Keep the Fire Burning: The Apostolic Exhortation ‘Christus Vivit’ (Part II)

In the fifth chapter of the exhortation the pope asks what changes about the way of youth when it is illuminated by the Gospel.

Apr 19, 2019

Flying with your feet
In the fifth chapter of the exhortation the pope asks what changes about the way of youth when it is illuminated by the Gospel. What are the elements of this journey?

Francis proceeds by giving ideas for reflection, as if giving notes for spiritual exercises. His thought is not articulated like an academic treatise, but rather like a series of texts to feed the reader, giving indications for spiritual and existential meditation.

Dreams and choices. Youthfulness is understood as the age of dreams. But Bergoglio reflects on the fact that the meeting with the Lord makes people grow and dreams mature, which otherwise would remain abstract.

Faith opens people to their responsibilities: this is the point. Restlessness is to be considered the motor of growth because it opens the heart and keeps it open (cf. No. 138), but then this condition no longer remains indeterminate: it must lead to the making of choices.

When Francis sees a young man or woman seeking their way in life, he sees someone who wants to "fly on their feet."

This is a magnificent expression and should suffice. Yet the pope feels the need to be more precise: young people walk with two feet like all adults, but as opposed to adults whose feet are in parallel, they put them one in front of the other, ready to go.

Speaking about young people means speaking about promises, which open the way to the journey of choices, that is, of life lived. Young people are crazy enough to fool themselves, but they also have the resources to heal the delusion that might follow (cf. No. 139) and so go forward.

Desire to live and experience. So, the journey of a young person tends toward the future and has the energy needed to counter the delusions of history. Perhaps the problem could be anxiety (cf. No. 142), which becomes an enemy in the moment we discover that the result of our action is not immediate and so we are afraid, uncertain and paralyzed.

The pope puts himself in the situation of the young people who live this tension. He sees the risk that it might lead to dissatisfaction or unfettered irresponsibility. His message is a clear push forward, knowing that the Word of God invites us to live the present, not only to prepare a tomorrow (cf. No. 147).

Friendship. An important element in the life of a young person is friendship. The pope writes that, thanks to friends, the Lord helps us grow.The presence of friends at our side in difficult moments is a reflection of the affection of the Lord, his consolation and his gentle presence. Having friends teaches us to open ourselves up, to abandon our isolation, to share our lives (cf. No 151).

And this is the privileged form of a young person’s relationship with Christ: not an external intellectual adhesion, but a precious intimacy of friendship. Growth and imagination. The enthusiasm of youth needs to be accompanied in its growth and maturation so as not to extinguish it due to a growing need for security and comfort. The ample openness and fascination do not need to be lost. The Pope offers his own experience and confesses: “When I began my ministry as Pope, the Lord broadened my horizons and granted me renewed youth” (No 160).

This phrase is a splendid insight into the life of the Pope. This maturing that opens and widens the horizons becomes a stimulating prophecy for those who are near us (cf. No 162). Fraternity. Maturity is expressed through openness to others, a true form of “ecstasy,” the Pope writes.

And the recognition of radical fraternity. To witness to it, he quotes the bishops of a country that has experienced fratricidal war: Rwanda. Commitment. In this sense the Pope encourages aggregation that opens up to commitment, including in small groups. He speaks of “volunteer work and political charity, active citizenship and social solidarity.” These are all expressions of concrete commitment to build a new society.

There is an expression that recurs frequently in the language of Bergoglio that summarises the supreme form of commitment: “social friendship,” which is much more intense than the term “cohesion,” although that too is noble.

This friendship is the fruit of the convergence of “shared energy” (No 172). Mission. Finally, Francis clarifies that this commitment has neither boundaries nor limits. The Gospel is for all and not only for those who are near and more sensitive. Collaborating in the transformation of the world with energy, audacity and creativity is a task for all.

Branches in the sky and roots in the earth
The tone of the exhortation is decidedly tied to the energy to change the world. And to do so now, not just tomorrow or in the future. Yet Francis spends an entire chapter on the need for roots.

A future without a past flies away; youthfulness without history and tradition risks being pure ideology
or myth or manipulation or superficiality: “The world has never benefitted, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations” (No 191).

The Church is a canoe — this is what an auditor from the Samoan Islands said at the synod — where the elderly help to choose the direction by reading the position of the start, and young people, in dialogue with them, row with their strength.

The Pope remembered this intervention and proposed it anew in his exhortation Christus Vivit, concluding that we have to climb aboard the same boat together to build a better world (No 201).

For Francis, the young person is a prophet, but can only prophesy by listening to the dreams of those who go before them on the journey of life: dreams that they make on the basis of their long experience.

It is notable that in the context of the synod an event was organised to present the book Sharing the Wisdom of Time. The Pope participated and welcomed questions from the elderly and the young on the subject of intergenerational relationships.

The volume itself was a collection of witnesses from the elderly of the whole world with whom the Pope interacts, commentating or telling personal stories. Now the Pope comes back to that volume to write:

“In the book Sharing the Wisdom of Time I expressed some thoughts in the form of questions. ‘What do I ask of the elders among whom I count myself? I call us to be memory keepers. We grandfathers and grandmothers need to form a choir.

“I envision elders as a permanent choir of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise support the larger community that works and struggles in the field of life.

It is a beautiful thing when ‘young men and maidens together, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord’” (No 196).

The elderly build their dreams on the basis of memory, reminiscence, with images of experiences lived over the years.

According to Francis, if the young people place their roots in the dreams of the elderly, then they can see the future, they can have visions that open their horizons.

But if the elderly do not dream, the young people can no longer see the horizon clearly (cf. No 193). The breakdown of intergenerational relationships would be a blow to history.

Don’t lose the fire
The seventh chapter is entirely dedicated to “pastoral care of the young,” that is, to educational action where the Church accompanies young people and fosters their being protagonists.

The Pope starts with the experience of young people who sometimes fail to find answers to their concerns, needs, problems and issues (cf. No 202). Young people are asking to be greater protagonists.

Planning is not enough as a strategy and meetings are not enough as a model of action. Something else is needed. The Pope uses the words “creativity, audacity, insight, ingenuity” (cf. Nos 203-204).

Francis sets out two major lines of action. These are outreach and engagement that attract new young people to the experience of the Lord; and growth, the development of a pathway of maturity for those who undergo this experience.

The Pope asks that in pastoral work there not be the terrible risk that young people “lose the fire” (No 212).

This must not happen. “If the young grow up in a world in ashes, it will be hard for them to keep alive the flame of great dreams and projects. If they grow up in a desert devoid of meaning, where will they develop a desire to devote their lives to sowing seeds?” (No 216).

And certainly the flame will be put out even when the experience of meeting with Christ converts into “indoctrination” (No 214):

“Many young people grow weary of our programmes of doctrinal and spiritual formation, and at times demand a chance to be active participants in activities that benefit others” (No 225).

The Gospel reduced to doctrine is a bland Gospel, incomprehensible, distant, separate from young people’s cultures and perhaps adapt only for an elite of “different” youth, who float alone without life and without being fertile.

And so “we also uproot or choke any number of shoots trying to spring up in spite of their limitations” (No 232).

The Church is not a bunker
A very important chapter is the one dedicated to pastoral work in educational institutions. The Pope is very direct and harsh in stating that there are “some Catholic schools that seem to be structured only for the sake of self-preservation. Fear of change makes them entrenched and defensive before the dangers, real or imagined, that any change might bring” (No. 221).

The image Francis uses is very strong: “A school that becomes a ‘bunker,” protecting its students from errors ‘from without,’ is a caricature of this tendency. Yet this image reflects, in a chilling way, what many young people experience when they graduate from certain educational institutions: an insurmountable disconnect between what they were taught and the world in which they live.”

What is at stake here is not just the content of the teaching, but the type of person we want to form. “The way they were instructed in religious and moral values did not prepare them to uphold those values in a world that holds them up to ridicule, nor did they learn ways of praying and practising the faith that can be easily sustained amid the fast pace of today’s society.”

Instead, one of the “greatest joys that any educator can have is to see a student turn into a strong, well-integrated person, a leader and someone prepared to give” (No. 221).

The road of research and questions helps form an adult personality, able to make choices with discernment and adhere to faith with full maturity.

We could say that the model of the bunker is diametrically opposed to that of the field hospital, of which the Pope has often spoken and indicates the space of a formation that helps heal the wounds of the world.

The appeal of Francis is also very strong for a popular participation, to take on the role of leader.

Vocation and discernment
The last two chapters of the exhortation are dedicated to vocation and discernment. These are themes treated at length in the exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate. Here, Francis returns to them in light of the synodal experience.

At the beginning of the eighth chapter of Christus Vivit – dedicated to vocation – Francis writes that “in discerning your vocation, it is important to determine if you see in yourself the abilities needed to perform that specific service to society” (No 255).

Service to others is usually tied to two fundamental questions: formation of a family and work.
The family is the direct opposite of a vision of a disengaged, individualist life, prisoner of isolation and solitude. Francis insists greatly on how important it is to be able “to entrust yourself fully to another person in an exclusive and generous way” (No 265).

Work is an integral part of a full and accomplished human life. Francis has often repeated this, putting together the three T’s in Spanish: tierra, techo y trabajo (land, housing and work).

What comes to mind here is his talk to the so-called “popular movements” on November 5, 2016.

Francis writes: “Although work may not help achieve their dreams, it is important for young adults to nurture a vision, learn how to work in a truly personal and life-giving way, and to continue to discern God’s call” (No 268).

This is why politics must consider work as an important question. Today we discover new ways to save work at a greater speed than we discover new ways to use work (cf. No 271). And as if this were not enough, we know well that the obsession with reducing costs can rapidly lead to the substitution of countless jobs with machines.

Zapping and discernment
Life understood as a vocation, however, requires a space of interior silence. It requires leaving behind constant existential zapping or channel surfing. Francis had spoken about this in Gaudete et Exsultate (No 167) and comes back to it here.

In fact, today “we can navigate simultaneously on two or more screens and interact at the same time with two or three virtual scenarios.” Faced with existential multitasking, what is required is the wisdom of discernment.

If this is lacking, “we can easily become prey to every passing trend” (No 279). Silence and calm are needed for discernment.

Francis offers a list of questions to be raised in this silence. “Do I know myself, quite apart from my illusions and emotions? Do I know what brings joy or sorrow to my heart? What are my strengths and weaknesses?”

Then other questions follow: “How can I serve people better and prove most helpful to our world and to the Church? What is my real place in this world? What can I offer to society? Even more realistic questions then follow: Do I have the abilities needed to offer this kind of service? Could I develop those abilities?” (No 285).

For Francis, discernment – it is good to recall – is not a wisdom for the educated, the elite, the enlightened. Discernment is a charism: “It requires no special abilities, nor is it only for the more intelligent or better educated.

“The Father readily reveals himself to the lowly (cf. Matt 11:25).” That is what he wrote in Gaudete et Exsultate (GE 170).

But above all, “discernment is not a solipsistic self-analysis or a form of egotistical introspection, but an authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters” (GE 175).

In Christus Vivit, Francis focuses on how to help people discern their own paths of life. The first thing to do, he writes, is to listen. And this listening implies three different areas of complementary sensitivity (cf. Nos 292-294).

The first is the attention to the person with the time necessary and an unconditional listening.

The second concerns the ability to grasp the right point in which one perceives the grace or temptation that is in action.

This listening is oriented to recognising the Good Spirit, but also the traps of the Evil One, his schemes and seductions.

The third attention is profound listening about where the other person really wants to go, who he or she wants to be, beyond the shell of their sentiments.

Discernment is a process that requires accompaniment and presupposes liberty. There is no magic recipe. This is the great lesson that Francis offers young people today: help them recognise that their destiny and that of the world are in their hands. Their commitment, in the light of faith, is vocation and mission.
***

The world and the Church need enthusiasm and the responsibility of young people, and also their own intuitions and their own faith. Young people can run faster.

This is why the Pope concludes his exhortation with wisdom and humility when he writes: “And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us” (No 299). -- LCI (international. la-croix.com)

Total Comments:0

Name
Email
Comments