by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Christ lives! This is at the heart of what we celebrate each Easter.
It is also the title of an apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis addressed to young people as well as to the entire church. The pope’s message is the fruit of his reflections on the deliberations of the October 2018 Synod of Bishops focused on youth, faith and the discernment of vocation.
Pope Francis identifies three great truths that, in the Holy Father’s words, “all of us need constantly to keep hearing.”
The first truth is God loves you. Pope Francis urges young people, no matter what happens to them in life, never to doubt that, at every moment, they are infinitely loved. Indeed, this is one of the great distinguishing truths of Christianity. We believe that the God who created the cosmos desires to share his life with us.
The God, who is almighty and all-knowing, chose to immerse himself fully in our human condition so that we could share in his eternal life.
It is no coincidence that the message of the Holy Father was made public on March 25, the solemnity of the Annunciation, commemorating the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary.
This truth that God loves us is the antidote to the nihilism and pessimism so pervasive in our culture. If we embrace this truth of God’s love for us revealed in Jesus, then we are never without reason for hope and joy.
Pope Francis wrote to the youth of the world: “For [God], you have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands. That is why he is concerned about you and looks to you with affection.”
The second great truth is: Christ saves you. The Holy Father reminds the church’s youth that God does not love them because of their perfection, but Our Lord loves us despite our weaknesses and failures.
This is such an important message for people in any time or place, but it is an especially important truth in a culture where young people are so powerfully influenced by social media.
While these modern tools for communication can be used for much good, they also present new challenges. One of the dangers of social media is that it can create within its users a competition to project perfection. This can place enormous pressure on young people to strive for the allusion of self-perfection.
The message of the Gospel is very different. Christianity is not about perfecting ourselves by our own willpower. It is about being transformed by our experience of the merciful and unconditional love of God. Of course, the liberating Gospel message of mercy is needed in every time and place.
However, it is particularly important today for those growing up in a culture that appears more concerned with image than depth, with outward appearance than sincerity of heart.
The third truth is: Christ is alive! Jesus is not just some historical figure that we read about and perhaps admire, but has no direct impact on our lives today. Jesus is alive and still changing hearts and transforming lives.
The Holy Father reminds us that most important in communicating our Catholic faith to our children is not instructing them in our dogmas and moral precepts but, rather, helping them cultivate a relationship, a friendship, with Jesus.
It is not that the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the church’s moral teaching are not important, but they will not make sense to our young people and be accepted by them if they do not have a friendship with Jesus.
Pope Paul VI decades ago observed what is needed most is witnesses of the faith. If parents want to communicate the faith to their children, they must first and foremost be people of prayer, who communicate daily with Jesus.
Prayer is by definition a conversation with God. Any conversation has to be a two-way communication, where we speak from our heart but also listen and develop the capacity to hear God’s voice speaking to us through the Scriptures and the events of our everyday lives.
Pope Emeritus Benedict in his pastoral visit to the United States said to a gathering of American seminarians in New York that we do not have so much a vocation crisis, but rather a prayer crisis.
Wisely, Pope Benedict reminded us that if we teach our children to pray and listen to God’s voice, then they will discern the vocation Our Lord desires for them.
The liturgy of Good Friday makes us aware of the mercy of God revealed on Calvary. Our Easter celebration makes clear that the story of salvation does not end, however, with the cross. The tragedy of Good Friday is necessary for the Easter victory.
Jesus is risen! Our risen Lord has defeated both sin and death. Jesus is alive and we have a destiny to live with him forever. The Christian is never without a reason for hope and a capacity for joy.
May we never forget the three great truths: God loves you! Christ saves you! Jesus is alive!