This past Sunday, the church traded the deep purple of Lent for a lighter rose hue and celebrated Laetare Sunday — Rejoice Sunday. It’s a moment of lightness in the heavy season of Lent, hinting at the resurrection to come.
Two days later, Pope Francis released “Christ Lives” — or “Christus Vivit” in Latin. It’s an apostolic exhortation that flows from the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment.
Just as Laetare Sunday is a sign of life in the midst of Lent, the exhortation is a sign of life and hope for the future in the midst of troubled times in our church.
“Christ Lives” is a conversational reflection and is relatively easy for most lay Catholics to understand. It relies heavily on examples from Scripture — both Old and New Testaments — as well as the lives of the saints and modern-day people facing today’s challenges.
Pope Francis opens by addressing young people — in the age range of 16 to 29. He writes:
“Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!”
Upon reading these words, every Christian — of any age — should find fresh encouragement. And so goes the whole document. While its chapters hone-in on particular needs of young people, in many ways the pope’s prescriptions and observations are helpful to all readers, whether you are young, work with the young or simply want to look at your own life and vocation with a fresh perspective.
The document is divided into nine chapters that offer practical perspectives on the lives of young people, detail some of the challenges they face and examine how God the Father and Christ Jesus can help them on a path to discern who they’re called to be.
The first two chapters examine young people in Scripture, including the youth of Mary, who said “Yes” to God as a young woman, and the youth of Jesus himself, which Pope Francis describes as a time of preparation “to carry out the Father’s plan. His adolescence and his youth set him on the path to that sublime mission.”
Chapter three identifies young people not only as the future, but also the “now” of the church whose hearts should be seen as “holy ground” bearing unique seeds. It also describes the many varied struggles young people face around the world — from human rights violations to addiction and struggles with the digital world.
Chapter four shares “A great message for all young people,” which is “three great truths that all of us need constantly to keep hearing” — God loves you; Christ is your Saviour; he is alive (not a distant memory).
Chapter five moves the reader from ruminations and concepts to the realm of action. The Holy Father exhorts young people, with exclamation marks, even:
“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!”
That’s a message we could all use.
Chapter six and seven hold messages for all of us also. The former encourages young people to be rooted in family, community and the experience of their elders. Chapter seven delves into the very practical topic of youth ministry, urging pastors, lay people of all ages and youth to be participants in this ministry.
The foundations laid in earlier chapters lead to chapters eight and nine, which address vocation and discernment, respectively.
Here’s where the magic happens, whether you’re young or old or in between. All of us are called first into friendship with Jesus. This is the basis for all other discernment, Pope Francis writes.
Then he explains, “To respond to our vocation, we need to foster and develop all that we are. This has nothing to do with inventing ourselves or creating ourselves out of nothing. It has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit.”
In that way, he explains, “good discernment is a path of freedom that brings to full fruit what is unique in each person, something so personal that only God knows it. Others cannot fully understand or predict from the outside how it will develop.”
Let’s pray that all young people discover this opportunity — with the help of the faithful — and that people of all ages who have yet to discern a vocation find hope and encouragement in this exhortation, too.