Christus Vivit

This Tuesday the Vatican released Christus Vivit, a post-synodal exhortation of Pope Francis addressed to young people. The document’s name comes from its first words in Latin (as is the norm for Vatican documents), “Christ is alive!” The pope finishes that first paragraph of the document with this statement to his chosen audience: “Christ is alive and He wants you to be alive!”

The document is quite long (299 paragraphs!), so we cannot summarize it easily in an editorial. It is worth reading, both for young people and for those not so young (both Church employees and volunteers, as well as parents, grandparents and anyone wanting to help youth grow in holiness). 

In the final paragraph (#299), the Holy Father expresses his desires for the youth. “Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, ‘attracted by the face of Christ, Whom we love so much, Whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. May the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run this race. The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith. We need them! And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us’ (the part in quotations is from a talk that the pope gave on Aug. 11, 2018 in the Circus Maximus in Rome to a youth vigil).”

In chapter one of the document, the pope answers the question, “What does the word of God have to say about young people?” by looking at the Old and New Testaments. 

From the Old Testament, he brings up Joseph (the great dreamer, son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery), Gideon (Paragraph #7: “In Gideon, we see the frankness of young people, who are not used to sugar-coating reality. When told that the Lord was with him, he responded: ‘But if the Lord is with us, why then have all these things happened to us?’ [Judges 6:13]. God was not offended by that reproach, but went on to order him: ‘Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel!’ [Judges 6:14].”), Samuel (with his famous call from God), King Saul (whom God chose in his youth), King David (whom God chose, when his father would have thought the older sons were more appropriate), King Solomon (whose “audacity of youth moved him to ask God for wisdom” – paragraph #10), Jeremiah (“The devotion of the prophet Jeremiah to his mission shows what can happen when the brashness of youth is joined to the power of God” – ibid.), the Jewish servant girl of the Syrian general Naaman (who gets him to do what God directed him to do to be cured), and Ruth (“a model of generosity in remaining beside her mother-in-law who had fallen on hard times [cf. Ruth 1:1-18], yet she also showed boldness in getting ahead in life [cf. Ruth 4:1-17].).

In the New Testament section, Pope Francis doesn’t talk as much about characters (since Jesus is the primary “character” in that part of the Bible). Instead, he discusses Our Lord’s various interactions with or discussions of youth. He begins with the two brothers in the Prodigal Son story (“Jesus praises the young sinner who returned to the right path over the brother who considered himself faithful, yet lacked the spirit of love and mercy” - #12.), then says, “Jesus, Himself eternally young, wants to give us hearts that are ever young. God’s word asks us to ‘cast out the old leaven that you may be fresh dough’ (1 Cor 5:7) (#13).” Pope Francis is not talking about being “forever young,” as Rod Stewart did in his song. Rather, he is calling us to have “true youth, [which] means having a heart capable of loving, whereas everything that separates us from others makes the soul grow old. And so [St. Paul] concludes: ‘above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony’ (Col 3:14)(ibid.).”

“Let us also keep in mind,” the pope exhorts us, “that Jesus had no use for adults who looked down on the young or lorded it over them. On the contrary, He insisted that ‘the greatest among you must become like the youngest’ (Lk 22:26) (#14).”

In the following paragraph the pope reminds older people to treat youth as having equal dignity to them and remarks, “I constantly urge young people not to let themselves be robbed of hope; to each of them I repeat: ‘Let no one despise your youth’ (1 Tim 4:12) (#15).”

However, the Holy Father is not giving carte blanche to youth. “[Y]oung people are also urged ‘to accept the authority of those who are older’ (1 Pet 5:5). The Bible never ceases to insist that profound respect be shown to the elderly ... [T]hey have a store of experiences that can teach us not to make mistakes or be taken in by false promises ... It is unhelpful to buy into the cult of youth or foolishly to dismiss others simply because they are older or from another generation. Jesus tells us that the wise are able to bring forth from their store things both new and old (cf. Mt 13:52). A wise young person is open to the future, yet still capable of learning something from the experience of others (#16).”

Next the pontiff discusses seeking after holiness even in youth, beginning by mentioning the rich young man, who had observed the commandments from his youth (Mk 10:10). After quoting Psalm 71, which describes youthful fidelity to God, Pope Francis observes, “We should never repent of spending our youth being good, opening our heart to the Lord, and living differently. None of this takes away from our youth but instead strengthens and renews it: ‘Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’ (Ps 103:5). For this reason, St. Augustine could lament: ‘Late have I loved you, beauty ever ancient, ever new! Late have I loved you!’ Yet that rich man, who had been faithful to God in his youth, allowed the passing years to rob his dreams; he preferred to remain attached to his riches (cf. Mk 10:22) (#17).” Here the pope is both responding to the mentality Billy Joel promoted in his song, “Only the Good Die Young” (in which Joel said that he’d rather be “laugh[ing] with the sinners than cry with the saints”) and to the shallowness of the rich young man’s faith — he could “jump through hoops” for God, but when God asked for something more, he said no.

This editorial just scratches the surface of this document. Let us read it and see how God is calling all of us to imitate His youthful faithfulness. 

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