VATICAN CITY, MARCH 26, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a conversation between some young people and Benedict XVI during a meeting Thursday in St. Peter’s Square in preparation for World Youth Day.
More than 70,000 young people were present for the event organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of World Youth Day, established by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
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Q: Holy Father, the young man of the Gospel asked Jesus: Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? I don’t even know what eternal life is. I cannot even imagine it, but I know one thing: I don’t want to throw my life away; I want to live it fully and not alone. I’m afraid this won’t happen, I’m afraid of thinking only of myself, of mistaking everything and of finding myself without a goal to reach, living for the day. Is it possible to make something beautiful and great of my life?
Benedict XV: Dear young people, before answering the question I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to you all for your presence, for this marvelous witness of faith, of wishing to live in communion with Jesus, for your enthusiasm in following Jesus and living well. Thank you!
And now the question. You have said that you don’t know what eternal life is and cannot imagine it. No one of us is able to imagine eternal life, because it is outside of our experience. However, we can begin to understand what eternal life is, and I think that you, with your question, have given us a description of the essential of eternal life, that is, of true life: not to throw life away, to live it in profundity, not to live for oneself, not to live for the day, but to really live life in its richness and its totality. And how can we do this? This is the big question, with which even the rich man of the Gospel came to the Lord (cf. Mark 10:17).
At first glance, the Lord’s answer seems very dry. In sum, he says: observe the commandments (cf. Mark 10:19). But behind this, if we reflect well, if we listen to the Lord well, in the totality of the Gospel, we find the great wisdom of the Word of God, of Jesus. The commandments, according to another Word of Jesus, are summarized in this one alone: love God with your whole heart, with your whole reason, with your whole existence and love your neighbor as yourself.
To love God implies knowing God, recognizing God. And this is the first step we must take: to seek to know God. And thus we know that our life does not exist by accident, it is not an accident. My life is willed by God from eternity. I am loved, I am necessary. God has a plan for me in the totality of history; he has a plan specifically for me. My life is important and also necessary. Eternal love has created me in profundity and awaits me. Therefore, this is the first point: to know, to seek to know God and thus understand that life is a gift, that it is good to live.
Essential, then, is love. To love this God who has created me, who has created this world, who governs through all the difficulties of man and of history, and who accompanies me. And to love one’s neighbor.
The Ten Commandments to which Jesus refers in his answer, are only an explicitness of the commandment to love. They are, so to speak, rules of love, indicating the way of love with these essential points: the family, as foundation of society; life, to be respected as gift of God; the order of sexuality, of the relationship between man and woman; the social order and, finally, truth. These essential elements specify the way of love, specifying how to really love and how to find the correct life. Hence it is a fundamental will of God for us all, which is identical for all of us.
But its application is different in every life, because God has a specific plan for each man. St. Francis de Sales once said: Perfection, that is, to be good, to live faith and love, is essentially one, but in very different forms. Very different is the holiness of a monk and that of a politician, of a scientist and a peasant, and so on. And thus for every man God has his plan and I must find, in my circumstances, my way of living this unique and common will of God the great rules of which are indicated in these explanations of love. And hence to seek also to fulfill that which is the essence of love, namely, not to take life for myself, but to give life; not to “have” life, but to make of life a gift, not to seek myself, but to give to others.
This is the essential, and it implies renunciations, that is, to come out of myself and not to seek myself. And precisely by not seeking myself, but giving myself to the great and true things, I find the true life. Thus everyone will find, in his life, the different possibilities: to commit oneself to charitable work, in a community of prayer, in a movement, in the action of one’s parish, in one’s profession. It is important and essential to find my vocation and to live it in every situation, whether I am a great scientist, or a peasant. Everything is important in God’s eyes: It is beautiful if it is lived to the very bottom with that love that really redeems the world.
At the end I would like to recount a little story of St. Josephine Bakhita, this little African saint who found God and Christ in Italy, and who always makes a great impression on me. She was a sister in an Italian convent; one day, the bishop of the place paid a visit to the convent, saw this little black sister, of whom he did not seem to know anything and said: “Sister, what are you doing here?” And Bakhita answered: “The same thing that you do, Excellency.” The bishop visibly irritated said: “But how, Sister, do you do the same thing that I do?” “Yes, said the Sister, we both wish to do the will of God, isn’t that true?”
In sum, this is the essential point: to know, with the help of the Church, of the Word of God and of friends, the will of God, whether in its great lines, common for all, or in the concreteness of my personal life. Thus life becomes, perhaps, not too easy, but beautiful and joyful. Let us pray that the Lord will always help us to find his will and to follow it with joy.
Q: The Gospel has told us that Jesus looked at the young man and loved him. Holy Father, what does it mean to be looked at with love by Jesus; how can we also have this experience today? But is it really possible to live this experience also in this life of today?
Benedict XVI: Of course I will say yes, because the Lord is always present and looks at each one of us with love. Only we must find this love and meet with him. How do we do this?
I would say that the first point to meet with Jesus, to experience his love, is to know him. To know Jesus involves different ways. A first condition is to know the figure of Jesus as he appears to us in the Gospels, which give us a very rich portrait of the figure of Jesus, in the great parables, we think of the Prodigal Son, the Samaritan, Lazarus, etc.
In all the parables, in all his words, in the Sermon on the Mount, we really find the face of Jesus, the face of God unto the cross where, out of love for us, he gives himself totally unto death and can, in the end, say into your hands, Father, I give my life, my spirit (cf. Luke 23:46).
Hence: to know, to meditate Jesus together with friends, with the Church and to know Jesus not only in an academic, theoretical way, but with the heart, that is, to speak with Jesus in prayer. A person cannot be known in the same way as I can study mathematics. Reason is necessary and sufficient for mathematics, but to know a person, above all the great person of Jesus, God and man, we also need reason but, at the same time, also the heart. Only with the opening of the heart to him, only with knowledge of the whole of what he has said and done, with our love, with are going to him, can we little by little know him ever more and thus also have the experience of being loved. Hence, to listen to the Word of God, to listen to it in the communion of the Church, in her great expe
rience and respond with our prayer, with our personal conversation with Jesus, where we tell him how much we cannot understand, our needs, our questions.
In a true conversation, we can always find increasingly this way of knowledge that becomes love. Of course, not only to think, not only to pray, but also to do is part of the way to Jesus: to do good things, to be committed to one’s neighbor. There are different ways: every one know his own possibilities, in the parish and in the community in which he lives, to be committed also to Christ and to others, for the vitality of the Church, so that the faith is really a formative force of our environment, and thus of our time.
Therefore, I would say these elements: to listen, to answer, to enter the believing community, communion with Christ in the sacraments, where he gives himself to us, whether in the Eucharist or in Confession, etc., and, finally, to do, to carry out the words of the faith, so that they become the force of my life and the look of Jesus also truly appears to me and his love helps me and transforms me.
Q: Jesus invited the rich young man to leave everything, and to follow him, but he went away sad. Like him I also find it hard to follow him, because I am afraid of leaving my things and sometimes the Church asks me for difficult renunciations. Holy Father how can I find the strength for courageous choices, and who can help me?
Benedict XVI: Look, we began with this hard word for us: renunciation. Renunciations are possible and, in the end, become even beautiful if they have a reason and if this reason then justifies even the difficulty of the renunciation. In this context, St. Paul used the image of the Olympics and of athletes committed to the Olympics (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25). He says: They, to arrive finally at the medal — at that time, the crown — must live a very hard discipline, must give up so many things, must exercise themselves in the sport they practice and make great sacrifices and renunciations because they have a motivation, it’s worthwhile. Even if at the end, perhaps, they are not among the winners, still it is a beautiful thing having disciplined oneself and having been capable of doing these things with a certain perfection.
The same thing that is true, with this image of St. Paul for the Olympics, for the whole of sport, is also true for all the other things of life. A good professional life cannot be achieved without renunciations, without an adequate preparation, which always calls for discipline, it calls for giving up something, and so on, also in art and in all the elements of life. We all understand that to attain an objective, whether professional, athletic, artistic, or cultural we must deny ourselves, learn to get ahead.
In fact, also the art of living, of being oneself, the art of being a person calls for renunciations, and true renunciations, which help us to find the way of life, the art of life, are indicated to us in the Word of God and they help us not to fall — let us say — into the abyss of drugs, of alcohol, the slavery to sexuality, the slavery of money, of laziness. All these things at first seem like actions of liberty. In reality, they are not actions of liberty, but the beginning of a slavery that becomes ever more insurmountable. Success is in giving up the temptation of the moment, to go forward toward the good, which creates true liberty and makes life beautiful.
In this connection, it seems to me, we must see that without a “no” to certain things, the great “yes” to true life does not grow, as we see it in the figures of the saints. We think of St. Francis, of the saints of our time, Mother Teresa, Father Gnocchi and so many others, who denied themselves and who conquered and became not only free themselves but also a richness for the world and they show us how one can live.
Thus to the question “who helps me,” I would say that we are helped by the great figures of the history of the Church, by the Word of God, by the parish community, movements, charitable work, etc. And we are helped by the friendships of men who “go forward,” who have already made progress on the way of life and who can convince me that to walk thus is the right way. Let us pray to the Lord that he will always give us friends, communities that help us to see the way of goodness and thus find the beautiful and joyful life.[Translation by ZENIT]