Paths of youth
134. What does it mean to live the years of our youth in the transforming light of the Gospel? We need to raise this question, because youth, more than a source of pride, is a gift of God: “To be young is a grace, a blessing”. It is a gift that we can squander meaninglessly, or receive with gratitude and live to the full.
135. God is the giver of youth and he is at work in the life of each young person. Youth is a blessed time for the young and a grace for the Church and for the world. It is joy, a song of hope and a blessing. Making the most of our youthful years entails seeing this season of life as worthwhile in itself, and not simply as a brief prelude to adulthood.
A time of dreams and decisions
136. In Jesus’ day, the passage from childhood was a significant step in life, one joyfully celebrated. When Jesus restored life to a man’s daughter, he first called her a “child” (Mk 5:39), but then addressed her as a “young girl” (Mk 5:41). By saying to her: “Young girl, get up (talitha cum)”, he made her more responsible for her life, opening before her the door to youth.
137. “Youth, as a phase in the development of the personality, is marked by dreams which gather momentum, by relationships which acquire more and more consistency and balance, by trials and experiments, and by choices which gradually build a life project. At this stage in life, the young are called to move forward without cutting themselves off from their roots, to build autonomy but not in solitude”.
138. The love of God and our relationship with the living Christ do not hold us back from dreaming; they do not require us to narrow our horizons. On the contrary, that love elevates us, encourages us and inspires us to a better and more beautiful life. Much of the longing present in the hearts of young people can be summed up in the word “restlessness”. As Saint Paul VI said, “In the very discontent that you often feel… a ray of light is present”. Restless discontent, combined with exhilaration before the opening up of new horizons, generates a boldness that leads you to stand up and take responsibility for a mission. This healthy restlessness typical of youth continues to dwell in every heart that remains young, open and generous. True inner peace coexists with that profound discontent. As Saint Augustine said: “You have created us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you”.
139. Sometime ago, a friend asked me what I see in a young person. My response was that “I see someone who is searching for his or her own path, who wants to fly on their two feet, who faces the world and looks at the horizon with eyes full of the future, full of hope as well as illusions. A young person stands on two feet as adults do, but unlike adults, whose feet are parallel, he always has one foot forward, ready to set out, to spring ahead. Always racing onward. To talk about young people is to talk about promise and to talk about joy. Young people have so much strength; they are able to look ahead with hope. A young person is a promise of life that implies a certain degree of tenacity. He is foolish enough to delude himself, and resilient enough to recover from that delusion”.
140. Some young people might hate this stage of life, because they want to continue being children or indefinitely prolong their adolescence and put off having to make decisions. “Fear of the definitive thus generates a kind of paralysis of decision-making. Yet youth cannot remain on hold. It is the age of choices and herein lies its fascination and its greatest responsibility. Young people make decisions in professional, social and political fields, and in other more radical ways that determine the shape of their lives”. They also make decisions about love, choosing a spouse and starting a family. We will look at these issues more closely in the final chapters, when dealing with individual vocations and their discernment.
141. But opposed to these hopes and dreams that generate decisions, there is always the temptation to complain or give up. “We can leave that to those who worship the ‘goddess of lament’… She is a false goddess: she makes you take the wrong road. When everything seems to be standing still and stagnant, when our personal issues trouble us, and social problems do not meet with the right responses, it does no good to give up. Jesus is the way: welcome him into your ‘boat’ and put out into the deep! He is the Lord! He changes the way we see life. Faith in Jesus leads to greater hope, to a certainty based not on our qualities and skills, but on the word of God, on the invitation that comes from him. Without making too many human calculations, and without worrying about things that challenge your security, put out into the deep. Go out of yourselves”.
142. 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.
143. 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.
A thirst for life and experience
144. While drawn towards the future and its promise, young people also have a powerful desire to experience the present moment, to make the most of the opportunities life offers. Our world is filled with beauty! How can we look down upon God’s many gifts?
145. Contrary to what many people think, the Lord does not want to stifle these desires for a fulfilling life. We do well to remember the words of an Old Testament sage: “My child, treat yourself well, according to your means, and present your offerings to the Lord; do not deprive yourself of a day’s enjoyment, do not let your share of desired good pass by” (Sir 14:11.14). The true God, who loves you, wants you to be happy. For this reason, the Bible also contains this piece of advice to young people: “Rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth… banish anxiety from your mind” (Ec 11:9-10). For God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17).
146. How could God take pleasure in someone incapable of enjoying his small everyday blessings, someone blind to the simple pleasures we find all around us? “No one is worse than one who is grudging to himself” (Sir 14:6). Far from obsessively seeking new pleasures, which would keep us from making the most of the present moment, we are asked to open our eyes and take a moment to experience fully and with gratitude every one of life’s little gifts.
147. Clearly, God’s word asks you to enjoy the present, not simply to prepare for the future: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own; today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt 6:34). But this is not the same as embarking irresponsibly on a life of dissipation that can only leave us empty and perpetually dissatisfied. Rather, it is about living the present to the full, spending our energies on good things, cultivating fraternity, following Jesus and making the most of life’s little joys as gifts of God’s love.
148. Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân, when imprisoned in a concentration camp, refused to do nothing but await the day when he would be set free. He chose “to live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love”. He decided: “I will seize the occasions that present themselves every day; I will accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way”. As you work to achieve your dreams, make the most of each day and do your best to let each moment brim with love. This youthful day may well be your last, and so it is worth the effort to live it as enthusiastically and fully as possible.
149. This can also be applied to times of difficulty, that have to be fully experienced if we are to learn the message they can teach us. In the words of the Swiss Bishops: “God is there where we thought he had abandoned us and there was no further hope of salvation. It is a paradox, but for many Christians, suffering and darkness have become… places of encounter with God”. The desire to live fully and experience new things is also felt by many young people with physical, mental and sensory disabilities. Even though they may not always be able to have the same experiences as others, they possess amazing resources and abilities that are often far above average. The Lord Jesus grants them other gifts, which the community is called to recognize and appreciate, so that they can discover his plan of love for each of them.