“What are your fears?” That is the first question Pope Francis put to young people in his message for the 33rd World Youth Day, to be celebrated at the diocesan level on 25 March 2018, Palm Sunday, on the theme, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1: 30).
The Holy Father’s answer: “not being loved, well-liked or accepted for who you are.” Young people worry about their image and getting as many “likes” as possible. He said even people of faith are beset by these worries — perhaps because they fear not being able to follow God’s Will.
He recalled a key teaching of Jesus that the obstacle to faith is often not skepticism but fear. But he reminded young people that God knows their fears and challenges and offers them, like Mary, his favor and grace.
“In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment becomes necessary. It allows us to bring order to the confusion of our thoughts and feelings, to act in a just and prudent way,” the Holy Father explained. “In this process, the first step in overcoming fears is to identify them clearly, so as not to find yourself wasting time and energy by being gripped by empty and faceless ghosts.”
Discernment is not only an individual, interior process, but involved a “call from above” and being open “to the Other who calls,” he continued. “It is also important to dialogue with and encounter others, our brothers and sisters in the faith who have more experience, for they help us to see better and to choose wisely from the various possibilities…Open wide the doors of your life! May your time and space be filled with meaningful relationships, real people, with whom to share your authentic and concrete experiences of daily life.”
The Pope pointed out that God calls each of us by name and, like Mary, each receives the freely given love of God. Like Mary, we need not be afraid.
“The main reason why Mary need not be afraid is that she has found favor with God. The word ‘grace’ speaks of love freely given, not owed,” the Pope explained. “How much we are encouraged to know that we do not have to earn the closeness and help of God, by presenting a ‘Curriculum Vitae of excellence’, full of merits and successes!
“The Angel’s words descend upon our human fears, dissolving them with the power of the Good News of which we are heralds: our life is not pure chance or a mere struggle for survival, rather each of us is a cherished story loved by God.”
Mary, like young people today, was young, the Pope recalled, claiming she was entrusted with such an important role “precisely because she was young.” Her youth and strength were necessary for her important task.
“From the certainty that God’s grace is with us comes the strength to take courage in the present moment: the courage to carry forward what God asks of us here and now, in every area of our lives; courage to embrace the vocation which God reveals to us; courage to live out our faith without hiding or diminishing it,” the Holy Father concluded.