Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Christus Vivit

Signed by Pope Francis during an Annunciation Day visit to the Holy House of Loretto and released on April 2, the Pope's nearly 33,000-word apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit ("Christ is alive") is his response to the Synod of Bishops that met from October 3 to 28, 2018, to focus on the needs of young people today, It was Pope Francis' third synod - following two synods on family, and a subsequent 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love").

The synod process was initiated by Pope Saint Paul VI following the Second Vatican Council. Before this latest synod, the Vatican hosted two meetings with young people in late 2017 and early 2018. After the 4-week synod itself in October, the synod released a text that reflected the intense discussions among the participating 267 prelates and 72 lay auditors. All of the 167 paragraphs of that document were adopted by the synod with the required two-thirds vote. As has become standard custom, having received the synod's own report, the Pope now interprets and applies the synod's experience in an Apostolic Exhortation, which as Francis acknowledges at the outset deals with "those proposals i considered most significant" (paragraph 3).

The Exhortation at times addresses young people principally and at other times speaks more generally to the entire Church. Its first two chapters reflect on stories of young people in the bible - Joseph, Gideon, Samuel, David, Solomon, Ruth, and on Jesus himself, who "gave his life when he was, in today's terms, a young adult" (23). At the same time, he reminds young people "that profound respect be shown to the elderly, since they have a wealth of experience" (16).This is an important theme to which he returns later in the document, when he warns  against "a false cult of youth that can be used to seduce and manipulate young people" (180), telling them "to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past" (181). In contrast, God's word "encourages us to remain close to the elderly, so that we can benefit from their experience" (188), and to be "open to receiving a wisdom passed down from generation to generation, a wisdom familiar with human weakness and not deserving to vanish before the novelties of consumer society and the market" (190).

After this, Francis moves on the the Church, which "should not be excessively caught up in herself but instead, and above all, reflect Jesus Christ. This means humbly acknowledging that some things concretely need to change, and if that is to happen, she needs to appreciate the vision but also the criticisms of young people" (39)."Rather than beign too concerned with communicating a great deal of doctrine, let us first try to awaken and consolidate the great experiences that sustain the Christian life" (212).

In this regard, the Pope acknowledges that “Although many young people are happy to see a Church that is humble yet confident in her gifts and capable of offering fair and fraternal criticism, others want a Church that listens more, that does more than simply condemn the world.  They do not want to see a Church that is silent and afraid to speak, but neither one that is always battling obsessively over two or three issues.  To be credible to young people, there are times when she needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the Gospel.  A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum.  How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people?  Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure” (41, referencing  Vatican II, Dei Verbum 8)

The Pope challenges parents pastors and others who guide the young to "discern pathways where others pm;y see walls, to recognize potential where others see only peril" (67) There are, of course, real perils, some of which the Pope focuses on in chapter 3. Among them is the "ideological colonization" by "Western views of sexuality, marriage, life or social justice" and by "advertising" which "contributes to the throwaway culture" (78).One area singled out by the Synod on which the Pope elaborates in some detail is the digital environment - "living in a highly digitalized culture that has profound impact on ideas of time and space, on our self-understanding, our understanding of others and the world, and our ability to communicate, learn, be informed and enter into relationship with others" (86, referencing the Synod's Final Document, 21). Another area singled out by the Synod on which the Pope unsurprisingly elaborates in some detail is migration: In some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political ends. this can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and this needs to be addressed decisively" (92, referencing the Synod's Final Document, 26).

The Pope then addresses young people directly in a very conversational style, not frequently found in such magisterial documents.. He starts with "three great truths." the first of which is that God loves you." He says "what I can tell you, with absolute certainty, is that you can find security in the embrace of your heavenly Father, of the God who first gave you life and continues to give it to you ate every moment" (113). His "second great truth is that Christ, our of love for you, sacrificed himself completely in order to save you" (118). "No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love" (119, referencing Evangelii Gaudium, 3). The third truth is the title of this Exhortation "Christ is alive!" Alive,  Christ "can be present in your life at every moment, to fill it with light and to take away all sorrow and solitude. ... Because he did not only come in the past, but he comes to you today and every day, inviting you to set out towards ever new horizons"" (125).

What might be called the Pope's most folksy advice to young people comes in chapter 5. where he says things like: "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 anaesthetized 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 early retirement" (143).

That same chapter also speaks movingly about the importance of friendship: "Friendship is one of life’s gifts and a grace from God. Through our friends, the Lord refines us and leads us to maturity. Faithful friends, who stand at our side in times of difficulty, are also a reflection of the Lord’s love, his gentle and consoling presence in our lives. The experience of friendship teaches us to be open, understanding and caring towards others, to come out of our own comfortable isolation and to share our lives with others. For this reason, 'there is nothing so precious as a faithful friend' (Sir 6:15)" (151)..

Chapter 5 also offers an important and useful clarification about the nature of the lay vocation: "At times, seeing a world so full of violence and selfishness, young people can be tempted to withdraw into small groups, shunning the challenges and issues posed by life in society and in the larger world. They may feel that they are experiencing fraternity and love, but their small group may in fact become nothing other than an extension of their own ego. This is even more serious if they think of the lay vocation simply as a form of service inside the Church: serving as lectors, acolytes, catechists, and so forth. They forget that the lay vocation is directed above all to charity within the family and to social and political charity. It is a concrete and faith-based commitment to the building of a new society. It involves living in the midst of society and the world in order to bring the Gospel everywhere, to work for the growth of peace, harmony, justice, human rights and mercy, and thus for the extension of God’s kingdom in this world" (168).

This chapter also offers a quotable quote from the 20th-century Chilean Jesuit Saint Alberto Hurtado (1901-1952): “being an apostle does not mean wearing a lapel pin; it is not about speaking about the truth but living it, embodying it, being transformed in Christ. Being an apostle does not mean carrying a torch in hand, possessing the light, but being that light… The Gospel, more than a lesson, is an example. A message that becomes a life fully lived” (175).

The final chapters deal with Youth Ministry (already alluded to above), Vocation, and Discernment. Confronting contrary contemporary trends, Francis stresses the value of a vocation to family life. "It is true that the difficulties they experience in their own family can lead many young people to ask whether it is worthwhile to start a new family, to be faithful, to be generous. I can tell you that it certainly is. It is worth your every effort to invest in the family; there you will find the best incentives to mature and the greatest joys to experience and share. Don’t let yourselves be robbed of a great love. Don’t let yourselves be led astray by those who propose a life of rampant individualism that in the end leads to isolation and the worst sort of loneliness. … I have great confidence in you, and for this very reason, I urge you to opt for marriage" (263-264).

And also to embrace work, which "is an expression of human dignity, a path of development and of social inclusion. It is a constant stimulus to grow in responsibility and creativity, a protection against the tendency towards individualism and personal gratification. At the same time, it is an opportunity to give glory to God by developing one’s abilities" (271).

The Exhortation fittingly concludes with a discussion of discernment. “So often in life, we waste time asking ourselves: ‘Who am I?’ You can keep asking, ‘Who am I?’ for the rest of your lives. But the real question is: ‘For whom am I?’” (286, referencing the Pope's address in preparation for the 2017 World Youth Day).

As is so often unfortunately increasingly the case with such magisterial documents, the Exhortation is long and wordy. The few young people likely to read it at all may wonder whether to persevere to the end. This leaves it to those whose role in the Church includes reading and studying such magisterial pronouncements to assimilate and internalize the spirit of this Exhortation in their ministerial outreach, including preaching and teaching.

the pontiff offers few insights for what exactly must change or how the church can go about responding to young people who find its teachings or structures outdated.

The new letter, issued 
Likewise, while the new document notes that the Synod expressed a concern that the church's teachings on sexual identity and orientation are a "cause of incomprehension" for some young people, it does not reference the meeting's call for the church to undertake a deeper theological and anthropological study on such matters.

" the pope states.
Then, making one of the letter's 56 references to the Synod's final document, the pope acknowledges that the meeting said "a substantial number of young people … do not ask the Church for anything because they do not see her as significant for their lives."
Francis says some young people want a church that "listens more, that does more than simply condemn the world."
"To be credible to young people, there are times when [the church] needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the Gospel," he states.
The Synod's final document, which was approved by two-thirds of the some 250 bishops attending the gathering,

Francis spends the last third of his new exhortation offering long reflections on the shape and scope of the church's youth ministry and on advising young people on how to discern their vocation in life.
Opening his reflections on how a young person can go about identifying his or her vocation, the pontiff says that a person's calling from God is not only about the work that they will do.
"Your vocation is something more: it is a path guiding your many efforts and actions towards service to others," the pope advises. "So in discerning your vocation, it is important to determine if you see in yourself the abilities needed to perform that specific service to society."
"This gives greater value to everything you do," he says. "Your work stops being just about making money, keeping busy or pleasing others. It becomes your vocation because you are called to it; it is something more than merely a pragmatic decision."
Francis exhorts young people to make the best of their youth, and to be unafraid of taking risks or making mistakes.
"Don’t observe life from a balcony," the pope advises. "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!" says Francis. "Don’t be parked cars, but dream freely and make good decisions."

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