June 25, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Pope invites us to help young people in their spiritual growth

Youth and young adult ministry is an important and welcome feature of the mission of the Catholic Church.

I believe the Church’s initiative to more intentionally address the spiritual needs of our young adults and our youth in general can be traced to the late Pope John Paul II.

He launched the popular World Youth Day, and began to schedule that event to take place on different continents of the world as a way to let Catholic youths and young adults know that they are an important and valued part of the Body of Christ.

Twenty-five years ago, on the occasion of World Youth Day, Pope John Paul wrote a letter to the young people of the world. The Apostolic Letter to the Youth of the World was dated March 31, 1985.

To the best of my knowledge, that was the first ever papal letter addressed specifically to youth and young adults. It certainly was the first in recent history. The initiative of Pope John Paul II ignited a much needed and truly welcome ministry for and with our young Church. These days we may tend to take it for granted.

The Holy Father’s apostolic letter focused on the meeting of Jesus and the rich young man in the Gospel who wanted to know what he should do to inherit eternal life. (cf. Mk 10:17-22;

Mt 19:16-22). His intent was to challenge our young Church to embrace Christ’s call to holiness.

Pope Benedict XVI has carried on his predecessor’s concern for our youth and young adults. His 2010 message for this year’s World Youth Day took up the same theme of the challenge of the rich young man as the original letter of Pope John Paul.

This past May 2, Pope Benedict addressed youth and young adults while on a pastoral visit to Turin in Italy. He referred to John Paul’s 1985 apostolic letter and dwelt on the meaning of the encounter of Jesus and the young man. The Holy Father said: “I wish to offer some thoughts that I hope may help you in your spiritual growth and in your mission within the Church and in the world” (cf. L’Osservatore Romano, May 5, 2010, p.11).

He acknowledged that today it is not easy to speak about eternal life and eternal realities because the mentality of our time tells us that nothing is definitive—that everything changes and changes very rapidly.

“Change in many cases, has become the password, the most exalting exercise of freedom and that is why even you, young people, have often come to think that it is impossible to make definitive choices for the rest of your life.

“But is this the right way to use your freedom? Is it really true that in order to be happy we should content ourselves with small transient joys that once they are over leave bitterness in heart?”

Using this opportunity as a teaching moment, Pope Benedict encouraged young people of the Church to keep in mind that God created us with a view to the “forever.”

“Have the courage to make definitive decisions and to live them faithfully. The Lord may call you to marriage, to the priesthood, to the consecrated life, as a special gift of yourselves: answer him generously!

“In the dialogue with the young man who possessed many riches, Jesus pointed out what was the most important, the greatest treasure of life—love. To love God and to love others with one’s whole self.”

I quote the Turin address of Pope Benedict to the young Church because I believe it sets out the need, the intent and a basic outline of the agenda of ministry to our young adults and youth.

The Holy Father acknowledges the challenge our young Church faces in making their way as followers of Christ in our secular environment. As is usual, the pope points to the need for truthful, albeit courageous, commitment to what truly counts if we are to live the call to holiness.

It is important to notice that he invites us to help our youth “in their spiritual growth and in their mission within the Church and in the world.”

There is a tendency to speak to our young Church as if they will become important some day “as the future of the Church.” We hope that will be the case, but the fact is they have a mission within the Church here and now.

These are guiding thoughts as we reflect on our archdiocesan mission to youth and to young adults. Pope Benedict said: “I address each one of you with great confidence in order to say: it is not easy to make something beautiful and great of your life—it is demanding, but with Christ everything is possible!” †

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