POST-SYNODAL APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION
OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
TO YOUNG PEOPLE AND TO THE ENTIRE PEOPLE OF GOD
1. Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, an
d 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!
2. He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.
3. With great affection, I address this Apostolic Exhortation to all Christian young people.It is meant to remind you of certain convictions born of our faith, and at the same time to encourage you to grow in holiness and in commitment to your personal vocation. But since it is also part of a synodal process, I am also addressing this message to the entire People of God, pastors and faithful alike, since all of us are challenged and urged to reflect both on the young and for the young. Consequently, I will speak to young people directly in some places, while in others I will propose some more general considerations for the Church’s discernment.
4. I have let myself be inspired by the wealth of reflections and conversations that emerged from last year’s Synod. I cannot include all those contributions here, but you can read them in the Final Document. In writing this letter, though, I have attempted to summarize those proposals I considered most significant. In this way, my words will echo the myriad voices of believers the world over who made their opinions known to the Synod. Those young people who are not believers, yet wished to share their thoughts, also raised issues that led me to ask new questions.
What does the word of God have to say about young people?
5. Let us draw upon some of the richness of the sacred Scriptures, since they often speak of young people and of how the Lord draws near to encounter them.
In the Old Testament
6. In an age when young people were not highly regarded, some texts show that God sees them differently. Joseph, for example, was one of the youngest of his family (cf. Gen 37:2-3), yet God showed him great things in dreams and when about twenty years old he outshone all his brothers in important affairs (cf. Gen 37-47).
7. In Gideon, we see the frankness of young people, who are not used to sugar-coating reality. When told that the Lord was with him, he responded: “But if the Lord is with us, why then have all these things happened to us?” (Jg 6:13). God was not offended by that reproach, but went on to order him: “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel!” (Jg 6:14).
8. Samuel was still a young boy, yet the Lord spoke to him. Thanks to the advice of an adult, he opened his heart to hear God’s call: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9-10). As a result, he became a great prophet who intervened at critical moments in the history of his country. King Saul was also young when the Lord called him to undertake his mission (cf. 1 Sam 9:2).
9. King David was chosen while still a boy. When the prophet Samuel was seeking the future king of Israel, a man offered as candidates his sons who were older and more experienced. Yet the prophet said that the chosen one was the young David, who was out tending the flock (cf. 1 Sam 16:6-13), for “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (v. 7). The glory of youth is in the heart, more than in physical strength or the impression given to others.
10. Solomon, when he had to succeed his father, felt lost and told God: “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act” (1 Kg 3:7). Yet the audacity of youth moved him to ask God for wisdom and he devoted himself to his mission. Something similar happened to the prophet Jeremiah, called despite his youth to rouse his people. In his fear, he said: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jer 1:6). But the Lord told him not to say that (cf. Jer 1:7), and added: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8). The devotion of the prophet Jeremiah to his mission shows what can happen when the brashness of youth is joined to the power of God.
11. A Jewish servant girl of the foreign commander Naaman intervened with faith and helped him to be cured of his illness (cf. 2 Kg 5:2-6). The young Ruth was a model of generosity in remaining beside her mother-in-law who had fallen on hard times (cf. Ru 1:1-18), yet she also showed boldness in getting ahead in life (cf. Ru 4:1-17).
In the New Testament
12. One of Jesus’ parables (cf. Lk 15:11-32) relates that a “younger” son wanted to leave his father’s home for a distant land (cf. vv. 12-13). Yet his thoughts of independence turned into dissolution and excess (cf. v. 13), and he came to experience the bitterness of loneliness and poverty (cf. vv. 14-16). Nonetheless, he found the strength to make a new start (cf. vv. 17-19) and determined to get up and return home (cf. v. 20). Young hearts are naturally ready to change, to turn back, get up and learn from life. How could anyone fail to support that son in this new resolution? Yet his older brother already had a heart grown old; he let himself be possessed by greed, selfishness and envy (Lk 15:28-30). Jesus praises the young sinner who returned to the right path over the brother who considered himself faithful, yet lacked the spirit of love and mercy.
13. Jesus, himself eternally young, wants to give us hearts that are ever young. God’s word asks us to “cast out the old leaven that you may be fresh dough” (1 Cor 5:7). Saint Paul invites us to strip ourselves of the “old self” and to put on a “young” self (Col 3:9-10). In explaining what it means to put on that youthfulness “which is being renewed” (v. 10), he mentions “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other if anyone has a complaint against another” (Col 3:12-13). In a word, true youth means having a heart capable of loving, whereas everything that separates us from others makes the soul grow old. And so he concludes: “above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).
14. Let us also keep in mind that Jesus had no use for adults who looked down on the young or lorded it over them. On the contrary, he insisted that “the greatest among you must become like the youngest” (Lk 22:26). For him age did not establish privileges, and being young did not imply lesser worth or dignity.
15. The word of God says that young people should be treated “as brothers” (1 Tim 5:1), and warns parents not to “provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Col 3:21). Young people are not meant to become discouraged; they are meant to dream great things, to seek vast horizons, to aim higher, to take on the world, to accept challenges and to offer the best of themselves to the building of something better. That is why I constantly urge young people not to let themselves be robbed of hope; to each of them I repeat: “Let no one despise your youth” (1 Tim 4:12).
16. Nonetheless, young people are also urged “to accept the authority of those who are older” (1 Pet 5:5). The Bible never ceases to insist that profound respect be shown to the elderly, since they have a wealth of experience; they have known success and failure, life’s joys and afflictions, its dreams and disappointments. In the silence of their heart, they have a store of experiences that can teach us not to make mistakes or be taken in by false promises. An ancient sage asks us to respect certain limits and to master our impulses: “Urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Tit 2.6). It is unhelpful to buy into the cult of youth or foolishly to dismiss others simply because they are older or from another generation. Jesus tells us that the wise are able to bring forth from their store things both new and old (cf. Mt 13:52). A wise young person is open to the future, yet still capable of learning something from the experience of others.
17. In the Gospel of Mark, we find a man who, listening to Jesus speak of the commandments, says, “All these I have observed from my youth” (10:20). The Psalmist had already said the same thing: “You, O Lord, are my hope; my trust, O Lord, from my youth… from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds” (Ps 71:5.17). We should never repent of spending our youth being good, opening our heart to the Lord, and living differently. None of this takes away from our youth but instead strengthens and renews it: “Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps 103:5). For this reason, Saint Augustine could lament: “Late have I loved you, beauty ever ancient, ever new! Late have I loved you!” Yet that rich man, who had been faithful to God in his youth, allowed the passing years to rob his dreams; he preferred to remain attached to his riches (cf. Mk 10:22).
18. On the other hand, in the Gospel of Matthew we find a young man (cf. 19:20.22) who approaches Jesus and asks if there is more that he can do (v. 20); in this, he demonstrates that youthful openness of spirit which seeks new horizons and great challenges. Yet his spirit was not really that young, for he had already become attached to riches and comforts. He said he wanted something more, but when Jesus asked him to be generous and distribute his goods, he realized that he could not let go of everything he had. In the end, “hearing these words, the young man went away sad” (v. 22). He had given up his youth.
19. The Gospel also speaks about a group of wise young women, who were ready and waiting, while others were distracted and slumbering (cf. Mt 25:1-13). We can, in fact, spend our youth being distracted, skimming the surface of life, half-asleep, incapable of cultivating meaningful relationships or experiencing the deeper things in life. In this way, we can store up a paltry and unsubstantial future. Or we can spend our youth aspiring to beautiful and great things, and thus store up a future full of life and interior richness.
20. If you have lost your inner vitality, your dreams, your enthusiasm, your optimism and your generosity, Jesus stands before you as once he stood before the dead son of the widow, and with all the power of his resurrection he urges you: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” (Lk 7:14).
21. To be sure, many other passages of the word of God can shed light on this stage of your life. We will take up some of them in the following chapters.
Jesus, ever young
22. Jesus is “young among the young in order to be an example for the young and to consecrate them to the Lord”. For this reason the Synod said that “youth is an original and stimulating stage of life, which Jesus himself experienced, thereby sanctifying it”.
23. The Lord “gave up his spirit” (cf. Mt 27:50) on a cross when he was little more than thirty years of age (cf. Lk 3:23). It is important to realize that Jesus was a young person. He gave his life when he was, in today’s terms, a young adult. He began his public mission in the prime of life, and thus “a light dawned” (Mt 4:16) that would shine most brightly when he gave his life to the very end. That ending was not something that simply happened; rather, his entire youth, at every moment, was a precious preparation for it. “Everything in Jesus’s life was a sign of his mystery”; indeed, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption”.
24. The Gospel tells us nothing of Jesus’ childhood, but it does recount several events of his adolescence and youth. Matthew situates the time of the Lord’s youth between two events: his family’s return to Nazareth after their exile, and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the beginning of his public ministry. The last images we have of Jesus as a child are those of a tiny refugee in Egypt (cf. Mt2:14-15) and repatriated in Nazareth (cf. Mt 2:19-23). Our first image of Jesus as a young adult shows him standing among the crowds on the banks of the Jordan river to be baptized by his kinsman John the Baptist, just like any other member of his people (cf. Mt 3:13-17).
25. Jesus’ baptism was not like our own, which introduces us to the life of grace, but a consecration prior to his embarking on the great mission of his life. The Gospel says that at his baptism the Father rejoiced and was well pleased: “You are my beloved Son” (Lk 3:22). Jesus immediately appeared filled with the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the desert. There he prepared to go forth to preach and to work miracles, to bring freedom and healing (cf. Lk 4:1-14). Every young person who feels called to a mission in this world is invited to hear the Father speaking those same words within his or her heart: “You are my beloved child”.
26. Between these two accounts, we find another, which shows Jesus as an adolescent, when he had returned with his parents to Nazareth, after being lost and found in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:41-51). There we read that “he was obedient to them” (cf. Lk 2:51); he did not disown his family. Luke then adds that Jesus “grew in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (cf. Lk 2:52). In a word, this was a time of preparation, when Jesus grew in his relationship with the Father and with others. Saint John Paul II explained that he did not only grow physically, but that “there was also a spiritual growth in Jesus”, because “the fullness of grace in Jesus was in proportion to his age: there was always a fullness, but a fullness which increased as he grew in age”.
27. From what the Gospel tells us, we can say that Jesus, in the years of his youth, was “training”, being prepared to carry out the Father’s plan. His adolescence and his youth set him on the path to that sublime mission.
28. In his adolescence and youth, Jesus’ relationship with the Father was that of the beloved Son. Drawn to the Father, he grew up concerned for his affairs: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). Still, it must not be thought that Jesus was a withdrawn adolescent or a self-absorbed youth. His relationships were those of a young person who shared fully in the life of his family and his people. He learned his father’s trade and then replaced him as a carpenter. At one point in the Gospel he is called “the carpenter’s son” (Mt 13:55) and another time simply “the carpenter” (Mk 6:3). This detail shows that he was just another young person of his town, who related normally to others. No one regarded him as unusual or set apart from others. For this very reason, once Jesus began to preach, people could not imagine where he got this wisdom: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22).
29. In fact, “Jesus did not grow up in a narrow and stifling relationship with Mary and Joseph, but readily interacted with the wider family, the relatives of his parents and their friends”. Hence we can understand why, when he returned from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, his parents readily thought that, as a twelve-year-old boy (cf. Lk 2:42), he was wandering freely among the crowd, even though they did not see him for an entire day: “supposing him to be in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey” (Lk 2:44). Surely, they assumed, Jesus was there, mingling with the others, joking with other young people, listening to the adults tell stories and sharing the joys and sorrows of the group. Indeed, the Greek word that Luke uses to describe the group – synodía – clearly evokes a larger “community on a journey” of which the Holy Family is a part. Thanks to the trust of his parents, Jesus can move freely and learn to journey with others.
His youth teaches us
30. These aspects of Jesus’ life can prove inspiring for all those young people who are developing and preparing to take up their mission in life. This involves growing in a relationship with the Father, in awareness of being part of a family and a people, and in openness to being filled with the Holy Spirit and led to carry out the mission God gives them, their personal vocation. None of this should be overlooked in pastoral work with young people, lest we create projects that isolate young people from their family and the larger community, or turn them into a select few, protected from all contamination. Rather, we need projects that can strengthen them, accompany them and impel them to encounter others, to engage in generous service, in mission.
31. Jesus does not teach you, young people, from afar or from without, but from within your very youth, a youth he shares with you. It is very important for you to contemplate the young Jesus as presented in the Gospels, for he was truly one of you, and shares many of the features of your young hearts. We see this for example in the following: “Jesus had unconditional trust in the Father; he maintained friendship with his disciples, and even in moments of crisis he remained faithful to them. He showed profound compassion for the weakest, especially the poor, the sick, sinners and the excluded. He had the courage to confront the religious and political authorities of his time; he knew what it was to feel misunderstood and rejected; he experienced the fear of suffering and he knew the frailty of the Passion. He turned his gaze to the future, entrusting himself into the Father’s safe hands in the strength of the Spirit. In Jesus, all the young can see themselves”.
32. On the other hand, Jesus is risen, and he wants to make us sharers in the new life of the resurrection. He is the true youthfulness of a world grown old, the youthfulness of a universe waiting “in travail” (Rom 8:22) to be clothed with his light and to live his life. With him at our side, we can drink from the true wellspring that keeps alive all our dreams, our projects, our great ideals, while impelling us to proclaim what makes life truly worthwhile. Two curious details in the Gospel of Mark show how those risen with Christ are called to authentic youth. In the Lord’s passion we see a young man who wanted to follow Jesus, but in fear ran away naked (cf. 14:51-52); he lacked the strength to stake everything on following the Lord. Yet at the empty tomb, we see another young person, “dressed in a white tunic” (16:5), who tells the women not to be afraid and proclaims the joy of the resurrection (cf. 16:6-7).
33. The Lord is calling us to enkindle stars in the night of other young people. He asks you to look to the true stars, all those varied signs he gives us to guide our way, and to imitate the farmer who watches the stars before going out to plough his field. God lights up stars to help us keep walking: “The stars shine in their watches, and are glad; he calls them and they say: ‘Here we are!’” (Bar 3:34-35). Christ himself is our great light of hope and our guide in the night, for he is the “bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).
The youth of the Church
34. Youth is more than simply a period of time; it is a state of mind. That is why an institution as ancient as the Church can experience renewal and a return to youth at different points in her age-old history. Indeed, at the most dramatic moments of her history, she feels called to return with all her heart to her first love. Recalling this truth, the Second Vatican Council noted that, “enriched by a long and living history, and advancing towards human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the Church is the real youth of the world”. In her, it is always possible to encounter Christ “the companion and friend of youth”.
A Church open to renewal
35. Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill. But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else. No! The Church is young when she is herself, when she receives ever anew the strength born of God’s word, the Eucharist, and the daily presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit in our lives. The Church is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source.
36. Certainly, as members of the Church, we should not stand apart from others. All should regard us as friends and neighbours, like the apostles, who “enjoyed the good will of all the people” (Acts 2:47; cf. 4:21.33; 5:13). Yet at the same time we must dare to be different, to point to ideals other than those of this world, testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor, and social friendship.
37. Christ’s Church can always yield to the temptation to lose enthusiasm because she no longer hears the Lord calling her to take the risk of faith, to give her all without counting the dangers; she can be tempted to revert to seeking a false, worldly form of security. Young people can help keep her young. They can stop her from becoming corrupt; they can keep her moving forward, prevent her from being proud and sectarian, help her to be poorer and to bear better witness, to take the side of the poor and the outcast, to fight for justice and humbly to let herself be challenged. Young people can offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to “rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments”.
38. Those of us who are no longer young need to find ways of keeping close to the voices and concerns of young people. “Drawing together creates the conditions for the Church to become a place of dialogue and a witness to life-giving fraternity”. We need to make more room for the voices of young people to be heard: “listening makes possible an exchange of gifts in a context of empathy… At the same time, it sets the conditions for a preaching of the Gospel that can touch the heart truly, decisively and fruitfully”.
A Church attentive to the signs of the times
39. “Even though to many young people, God, religion and the Church seem empty words, they are sensitive to the figure of Jesus when he is presented in an attractive and effective way”. Consequently, the Church 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.
40. The Synod recognized that “a substantial number of young people, for all sorts of reasons, do not ask the Church for anything because they do not see her as significant for their lives. Some even ask expressly to be left alone, as they find the presence of the Church a nuisance, even an irritant. This request does not always stem from uncritical or impulsive contempt. It can also have serious and understandable reasons: sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young; lack of care in homily preparation and the presentation of the word of God; the passive role assigned to the young within the Christian community; the Church’s difficulty in explaining her doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society”.
41. 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.