During his encounter with youth, held at the Pacaembu stadium May 10 in São Paulo, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the implications of the question the young man made to Jesus when he asked what he should do to have eternal life (cf. Matthew 19:21: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor… and come, follow me".). Here are excerpts from his speech:
Jesus to the rich young man: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor… and come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21.)
My dear young friends! Today I would like to reflect on the text we have just heard from Saint Matthew (19:16-22). It speaks of a young man who ran to see Jesus. His impatience merits special attention. In this young man I see all of you young people of Brazil and Latin America. You have "run" here from various regions of this Continent for this meeting of ours. You want to listen to the words of Jesus himself — spoken through the voice of the Pope.
You have a crucial question — a question that appears in this Gospel — to put to him. It is the same question posed by the young man who ran to see Jesus: What good deed must I do, to have eternal life? I would like to take a deeper look at this question with you. It has to do with life. A life which — in all of you — is exuberant and beautiful. What are you to do with it? How can you live it to the full?
The question in the Gospel does not regard only the future. It does not regard only a question about what will happen after death. On the contrary, it exists as a task in the present, in the "here" and "now", which must guarantee authenticity and consequently the future. In short, the young man’s question raises the issue of life’s meaning. It can therefore be formulated in this way: what must I do so that my life has meaning? How must I live so as to reap the full fruits of life? Or again: what must I do so that my life is not wasted?
Jesus alone can give us the answer, because he alone can guarantee us eternal life. He alone, therefore, can show us the meaning of this present life and give it fullness.
To understand what is good, we need help, which the Church offers us on many occasions, especially through catechesis. Jesus himself shows what is good for us by giving us the first element in his catechesis: "If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17). He begins with the knowledge that the young man has surely already acquired from his family and from the synagogue: he knows the commandments. These lead to life, which means that they guarantee our authenticity. They are the great signs which lead us along the right path. Whoever keeps the commandments is on the way that leads to God.
At this point, I turn once more to you, young people, because I want to hear you give the same response that the young man in the Gospel gave: all these I have observed from my youth. The young man in the Gospel was good. He kept the commandments. He was walking along the way of God. Jesus, therefore, gazing at him, loved him. By recognizing that Jesus was good, he showed that he too was good. He had an experience of goodness, and therefore of God. And you, young people of Brazil and Latin America, have you already discovered what is good? Do you follow the Lord’s commandments? Have you discovered that this is the one true road to happiness?
These years of your life are the years which will prepare you for your future. Your "tomorrow" depends much on how you are living the "today" of your youth. Stretching out in front of you, my dear young friends, is a life that all of us hope will be long; yet it is only one life, it is unique: do not let it pass it vain; do not squander it. Live it with enthusiasm and with joy, but most of all, with a sense of responsibility.
Many times, we who are pastors feel a sense of trepidation as we take stock of the situation in today’s world. We hear talk of the fears of today’s youth. These fears reveal an enormous lack of hope: a fear of death, at the very moment when life is blossoming and the young are searching to find how to fulfil their potential; fear of failure, through not having discovered the meaning of life; fear of remaining detached in the face of a disconcerting acceleration of events and communications. We see the high death rate among young people, the threat of violence, the deplorable proliferation of drugs which strike at the deepest roots of youth today. For these reasons, we hear talk of a "lost youth".
But as I gaze at you young people here present — you who radiate so much joy and enthusiasm — I see you as Christ sees you: with a gaze of love and trust, in the certainty that you have found the true way. You are the youth of the Church. I send you out, therefore, on the great mission of evangelizing young men and women who have gone astray in this world like sheep without a shepherd. Be apostles of youth. Invite them to walk with you, to have the same experience of faith, hope, and love; to encounter Jesus so that they may feel truly loved, accepted, able to realize their full potential. May they too may discover the sure ways of the commandments, and, by following them, come to God.
You can be the builders of a new society if you seek to put into practice a conduct inspired by universal moral values, but also a personal commitment to a vitally important human and spiritual formation. Men and women who are ill-prepared for the real challenges presented by a correct interpretation of the Christian life in their own surroundings will easily fall prey to all the assaults of materialism and secularism, which are more and more active at all levels.
There exists, in the final analysis, an immense panorama of action in which questions of a social, economic and political nature take on particular importance, as long as they draw their inspiration from the Gospel and the social teaching of the Church. This includes building a more just and fraternal society, reconciled and at peace, it includes the commitment to reduce violence, initiatives to promote the fullness of life, the democratic order and the common good and especially initiatives aimed at eliminating certain forms of discrimination existing in Latin American societies: avoiding exclusion, for the sake of mutual enrichment.
Above all, have great respect for the institution of the sacrament of Matrimony. There cannot be true domestic happiness unless, at the same time, there is fidelity between spouses. Marriage is an institution of natural law, which has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament; it is a great gift that God has given to mankind: respect it and honour it.
My appeal to you today, young people present at this gathering, is this: do not waste your youth. Do not seek to escape from it. Live it intensely. Consecrate it to the high ideals of faith and human solidarity.
You, young people, are not just the future of the Church and of humanity, as if we could somehow run away from the present. On the contrary: you are that young man now; you are that young man in the Church and in humanity today. You are his young face. The Church needs you, as young people, to manifest to the world the face of Jesus Christ, visible in the Christian community. Without this young face, the Church would appear disfigured.
My dear young people, Christ is calling you to be saints. He himself is inviting you and wants to walk with you, in order to enliven with his Spirit the steps that Brazil is taking at the beginning of this third millennium of the Christian era. I ask Our Lady of Aparecida to guide you with her maternal help and to accompany you throughout your lives. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ!