By Gabriella Ceraso - Vatican City
The guiding theme of the youth festival underway in Medjugorje until August 6 is: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" They cite the words of the rich young man of whom the Synoptic Gospels speak (cf. Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-22; Lk 18:18-23), when he set out, or rather, ran to meet the Lord, to inquire about gaining eternal life, that is, happiness. Pope Francis sent his good wishes to the participants with a message offering some reflections on the theme.
An occasion to encounter Jesus
Mladifest, the Pope reminds his readers, is in fact a "week of prayer and encounter with Jesus Christ, especially in his living Word, in the Eucharist, in adoration and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation," which has the power to "set us on our way to the Lord." And so this young man of the Gospel, whose name we do not know but whose soul we do know, becomes the symbol of all those who participate in this event.
The Pope recalled that the young man recounted in the Gospels was "educated and very knowledgeable" and motivated with a "healthy restlessness that urged him to seek true happiness, life in its fullness". It is for this reason that he set out on his journey to findin Jesus Christ an "authoritative, credible and reliable" guide who "directed him to God, who is the one and supreme good from whom all other good comes". Eternal life, the good for which he yearns, the Pope writes, is certainly not a material good to be conquered with "one's own strength” but requires going through various stages of maturation.
Making steps towards eternal life: loving one's neighbor
The first step, indicated by Jesus, is "concrete love for one's neighbor," not the love given simply by the observance of precepts, rather a "gratuitous and total" love. Jesus notices the "desire for fullness that the young man carries in his heart", but also his "weak point", which is his attachment to "many material goods". For this reason, as a second step, Jesus suggests moving “from a logic of 'merit' to one of giving."
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." (Mt 19:21). Jesus changes the perspective: he invites him not to think of securing the afterlife, but to give everything in his earthly life, thus imitating the Lord. It is a call to further maturity, to pass from precepts observed to receive a reward, to one that is about love by giving freely without limit. Jesus asks him to leave behind all that weighs down the heart and hinders love. What Jesus recommends is not so much that everything be taken away as much as being free to love and rich in relationships with others.
To be free from all attachments
The Pope went on to explain that if the heart is crowded with possessions, the Lord and one's neighbor become merely "things", because "having and wanting too much" suffocate us and "make us unhappy and incapable of loving".
The third step that Jesus proposes to the young man marks a radical choice, the Pope observed when Jesus asks him: "Come! Follow me!" It is a matter of "being disciples of Jesus", which means, not imitating Him outwardly but "conforming to Him" deep in our hearts in order to receive in return "a rich and happy life, in the company of the many brothers and sisters, fathers, mothers and children".
Following Christ is not a loss, but an incalculable gain, the Pope writes, while renunciation concerns the obstacle that blocks this pathway. The rich young man, however, has his heart divided between two masters: God and money. The fear of risking and losing his possessions makes him return home sad.
Drawing close to Christ to be happy: saying yes without holding back
It marked a sad moment, because "he did not find the courage to accept the response, which is the proposal to 'untie himself' from himself and from riches in order to 'bind himself' to Christ, to walk with Him and discover true happiness", the Pope observed. He writes:
“Have the courage to live your youth by entrusting yourselves to the Lord and setting out with Him. Let yourselves be conquered by his loving gaze that frees us from the seduction of idols, from the false riches that promise life but bring death. Do not be afraid to welcome the Word of Christ and accept his call. Do not be discouraged like the rich young man in the Gospel; instead, fix your gaze on Mary, the great example of the imitation of Christ, and entrust yourselves to her who, with her affirmative response "Here I am", answered unreservedly to the Lord's call.”
Mary as an example for all of us
May Mary, to whose maternal intercession the Pope entrusts the young people present at the Festival, be the source of the "strength" from which we draw to say our own "here I am", but also a model for "bringing Christ to the world" and for "transforming our lives into a gift for others". Like her, the Pope asks us to strive to be attentive to others and to discover in God's will "our joy", welcoming it even if it is not easy but with the certainty that "it will make us happy".
The Pope writes: "the joy of the Gospel fills the heart and the whole life of those who encounter Jesus. Those who allow themselves to be saved by Him are freed from sin, from sadness, from inner emptiness, from isolation. With Jesus Christ, joy is always born and reborn."