Meeting with youth at the Olympic Stadium
MEETING WITH YOUTH
SEPTEMBER 11, 1984
My dear young people,
As part of my visit to Quebec, it is a great joy for me to be with you. In a country that is alive, in a vibrant Church, it is you who determine the shape of the future. And this evening in the Olympic stadium, a scene of human endeavour and accomplishment it is good to hear and see you express the faith and concerns, the hope and the questions of your generation as you examine with great frankness all that constitutes your life.
You have chosen that fundamental text that begins the Gospel of John. And so you place our meeting under the sign of the life that is stronger than death, under the sign of the light that darkness cannot overcome, under the sign of the Word, the eternal Word of God, who comes to dwell among us in Christ. May this act of faith guide us, may this light permeate us as your questions resound.
For your questions are numerous. You have just expressed some of the more serious ones among them. They can be added to those which were sent to me with confidence and simplicity by several thousand of you before I even came to visit you. I would dare to say to you that these questions often seem to me to have been formulated in a kind of shadow zone where humanity fears its future, mapping its path without seeing the light which is offered it, without recognizing the true light which enlightens every one.
One of you, a young girl from Quebec, wrote to me: “Give us your secret of responding to love and of having confidence in Jesus”. I have not come to reveal a secret to you. I have come as a witness, as John the Baptist came, to witness to the light. I have come to invite you to open your eyes to the light of life, to Christ Jesus. If we listen to his word, if we follow him, if we discover the greatness of his love for all men and all women of every age, then we will know that life is worth living, and better still, that it is worth giving.
In the passage of the Gospel which has been your inspiration this evening, John tells us that Jesus is the Word, that he is the life and that he is the light of men. Certainly, no one has ever seen God but the Son can reveal him to us (Jn 1,18). The Son is the Word who expresses perfectly the will of the Father, who calls us all to share the unparalleled beauty and purity of his infinite love through the inexhaustible generosity of his creation. In one of the prayers of the Mass we say: “You, the God of goodness, the source of life, you have created all things… in order to lead allpeople to the joyful vision of your light.” (Eucharistic Prayer IV)
However, there is darkness: when life disappoints us, when life wounds us, when one does not find happiness, when the heart hardens and when brothers and sisters are divided and fight one another. Darkness overcomes the light: humanity sets up, as it were, a screen, and experiences in anguish the difficulties of life. The world no longer recognizes the one who has called it to life, a life that should blossom in a universal fraternal union. Darkness brings a chilly closing in on oneself, it makes one incapable of loving freely and generously and truth is lost in falsehood. In the darkness, our blinded gaze can no longer perceive the Father, whose love remains faithful, in spite of the estrangement of his sons and daughters, in spite of all breaches of friendship.
“In him, there is no darkness.” (1 Jn 1,5)
“The light shines on in the darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it”. The Word was “the true light which gives light to all men”. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”, (cf. Jn 1,5,9,14)
In regard to the dark side of your questions, I would like to say to you, “Stand erect and hold your heads high, for your deliverance is near at hand”. (Lk 21,28). Jesus, the Son of God, “true God from true God, light from light”, lives among us. “In him was life and the life was the light of men”.
These words are the introduction to the whole of the Good News: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son resplendent in the glory of the Father, became one of us; he begins an amazing contest with the forces of darkness; a contest in which the powers of darkness cannot overcome the strength of Christ, which is of a totally different order, for he is only strong in the gift of himself to his Father for his brothers and sisters. It is a struggle in which he accepts to share our weakness and our loneliness, to endure the hostility of men to the point where he cries out: “It is now the hour of the power of darkness”. (Lk 23,53). But the darkness will not overcome him; he fights with the arms of peace.
Over against the excess of power, Jesus sets unselfishness: he chose to be the Servant.
Over against the excess of pride, Jesus sets humility: “I am not seeking my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5,30).
Over against hatred which rejects and kills, Jesus sets forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23,24).
Over against the blind power of death, Jesus sets the love of him who gives himself: “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down freely” (Jn 10,18).
Over against the absurd watch over his body in the tomb, Jesus sets the freedom of the Resurrection. “The Son of man in his day will be like the lightning which flashes from one end of the sky to the other” (Lk 17,24).
To those who despair of life and experience the threat of nothingness, Jesus offers the gift of new life: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life. Him I will raise up” (Jn 6,40).
My friends, in the letters I have received from you, I see two series of questions: on the one hand you say: “Speak to us of Jesus Christ, of hope and of faith”, and on the other hand you write: “Help us to resolve the difficulties that overshadow our personal, social and religious life”.
I wanted first of all to speak to you about the light of Christ, because it is as a witness to the Redeemer that I have come among you. The passage of the Gospel which you chose corresponded to this wish. Seek nowhere else an inspiration for answers to your questions. Listen to him who says to you: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness; he will have the light of life” (Jn 8,12).
You must remember this in moments of doubt. If you follow Christ, you will develop your full potential. You will be seekers after truth because it alone makes us free. I appeal to your inner dynamism: you will know how to move toward the solution of your problems by listening to the whole Gospel, by reflecting on it with your elders, and in your various Christian youth groups. Mobilize together your energies: be clear about what constitutes the foundation of your life; recognize the light of Christ: it will show you how to escape from the circles in which you might enclose yourselves. With him, you will love life!
In times of darkness, do not seek an escape. Have the courage to resist the dealers in deception who make capital of your hunger for happiness and who make you pay dearly for a moment of “artificial paradise” – a whiff of smoke, a bout of drinking or drugs. What claims to be a shortcut to happiness leads nowhere. It turns you away from that intelligent self-discipline which builds up the person. Have the courage not to take the easy path; have the courage to reverse directions if you have taken it. And know how to lend a helping hand to those of your companions who are haunted by despair when the darkness of the world is too cruel for them.
Many of you have been affected by unemployment. Here it is the whole problem of a changing society that touches you. There are economic solutions, difficult and long-term: they remain to be found. The leaders of society must devote themselves to this issue with a primary concern that the condition of everyone be reasonably acceptable and that there be observed the first demand of justice which is respect for the individual, however destitute however young. But as for you, do not allow the difficulties to destroy the resilience of your own personality; take your future in hand.
Ask yourselves, too, what you expect from professional life, you who are preparing for it, you who are already beginning it and you who are prevented from blossoming in it. Be creative! Do not be conspicuous by your absence when the future of the world is being shaped! You already share responsibility for it.
You are often critical, and rightly so, of a society so hungry for consumer goods that it destroys nature and lays waste its resources. But you ask yourselves what value you put on gain, on the possession of riches. Are you free in regard to money? How far are you prepared to share? Remember Jesus the day he went into Zaccheus’ house: his presence transformed an entire life-style; not only did Zaccheus rediscover justice in promising to repay the money he had acquired unjustly, but he also discovers generosity in sharing his wealth.
Broaden your vision beyond your usual milieu and your own country. Your brothers and sisters in vast regions of the world are without even the necessities of life, wounded in their dignity and oppressed in their freedom and their faith. Christ loves all his own and he identifies lovingly with the poorest. May he share with you his love for all his brothers and sisters! May he help you to live in that true solidarity which crosses frontiers and overcomes prejudices!
You are citizens of a country that enjoys peace but you are concerned about the future of humanity. You long for peace from the depths of your heart. Let this longing reverberate! I want your concern for world peace to make of you workers for peace. Begin with where you are. Repeat with sincerity the prayer of Francis of Assisi, a builder of peace in his own city. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love …” And, as Madame Jeanne Sauvé said recently, “Peace must become a state of soul – a way of being and of working”.
Before evoking some other questions that you asked me, I would like to return to the Gospel passage which is our inspiration this evening. “He came unto his own … to all those who received him, to those who believe in this name, he gave power to become children of God!”
It is an unimaginable, unhoped-for relationship with the living and true God that Jesus makes possible because he is near us. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. In giving his life for the many, he promises to remain among us for all generations. Faithful to his mission, he became one of us and remains present, a light which enlightens all people, “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14,16).
For the majority of you, the intimate meeting with Christ was consecrated through baptism. Jesus has offered us the riches of life in God. Peter said: “He has called us from darkness into his marvelous light” (1 P 2,9).
Today, often enough do not find it easy to take your place in the community of the baptised [sp]. Some of you say that you do not see the Church as the place where it is natural to be united with one another by the Christ of the Gospel. The building seems to you to be too big, built by others in a style different from your own. The “light that enlightens”, you find it blocked by too many shadows.
It is true that the community is still far from being the perfect mirror that would reflect the whole face of Christ. It is true that unity remains a goal too often contradicted. It is true, in a word, that the Church called by our Saviour to be assembled in him, is on the path of conversion and that there is still a long way to go.
Nevertheless, you the young, remember that Jesus asked us not to set ourselves up as judges (cf. Mt 7, 1-5). Do not remain either on the threshold, or outside. Do not let yourselves be tempted to expect the Church to be just a reflection of yourselves. As baptised [sp] persons, you are members of the Body of Christ. Only the whole Body will be able to reflect for humanity the luminous face of Christ.
You rightly expect your elders to accept with you tolerance and to respect you for what you are. You must do the same for them.
The Church is the community in which we inherit the gifts given to the apostles and handed on by them without interruption to us: the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. It is for everyone the place to encounter him who dwells among us; it is the place of the gift of the Spirit and of his grace; it is the place where we are given a rule of life – it is the place where all are called to share, to give thanks, to join in the Eucharistic offering of the life given by Christ, to receive the gift of forgiveness, to accept the mission of proclaming [sp] the truth and spreading love.
Take your place in the life of this body, however imperfect it remains. Bring to it your exigency, your enthusiasm. Contribute to the expression of faith and prayer, with your poetic gift and your desire to commit yourself.
And if there should arise in you the desire to consecrate your life to the service of God and of your brothers and sisters in the ministry of the Church, in the religious life, know how to recognize in it the call of Christ and respond with the boundless generosity of youth.
Take the time necessary to discern your vocation, allow it to be tested by prayer and reflection, consecrate yourselves to a solid formation. Speak with confidence to the pastor and superiors whose duty it is to confirm your call. You will know the joy of serving in the footsteps of Christ in the Church in which he lives, of surrendering your life, in freedom and poverty, to share his love for his brothers and sisters.
There is one last point that I wish to address, because you are deeply interested in it. It concerns your questions about marriage and about the love of a couple and love in marriage.
In reading your letters I have been impressed in seeing that they express much pain. Too many of you suffer because of the breakdown of family life, because of separation and divorce; and you have been wounded to the point of sometimes doubting whether a faithful and lasting love is possible.
It is not ours to judge those who have been hurt by the upheaval affecting morals and society. But I say to you: do not doubt; you can build a home on the rock of fidelity, because you can count totally on the fidelity of God, who is love.
Prepare yourselves for the worthwhile and true commitment of marriage. React against false illusions and do not confuse a premature experience of pleasure with the giving of oneself in love, deliberately consented to, and for ever. When, as man and woman, you bind your lives together, decide to do so with complete generosity, each one desiring first the well-being of the other, together desiring to communicate life and to ensure the welfare of your children. Prepare yourselves for the one commitment that is worthy of human love, the commitment of marriage, in order to build something that deserves and requires the whole of one’s life. And for this, too, may the words of Christ give you light: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
Dear young people: in all the questions that deeply interest you, there is a dark side that worries you – and there is a light of hope. This hope – and you have shared it with me – rightly leads you to question yourselves about your future, about the future of the world and the future of the Church.
In the name of Christ, I ask you: when you are overcome by weariness or seized by doubt, break out of the bonds of your loneliness, find him who is the light of all people, join with your brothers and sisters in order to walk together, seek the support of your elders.
Remain seekers after truth. Use with courage the rich gifts that are within you. Give yourselves without reserve to the service of justice, of peace, of freedom and of love, in the light of Christ.
Quebec, like your powerful river, you are a country with a generous nature. You know how to channel your rivers. Do you know how to channel the energies of your youth for the service of the whole human person and of all humanity loved by God?
Turn, my dear young friends, at each stage of your journey towards him in whom dwells the fullness of God (cf. Col 2,9). Following Peter, put your trust in him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6,68).