The following is a translation of the Message written in Croatian sent by Pope Francis to the Youth Festival (Mladifest), an annual prayer meeting for young people, held from 1 to 6 August in Medjugorje.
he Youth Festival is an intense week of prayer and encounter with Jesus Christ, in particular in his living Word, in the Eucharist, in adoration and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This event — as the experience of so many people tells us — has the power to set one on the journey towards the Lord. And it is precisely this first step that makes even the “rich young man” whom the Synoptic Gospels speak of (cf. Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-22; Lk 18:18-23), who sets out walking, or rather, runs to meet the Lord, full of enthusiasm and desire to find the Teacher in order to inherit eternal life, that is, happiness. The guiding word of the this year’s Festival is precisely the question that that young man asks Jesus: “What must I do, to have eternal life?”. It is a word that places us before the Lord; and he fixes his gaze on us, loves us and invites us: “Come, follow me!” (Mt 19:21).
The Gospel does not tell us the name of that young man, and this suggests that he may represent each one of us. He, beyond possessing many goods, appears well educated and cultured, and also animated by a healthy restlessness that spurs him to seek true happiness, life in its fullness. Therefore, he sets out on a journey to encounter an authoritative, credible and trustworthy guide. This authority is found in the person of Jesus Christ and it is why he asks Him: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). But the young man is thinking of a good to be obtained with his own forces. The Lord answers him with another question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (v. 18). Thus, Jesus directs him to God, who is the one and supreme Good from which all other good comes.
To help him access the wellspring of goodness and true happiness, Jesus points to the first stage to be travelled, that is, learning to do good towards one’s neighbour. “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). Jesus returns him to earthly life and points the way to inherit eternal life, that is to say, concrete love for neighbour. But the young man replies that he has always done this and he has realized that it is not enough to follow precepts to be happy. So Jesus fixes a love-filled gaze upon him. In fact He recognizes the desire for fulfilment that the young man carries in his heart, and his healthy restlessness that sets him in search; for this He feels tenderness and affection for him.
However, Jesus also understands what his questioner’s weak point is: he is too attached to the many material goods he possesses. For this reason, the Lord proposes a second stage for him to fulfil, to pass from the logic of “merit” to that of giving: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21). Jesus changes the perspective: He invites him not to think about assuring the afterlife for himself, but to give everything in his earthly life, thereby imitating the Lord. It is a call to a further maturation, to pass from precepts observed in order to obtain reward, to free and total love. Jesus asks him to leave what weighs down the heart and hinders love. What Jesus proposes is not so much a man stripped of everything, as a man free and rich in relationships. If the heart is filled with goods, the Lord and neighbour become only things among others. Our having and wanting too much will suffocate our heart and make us unhappy and incapable of love.
Lastly, Jesus proposes a third stage, that of imitation: “Come! Follow me!”. “Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him” (John Paul ii, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 21). In exchange, we will receive a rich and happy life, full of the faces of many brothers and sisters, and fathers and mothers and children (cf. Mt 19:29). Following Christ is not a loss, but an incalculable gain, while sacrifice pertains to the obstacle that hinders the journey. That rich young man, however, has a heart divided between two masters: God and money. The fear of risking and losing his goods makes him return home unhappy: “his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful” (Mk 10:22). He did not hesitate to ask the decisive question, but he did not have the courage to accept the response, which is the proposal to “untie himself” from himself and from riches in order to “bind himself” to Christ, to walk with Him and discover true happiness.
Friends, Jesus also says to each of you: “Come! Follow me!”. Have the courage to live your youth by entrusting yourselves to the Lord and setting out on the journey with him. Allow yourselves to be conquered by his loving gaze that frees us from the seduction of idols, from false riches that promise life but procure death. Do not be afraid to welcome the Word of Christ and accept his call. Do not be discouraged like the rich young man of the Gospel; rather, fix your gaze on Mary, the great model of the imitation of Christ, and entrust yourselves to the One who, with her “here I am”, answered the Lord’s call without reservation. Her life is a total giving of self, from the moment of the Annunciation to Calvary, where she became our Mother. Let us look to Mary to find the strength and receive the grace that enables us to say our own “here I am” to the Lord. Let us look to Mary to learn to bring Christ into the world, as she did when, full of haste and joy, she ran to help Saint Elizabeth. Let us look to Mary to transform our life into a gift for others. With her concern for the bride and groom at Cana, She teaches us to be attentive to others. With her life she shows us that our joy is in the will of God and welcoming it and living it is not easy, but it makes us happy. Yes, “the joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 1).
Dear young people, in our journey with the Lord Jesus, also enlivened by this Festival, I entrust you all to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our heavenly Mother, invoking light and strength from the Holy Spirit. May the gaze of God who loves you personally accompany you each day, so that, in relationships with others, you may be witnesses to the new life that you have received as a gift. For this I pray and I bless you, and I also ask you to pray for me.
Rome, Saint John Lateran,
29 June 2021