A letter no Catholic should ignore

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

‘Christus Vivit’ (Christ lives) is Pope Francis’ latest letter to the Church, and a personal response to the Synod on young people that was held in Rome in October 2018. Many sections of it are addressed directly to young people but some are addressed to everyone, including older people. Its message applies to all of us and its perspective is global as it points out that the version of life that we experience is not what is experienced all over the world. It brings home that we in the West live sheltered lives compared with most.

‘Those of us who have a reasonably comfortable life don’t know how to weep. Some realities in life are only seen with eyes cleansed by tears. I would like each of you to ask yourself this question: Can I weep? Can I weep when I see a child who is starving, on drugs or on the street, homeless, abandoned, mistreated or exploited as a slave by society?’ (#76)

This letter covers many of the same themes as his earlier writing and it’s the same enthusiastic and inspirational Pope Francis that we know and love, preoccupied with God’s love for us and insistent that our aim is to become holy. He’s a man inspired and sustained by his ideals, showing us the disciples’ way of following Jesus more closely.

He points out something that is easy to forget as we grow older: ‘Jesus was a young person. He gave his life when he was, in today’s terms, a young adult. He began his public mission in the prime of life, and thus “a light dawned” (Mt 4:16) that would shine most brightly when he gave his life to the very end. That ending was not something that simply happened; rather, his entire youth, at every moment, was a precious preparation for it.’ (#23)

He says that the Church is ‘ever young’ despite a 2,000-year history. ‘The Church is young when she is herself, when she receives ever anew the strength born of God’s Word, the Eucharist, and the daily presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit in our lives. The Church is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source.’ (#35)

And he calls for help from young people who ‘can help keep her young. They can stop her from becoming corrupt; they can keep her moving forward, prevent her from being proud and sectarian, help her to be poorer and to bear better witness, to take the side of the poor and the outcast, to fight for justice and humbly to let herself be challenged.’ (#37)

He pulls no punches, frankly acknowledging many faults but insisting that ‘a living Church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence. With this outlook, she can support the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females.’ (#42)

As always with Pope Francis there are startling sentences that grab your attention. The first sections that I shared with my own young adults were: ‘Keep following your hopes and dreams. But be careful about one temptation that can hold us back. It is anxiety. Anxiety can work against us by making us give up whenever we do not see instant results. Our best dreams are only attained through hope, patience and commitment, and not in haste. At the same time, we should not be hesitant, afraid to take chances or make mistakes. Avoid the paralysis of the living dead, who have no life because they are afraid to take risks, to make mistakes or to persevere in their commitments. Even if you make mistakes, you can always get up and start over, for no one has the right to rob you of hope.’ (#142)

And I couldn’t resist sending the following paragraph: ‘Dear young people, make the most of these years of your youth. Don’t observe life from a balcony. Don’t confuse happiness with an armchair, or live your life behind a screen. Whatever you do, do not become the sorry sight of an abandoned vehicle! Don’t be parked cars, but dream freely and make good decisions. Take risks, even if it means making mistakes. Don’t go through life anesthetized or approach the world like tourists. Make a ruckus! Cast out the fears that paralyze you, so that you don’t become young mummies. Live! Give yourselves over to the best of life! Open the door of the cage, go out and fly! Please, don’t take an early retirement.’ (#143)

You can read the whole document online at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference website: http://www.catholicnews.org.uk/Home/News/Exhortation-Christus-Vivit