, urged him to find the courage to set out. And so he does: he gets up, secretly equips a ship and, once the sun rises, he sails away on his adventure. The meaning of life is not found by staying on the beach waiting for the wind to bring something new. Salvation lies in the open sea, in setting sail, in the quest, in the pursuit of dreams, real dreams, those we pursue with eyes open, those that involve effort, struggles, headwinds, sudden storms. Please don’t be paralyzed by fear: dream big! And dream together! As with Telemachus, there will always be those who try to stop you. There will always be those who tell you: “Forget it, don’t risk it, it’s useless”. They are the destroyers of dreams, the slayers of hope, incurably stuck in the past.
As for you, please, nourish the courage of hope! The kind of hope that you had, Aboud. How do you do this? By your choices, your decisions. Choosing is a challenge. It involves facing the fear of the unknown, emerging from the chaos of uniformity, deciding to take your life in hand. To make right choices, you should remember one thing: good decisions are always about others, not just about ourselves. Those are the decisions that are worth making, the dreams worth striving to accomplish, those that require courage and involve others.
As I leave you, this is my wish for you: the courage to go forward, the courage to take a risk and not remain on the couch. The courage to take a risk, to go out towards other persons, never in isolation but always with others. And with this courage, each of you will discover yourselves, others and the meaning of life. My wish for you is that you will discover this, with the help of God who loves you all. God loves you, so take courage and keep moving forward! [In Greek]: Together, keep moving forward!
02.02.23 Meeting with Young People and Catechists,
Martyrs’ Stadium, Kinshasa
Thank you for your show of affection, your dancing and your testimonies! I am delighted to meet you face to face, to greet you and to bless you as your hands were lifted up to heaven in celebration.
Now I would like to ask you, for a little while, not to look at me but to look at your hands. Open the palms of your hands. Look at them closely. Dear friends, God has placed the gift of life, the future of society and the future of this great country in those hands of yours. Dear brother, dear sister, do your hands not seem small and frail, empty and unsuited to so great a task? Let me tell you something: your hands all look alike, but none of them is exactly the same. No one has hands just like yours, and that is a sign that you are a unique, unrepeatable and incomparable treasure. No one in history can replace you. So ask yourself, what are my hands for? For building up or for tearing down, for giving or for grabbing, for loving or for hating? Notice how you can squeeze your hand, closing it to make a fist. Or you can open it, to offer it to God and to others. That has always been the fundamental choice we have to make, ever since ancient times, ever since the days when Abel generously offered the fruits of his labour, while Cain “raised his hand against his brother… and killed him” (Gen 4:8). Young people, you who dream of a different future: from your hands, tomorrow can be born; from your hands, peace so lacking in this world can at last come about. Yet what are we to do concretely? I would like to suggest some “ingredients for the future”: five of them, each corresponding to a finger on your hand.
The thumb, the finger closest to our heart, symbolizes prayer, which is the driving force in our life. Prayer may seem like something unreal and far from our concrete problems and issues. Yet prayer is the primary ingredient, the basic ingredient for the future, because by ourselves we cannot go very far. We are not all-powerful and, whenever we think we are, we end up failing miserably. Think of a tree, if we take away its roots. Even if that tree is large and robust, it cannot remain standing on its own. This is why we need to sink our roots in prayer and in listening to the word of God. Prayer is what allows us to grow deeply, day by day, to bear fruit, and to turn the tainted air we breathe into life-giving oxygen. Every tree needs one simple and basic element if it is to grow. That element is water. Prayer is “water for the soul”: it is hidden, unseen, yet it gives life. Those who pray grow inwardly; they are able to lift their gaze on high and to remember that we are made for heaven.
Dear brother, dear sister, we need prayer, a living prayer. Do not speak to Jesus like some far-off being who inspires awe and fear, but rather as your best friend, someone who has given his life for you. Jesus knows you, he believes in you and he loves you, always. When you contemplate him hanging on the cross for your salvation, you will come to see how precious you are to him. You can entrust to him your crosses, your fears, your anxieties, casting them upon his cross. He will embrace them all. He did this two thousand years ago; the cross you are carrying today was already a part of his cross. Do not be afraid, then, to take a cross in your hands, to press it to your heart, and to hand over all your tears to Jesus. And do not forget to contemplate his face, the face of a God who is young, alive and risen! Yes, Jesus has triumphed over evil; he made of his cross the bridge to the resurrection. So, raise your hands to him daily, praise him and bless him. Tell him the hopes of your heart, share with him the deepest secrets of your life: the person you love, the hurts you carry within, the dreams that you hold in your heart. Tell him about your neighbours, your teachers, your friends and colleagues; tell him about your country. God loves this kind of living, concrete and heartfelt prayer. It allows him to intervene, to enter into your daily life in a special way, to come with his “power of peace”. That power has a name. Do you know who it is? It is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Giver of life. The Holy Spirit is the driving force of peace, the true power of peace. That is why prayer is the most powerful weapon there is. It brings you the consolation and hope that come from God. It always opens up new possibilities and helps you overcome all your fears. Yes, prayer conquers fear and enables us to take our future into our hands. Do you believe this? Do you want to make prayer your secret, as refreshing water for the soul, as the one weapon you carry, as a travelling companion on each day’s journey?
Now let us look at the second finger, the forefinger. We use our index finger to point things out to others. Others, the community: this is the second ingredient. Dear friends, do not ruin your youth by becoming isolated and closed in on yourselves. Think about this often and you will find happiness, because community is the way to make us feel good about ourselves and to be faithful to our true calling. Going it alone may seem enticing, but it ends up leaving us only with great emptiness. Think about drugs: you end up hiding yourself from others, from an authentic life, for the sake of feeling all-powerful; but ultimately you find yourself deprived of everything. Think too about addiction to the occult and witchcraft. This form of dependency imprisons us in fear, vengeance and anger. Do not yield to illusions that promise happiness, sand castles built on appearances, easy money or distorted forms of religion.
Beware of the temptation to point a finger at someone, to exclude another person because he or she is different; beware of regionalism, tribalism, or anything that makes you feel secure in your own group, but at the same time is unconcerned with the life of the community. You know what happens: first, you believe in prejudices about others, then you justify hatred, then violence, and in the end, you find yourself in the middle of a war. But let me ask you something. Have you ever spoken with people from other groups or have you always kept to yourself? Have you ever heard other people’s stories or drawn near to their sufferings? Certainly, it is easier to condemn people than to understand them; but God’s method of building a better world is to embrace those we think of as “other”, to identify with them, to connect as a community. That is what it means to build up the Church: to broaden our horizons, to see others as our neighbours and to care about them. Do you see someone lonely, suffering or left out? Approach him or her. Not because you want that person to see what a nice person you are, but to share your smile and to offer your friendship.
David, you mentioned that young people want to be connected to others, but that social media often confuses you. It is true, virtual reality is not enough, we cannot be content just interfacing with people who are far away and sometimes not even real. Life is more than just tapping a screen with a finger. It is sad to see young people spending hours staring at a phone; then, if you look at their faces, you see that they are not smiling, that they look weary and bored. Nothing and no one can ever be a replacement for the energy that we get from being together, the sparkle in our eyes, the joy of exchanging ideas! Talking, listening to each other is essential: on the screen, everyone scrolls down for what they find interesting. So try to spend time together and experience the beauty of letting others amaze you with their stories and their experiences.
Let us now try to feel very concretely what it means to build community. Just for a few moments, hold hands with whoever is beside you. Imagine yourselves as one Church, a single people. Realize that your own welfare depends on the welfare of others, which is multiplied by the whole. Have a sense of what it means to be protected by your brother and sister, by someone who accepts you as you are and is concerned about you. And know that you are responsible for others, as a vital part of a great fraternal network in which everyone supports everyone else, and that you are indispensable. Yes, you are indispensable and responsible for your Church and your country. You are part of a greater history, one that calls you to take an active role as a builder of communion, a champion of fraternity, an indomitable dreamer of a more united world.
You are not alone in this adventure: the whole Church, throughout the world, is cheering for you. Is it a difficult challenge? Yes, but you can rise to it. You also have some friends in the stands who are encouraging you towards these goals. Do you know who they are? The saints in heaven. I think, for example, of Blessed Isidore Bakanja, of Blessed Marie-Clémentine Anuarite, and of Saint Kizito and his companions. They were witnesses of the faith, martyrs who never succumbed to the logic of violence, but proclaimed by their lives the power of love and forgiveness. Their names, written in heaven, will long endure in history, whereas narrow-mindedness and violence will always turn against those who practise them. I know you have repeatedly shown that, even at great sacrifice, you are ready to stand up to defend human rights and the hope of a better future for everyone in the country. I thank you for this and I honour the memory of all those – and they are many – who have lost their lives or their health for these noble causes. And I encourage you to go forward together, fearlessly, as a community!
Prayer and community; we come to the middle finger, which is higher than the others, as if to remind us of something essential. It is the key ingredient for a future worthy of our great expectations. And that is: honesty! To be a Christian is to witness to Christ. The first way to do this is by living virtuously, as Christ desires. This means not getting entangled in the snares of corruption. Christians cannot fail to be honest; otherwise, they betray their identity. Without honesty, we are not disciples and witnesses of Jesus; we are pagans, idolaters who worship our own ego rather than God, people who use others rather than serving them.
I wonder, though – how do we stop the spread of corruption, that seems never to stop expanding? Saint Paul helps us with a simple and brilliant phrase that you can say to yourselves over and over, until you know it by heart. Here it is: “Do not be overcome by evil; but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Do not be overcome by evil. Do not let yourselves be manipulated by individuals or groups that try to use you to keep your country in the grip of violence and instability, so that they can continue to control it without answering to anyone. But overcome evil with good. May you be the ones who transform society, the ones who turn evil into good, hatred into love, war into peace. Do you want to be that kind of person? If you do, then it is possible. Do you know why? Because each one of you has a treasure that no one can steal from you. It is your power to make choices. In fact, you are the choices you make, and you can always choose to do the right thing. We have the freedom to choose. Do not let your life be dragged along by the current of corruption. Do not let yourselves be borne along like dead branches in a contaminated river. Be indignant, but never give in to the persuasive but poisonous temptations of corruption.
I think of the witness given by a young person like yourselves, Floribert Bwana Chui, who fifteen years ago, at only twenty-six years old, was killed in Goma for having blocked the passage of spoiled foodstuffs that would have been harmful for people’s health. He could easily have turned a blind eye; nobody would have found out, and he might even have gotten ahead as a result. But, since he was a Christian, he prayed. He thought of others and he chose to be honest, saying no to the filth of corruption. That is what it means to keep your hands clean, for hands that traffic in easy money get stained with blood. If someone offers you a bribe, or promises you favours and lots of money, do not fall into the trap. Do not be deceived; do not be sucked into the swamp of evil. Do not be overcome by evil! Do not trust shady financial schemes that plunge you into the darkness. To be honest is to shine like the day; it is to radiate the light of God. It is to live the beatitude of justice: overcome evil with good!
Now we have reached the fourth finger, the ring finger, on which wedding rings are worn. If you think about it, the ring finger is also the weakest finger, the one that is the hardest for us to raise. It reminds us that the goals that bring us the greatest fulfilment in life, above all love, involve weakness, weariness and hardship. These have to be accepted, confronted with patience and trust, without letting ourselves get weighed down by pettiness, as, for example, when the beautiful symbolism of a dowry is reduced purely to a financial arrangement. In our frailty and in our moments of crisis, what is the power that makes us go forward? Forgiveness. Because forgiving means being able to start over. To forgive does not mean forgetting the past; it means refusing to repeat it. To forgive is to change the course of history. It is to raise up those who have fallen. It is to accept the idea that no one is perfect and that everyone, not just myself, has the right to make a new start.
Dear friends, to create a new future we need to give and receive forgiveness. That is what Christians do: they do not merely love those who love them, but they choose to halt the spiral of personal and tribal vendettas with forgiveness. I think, for example, of Blessed Isidore Bakanja, your brother who was brutally tortured because he refused to conceal his piety and proposed Christianity to other young people. He never yielded to feelings of hatred and, as he gave up his life, he forgave his torturer. Those who forgive bring Jesus even to places where he is not welcomed; they bring love to places where love is rejected. Those who forgive build the future. But how do we become capable of forgiveness? By first allowing ourselves to be forgiven by God. Every time we confess our sins, we receive in our hearts the power that changes history. God always forgives us, always and freely! And we are then told, as the Gospel says: to “go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). Go forth without resentment, without venom, without hatred. Go forth and make God’s ways your own, for he alone can renew history. Go forth and believe that we can always begin again with God. We can always start over, we can always forgive!
Prayer, community, honesty, forgiveness. We have now come to the last and smallest finger. You may be tempted to say: But I am so little, and whatever good I can do is but a drop in the ocean. But it is precisely littleness, our decision to become little, that attracts God. The key here is service. Those who serve make themselves little. Like a tiny seed, they seem to be swallowed up in the earth, and yet they bring forth fruit. Jesus tells us that service is the force that transforms the world. So the little question that you can tie on this finger each day is: What can I do for others? In other words, how can I serve the Church, my community, my country? Olivier, you told us that, in some isolated regions, you, the catechists, daily serve the faith communities and that, in the Church, this should be “everyone’s business”. It is true, and it is a beautiful thing to serve others, to care for them, to do something without expecting anything in return, as God does with us. I would like to thank you, dear catechists: for so many communities, you are as vital as water; always help them to grow by the integrity of your prayer and your service. To serve is not to sit idly by; it is to get up and go. Many get up and go because they want to pursue their own interests. Do not be afraid, yourselves, to pursue goodness, to invest in goodness and to proclaim the Gospel, preparing yourselves enthusiastically and suitably, and initiating long-term projects. And do not be afraid to make your voices heard, because in your hands is not only the future, but the present as well. Be at the centre of the present moment!
Dear friends, I have left you five words to help you to discern, amid all the many attractive messages you hear, what is really important in life. For in life, as in driving, disorder and confusion often create unnecessary traffic jams that waste our time and energy, and fuel anger. Rather, we do well, even amid confusion, to give our hearts and lives clarity, to make realistic plans and have stable points of reference, in order to set out for a different kind of future, refusing to heed the empty promises of opportunism. Dear friends, young people and catechists, I thank you for what you do and for who you are. Thank you for your enthusiasm, your light and your hope! Now I would like to tell you one last thing: never grow discouraged! Jesus believes in you and he will never leave you stranded. Hold fast to the joy that you feel today; never let it fade. As Floribert told his friends when they were feeling low: “Take the Gospel and read it. It will console you; it will give you joy”. All of you, together, leave behind the pessimism that paralyzes. The Democratic Republic of the Congo expects from your hands a different future, for that future is in your hands. May your country once more become, thanks to you, a garden of fraternity, the heart of peace and freedom in Africa! Thank you!
Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus! [Praised be Jesus Christ!]
Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to say köszönöm! [thank you!] for your dance, your song and your courageous testimonies. I thank each of you for being here today: I am happy to be with you! Thank you.
Bishop Ferenc has told us that youth is a time for important questions and responses. That is true, and it is important that you have someone to encourage you and to listen to your questions, not to give you simplistic, pre-packaged answers, which are useless and cannot make us happy, but to help you fearlessly face the adventure of life as you search for the right answers. That is exactly what Jesus did. Bertalan, you said that Jesus is not a storybook character or the superhero of a comic book, and that is true. He is God in the flesh, the living God who draws near to us. Jesus is a friend, the best of friends. He is a brother, the best of brothers, and he is very good at asking questions. We read in the Gospels, that he, the Teacher, always asks questions before he responds. I think of the time he found himself faced with the woman caught in adultery, at whom all were pointing their fingers. Jesus speaks, and her accusers depart. He is left alone with her and he gently asks her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (Jn 8:10). She answers, “No one, Lord” (v. 11). Even as she speaks, she realizes that God wishes not to condemn her, but to forgive her. Keep this in mind: God does not want to condemn, but to forgive. God always forgives. Don’t forget it! God always forgives; he is always there to lift us up whenever we fall! With him at our side, we should never be afraid to move ahead with our lives. We can also think of Mary Magdalene – a woman who had quite a past! – who on Easter morning was the first to see the risen Jesus. As she stood weeping by the empty tomb, Jesus came and asked her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (Jn 20:15). Hearing this question, Mary Magdalene opened her heart, unburdened her grief and revealed the deepest desires of her heart: “Where is the Lord?”.
We can look too at Jesus’ first encounter with those who were to become his disciples. Two of them, sent to him by John the Baptist, begin to follow Jesus. The Lord turns to them and asks a single question: “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38). I too ask each of you a question; answer it quietly in your hearts. My question is: “What is it that you seek? What are you looking for in life? What do you seek in your heart?” Silently, let each of us answer within ourselves. What do I seek? Jesus does not preach at them, but walks with them, and with each of us. Jesus walks closely by our side. He does not want his disciples to be like schoolchildren who merely repeat lessons learned, but young people who are free and press ahead, fellow travellers of a God who listens to their needs and is attentive to their dreams. Then, some time later, two of his young disciples blunder – his disciples often blunder! – and they ask Jesus the wrong thing, namely, to sit at his right and his left when he becomes king, because they wanted to climb higher. It is worth noting that Jesus does not rebuke them for their audacity. He does not say: “How dare you? Stop dreaming of such things!” No, Jesus does not shatter their ambitions, but corrects them about the right way to achieve them. He accepts their desire for greatness, which is good, but he insists on one thing that we too must always remember: it is not by stepping upon others that we become great, but by stooping to help them. We do not achieve greatness at the expense of others, but rather by serving them (cf. Mk 10:35-45). As you see, dear friends, Jesus wants us to accomplish great things. He doesn’t want us to be lazy “couch potatoes”; he doesn’t want us to be quiet and timid; instead, he wants us to be alive, active, ready to take charge and make history. He never disparages our expectations but, on the contrary, raises the bar of our desires. Jesus would agree with a proverb of yours, which I hope I pronounce well: Aki mer az nyer [Those who dare, win the prize].
You may well ask: how do we win in life? Just as in sports, there are two basic steps. First, aim high, then train. Aim high. Do you have a talent? Of course you do, everyone has! Don’t put it aside, thinking that the bare minimum is enough to bring happiness: a degree, a job to earn money, to have fun… No! Put your talents to good use. Do you have a good quality? Invest in it, don’t be afraid! Do you feel in your heart that you have the possibility of helping others? Do you sense how good it is to love the Lord, to have a large family, to help those in need? Then carry on, don’t think that these are unattainable desires. Rather, invest in the great goals of life! This, then, is the first step, to aim high. The second is to train. How do you train? Through dialogue with Jesus, who is the best of coaches. He listens to you, encourages you, believes in you. Did you know that? Jesus believes in you and is able to bring out the best in you. He constantly invites you to be a team player, never alone but with others: this is very important. If you want to mature and grow in life, always be a team player, in the community, sharing your experiences with others. I think, for example, of the experience of the World Youth Days, so I will take this opportunity to invite you to the next one, to be held in Portugal, in Lisbon, at the beginning of August. Nowadays there is a great temptation to be satisfied with a cell phone and a few friends. What a pity! Even if many people are willing to settle for that, or even if you are too, it is not good or healthy. You cannot shut yourselves away in small groups of friends, talking only on your cell phone. To do so – allow me to say it – is somewhat stupid.
There is one important element of training that you, Krisztina, reminded us of, when you said that nowadays, amid all our racing around, with so much hustle and bustle, there is something essential that young people, and adults as well, are lacking. You said, “We don’t make time for silence in the midst of this racket, because we are afraid of loneliness; as a result, every day we end up feeling tired.” Thank you for telling us this, Krisztina. What I would say to you is this: don’t be afraid to swim against the current, to make room for a moment of silence each day, a moment to stop and pray. Nowadays, we are bombarded with the message that we have to be fast, efficient and practically perfect, like machines – even though, dear friends, we are not machines! Then, we often find that we run out of gas and are at a loss for what to do. We have to learn how to stop and fill our tanks, to recharge our batteries. Here though, I would also say: be careful not to indulge in moodiness or brood over your troubles. Don’t waste time thinking about who did this or that to me, questioning other people’s motives. That is not good or healthy either; in fact it is poisonous, and best avoided.
Silence is the soil in which we cultivate good relationships. It allows us to entrust to Jesus whatever we are feeling, to bring him faces and names, to share our difficulties, to remember our friends and to say a prayer for them. Silence gives us a chance to read a page of the Gospel that can speak to our hearts, to worship God, to regain our inner peace. Silence allows us to pick up a book that we don’t have to read, but one that can help us learn how to read human hearts. Silence enables us to observe nature, so that we are not just in contact with appliances and devices, but discover the natural beauty that is all around us. Silence is not for sitting glued to your cell phone, or on social media. No, please! Life is real, not virtual. It does not take place on a screen, but in the world! Please do not “virtualize” life! I repeat: do not virtualize it, for life is concrete. Understood?
Silence, then, is the door to prayer, and prayer is the door to love. Dóra, I want to thank you because you told us something beautiful, from your own experience: that faith is a love story, where every day you deal with the problems of adolescence, but you know that there is always Someone at your side, Someone who is there for you, and that Someone is Jesus. He does not hesitate to help you overcome every obstacle on your path. Prayer helps you in this, because prayer is dialogue with Jesus, just as Mass is an encounter with him, and Confession is the embrace you receive from him. This reminds me of your great musician Franz Liszt. During the restoration of his piano, a few beads from his rosary were found; the rosary had broken and those beads had fallen into the instrument. This makes us realize that before a composition or performance, perhaps even after a moment of enjoyment at the piano, it was usual for him to pray. He spoke to the Lord and Our Lady about what he loved and he brought his art and talents to prayer. Praying is not boring! We are the ones who make it boring. Prayer is an encounter with the Lord, an encounter that is beautiful. So, when you pray, don’t be afraid to bring to Jesus everything that is going on in your life: your emotions and fears, your problems and expectations, your memories and hopes, everything, including your sins. Jesus understands it all. Prayer is a dialogue of life; prayer is life. Bertalan, today you were not ashamed to tell everyone about the anxiety that sometimes grips you and about your struggles with faith. What a beautiful thing it is to have this courage of honesty. Instead of having to act as if you are never afraid, you can freely share your vulnerability with the Lord and with others, without hiding or disguising anything, without wearing a mask. Thank you for your testimony, Bertalan. Thank you! On every page, the Gospel tells us that the Lord does not do great things with exceptional people, but with ordinary and weak people like ourselves. Those who count on their own abilities, and are anxious always to look good before others, keep God away from their hearts because they are only concerned about themselves. Jesus, by his questions and by his love, together with his Spirit, acts deep within us to make us real, authentic people. And today we have great need of such real and authentic people. Let me tell you something: do you know what the danger is today? Of being a fake person. Please, never be fake people, always be your real and truthful selves! “But, Father, I am ashamed because my real self is not good; you know, Father, I have certain things inside...” Look ahead, to the Lord, have courage! The Lord wants us the way we are, the way we are now, and he loves us the way we are. Take courage and move forwards! Do not be afraid of your poverty.
In this regard, I think we were all struck by what you said, Tódor, starting with your name, which honours Blessed Theodore, a great confessor of the faith who inspires us to not live by half measures. You wanted to issue a “wake-up call”, reminding us that our zeal for the mission can be blunted by living in security and comfort, while not far from here war and suffering are daily realities. This is the real challenge: to take control of our lives in order to help our world to live in peace. Each one of us should ask the uncomfortable question: What am I doing for others, for society, what am I doing for the Church, or for my enemies? Do I think only about myself? Or do I put myself on the line for others, without calculating my own interests? Please, let us reflect on our ability to be generous, our ability to love, to love as Jesus taught us, which is by loving and serving others.
Dear friends, there is one last thing I would like to share with you. It is a page of the Gospel, which sums up everything that we have said. A year and a half ago, I was here for the Eucharistic Congress. In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel there is a beautiful eucharistic passage with a young person at the centre. He was part of the crowd listening to Jesus, and he had planned ahead: he brought his lunch with him. Jesus feels compassion for the crowd, more than five thousand people, and wants to feed them; so, again in his typical way, he asks the disciples questions to get them to act. He asks one of them how they could feed the crowd, and gets a “bookkeeper” response: “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little” (Jn 6:7). As if to say: mathematically, it is impossible. Another disciple, meanwhile, sees the young person and makes an equally pessimistic comment: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (v. 9). For Jesus, though, those five loaves and two fish were enough, enough to perform the famous miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. Likewise with us: the little things we have, even our sins, are enough for Jesus. And what should we do? Place them in the hands of Jesus: that is enough.
However, there is one detail the Gospel does not tell us, but leaves it to our imagination. How did the disciples persuade that young man to give everything he had? They may have asked him to make his lunch available, and he may have looked around, seeing thousands of people, and perhaps responded as they did, by saying, “It’s not enough; why are you asking me and not handling this yourselves, as Jesus’ disciples? Who am I?” Perhaps too, they told him that Jesus himself was the one who was asking. In any event, the young man does something extraordinary: he trusts. That young man, who brought his own lunch, trusts; he gives everything away, holding nothing back. He had come there to receive from Jesus, and now he finds himself giving to Jesus. Yet that is how the miracle happened. It started with sharing: Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish started with a young person who shared with him, for the sake of others. In Jesus’ hands, the little he possessed became much. Faith is that way: it starts with giving freely, with enthusiasm and generosity, overcoming our fears and stepping forward! Dear friends, each of you is precious to Jesus, and also to me! Remember that no one can take your place in the history of the world and the Church: no one can take your place, no one can do what only you can do. Let us help each other, then, to believe that we are loved and precious, that we are made for great things. Let us pray for this and encourage one another in this! I ask you too, to help me by your prayers. Köszönöm! [Thank you!]
After these exciting days, surely we feel like repeating the words of the Apostle Peter on the mount of the Transfiguration: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” (Mt 17:4). Indeed, how good it has been to share this experience with Jesus, with one another, and to pray together with joyful hearts. Now, we can also ask an important question: What will we take back with us as we resume our daily lives?
I would like to answer this question with three verbs, drawing from the Gospel we have heard: to shine, to listen, and to be unafraid. What will we take back with us? I would respond with these three words: to shine, to listen, and to be unafraid.
The first: to shine. Jesus is transfigured. The Gospel tells us: “his face shone like the sun” (Mt 17:2). Shortly before this, he had predicted his passion and death on the cross, shattering the disciples’ image of a powerful and worldly Messiah, and disappointing their expectations. Now, in order to help them embrace the loving plan that God has for each of us, Jesus takes three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, and leads them up the mountain, where he is transfigured. Through this brilliant burst of light, Jesus prepares the disciples for the dark night of the Passion.
Dear young friends, today we too need something of this burst of light, so that it can fill us with hope as we face the many failures of each day and the darkness that assails us in life, and respond to them with the light of the resurrection of Jesus. For he is the light that never sets, the light that shines even in the dead of night. As the priest Ezra said, God has illumined our eyes (cf Ezra 9:8). Our God illumines: he illumines our vision, our hearts, our minds, our desire to do something with our lives. The Lord’s light always shines.
Yet, I would like to tell you that we do not radiate light by putting ourselves in the spotlight, for that type of light is blinding. No, we cannot illumine others by projecting a perfect, well-ordered, refined image of ourselves, or by appearing to be powerful and successful, strong but without light. No, we radiate light – we shine – by welcoming Jesus into our hearts and learning to love as he does. To love like Jesus: that is what makes us shine, makes us do works of love. Friends, I am telling you the truth: whenever you do works of love, you become light. But the moment you stop loving others and become self-centered, you extinguish your light.
The second verb is to listen. On the mountain, a bright cloud overshadows the disciples. And what does it tell us, this cloud from which the Father speaks? “This is my Son, the Beloved… listen to him!” (Mt 17:5). Listen to him. To listen to Jesus, that is life’s secret. Listen to what Jesus is saying to you. “But I don’t know what he is saying to me”. Well, take the Gospels and read there what Jesus is saying, what he is saying to your heart. For he has the words of eternal life for us, he reveals that God is our Father, that God is love. He shows us the way of love. Listen to Jesus; otherwise, even if we set out with good intentions along paths that seem to be of love, in the end those paths will be seen as selfishness disguised as love. Be careful of selfishness disguised as love! Listen to Jesus, for he will show you which paths are those of love. Listen to him.
The first word: to shine, so be radiant; then, listen in order not to take the wrong path; finally the third word: to be unafraid. Do not be afraid. We often find these words in the Bible, in the Gospels: “Do not be afraid”. These were the last words spoken by Jesus to the disciples at the moment of the Transfiguration: “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 17:7).
As young people, you have experienced these days of joy – I was about to say of glory, and indeed our encounters have been a kind of glory. You have great dreams, but often fear that they may not come true; sometimes you think that you are not up to the challenge, which is a kind of pessimism that can overcome us at times. As young people, you may be tempted at this time to lose heart, to think you fall short, or to disguise your pain with a smile. As young people, you want to change the world – and it is very good that you want to change the world – you want to work for justice and peace. You devote all your life’s energy and creativity to this, but it still seems insufficient. Yet, the Church and the world need you, the young, as much as the earth needs rain. To all of you, dear young people, who are the present and the future, yes to all of you, Jesus now says: “Have no fear”, “Do not be afraid!”.
Now, in a brief moment of silence, each of you repeat these words, in your own heart: “Do not be afraid!”
Dear young people, I would like to look into the eyes of each of you and say: Do not be afraid. I will tell you something else, also very beautiful: it is no longer I, but Jesus himself who is now looking at you. He knows each of your hearts, each of your lives; he knows your joys, your sorrows, your successes and failures. He knows your heart. Today, he says to you, here in Lisbon, at this World Youth Day: “Have no fear, take heart, do not be afraid!”.