Pope Benedict XVI challenges young Catholics to be “missionaries of joy” in his message for this Sunday’s World Youth Day on April 1.
“Be enthusiastic witnesses of the New Evangelization! Go to those who are suffering and those who are searching, and give them the joy that Jesus wants to bestow,” says the Pope in his address, the text of which was issued to the media on March 27.
“Bring it to your families, your schools and universities, and your workplaces and your friends; wherever you live. You will see how it is contagious.”
The Pope’s letter marks the Church’s 27th World Youth Day, which will be celebrated in 2012 at the diocesan level. The theme for this year is taken from St. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
“Joy is at the heart of Christian experience,” writes the Pope. “In a world of sorrow and anxiety, joy is an important witness to the beauty and reliability of the Christian faith.”
He then explains how young people can find joy, experience it more deeply and transmit it to others.
The Pope points out that “a yearning for joy lurks within the heart of every man and woman” and that this is more than just “immediate and fleeting feelings of satisfaction,” but a longing for “a perfect, full and lasting joy capable of giving ‘flavor’ to our existence.”
This instinct is particularly true during youth, a time that Pope Benedict characterizes as one of “continuous discovery of life, of the world, of others and of ourselves.” It is a stage in life when “we are moved by high ideals and make great plans.”
But to find what gives “real and lasting joy” people must seek God, the Pope says, explaining that this is because God is “a communion of eternal love,” and his infinite joy “does not remain closed in on itself, but expands to embrace all whom God loves and who love him.”
For this reason, God wants each young person to “share in his own divine and eternal joy,” since the “deepest meaning and value” of their lives lies in “being accepted, welcomed and loved by him.”
And God’s unconditional love allows young people to say, “I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive.”
Pope Benedict then cites the Incarnation, Jesus visiting Zacchaeus’ house and the Resurrection as times when people encountered Jesus and experienced “immense inner joy.”
These instances, he says, should reminds us that “evil does not have the final word in our lives” and that “faith in Christ the Savior tells us that God’s love is victorious.”
The Pope goes on to urge young people to respond to “spiritual joy” by not being afraid to risk their lives and by making “space for Jesus Christ and his Gospel.”
This is particularly true, he says, if Christ is “calling you to the religious, monastic or missionary life or to the priesthood,” since Jesus “fills with joy all those who respond to his invitation to leave everything to be with him” and “devote themselves with undivided heart to the service of others.”
After experiencing the joy Jesus brings, everyone is called to love others, the Pope says.
“Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls; God loves a cheerful giver. Whoever gives with joy gives more,” he writes, quoting Blessed Mother Teresa.
For a young person, this love should inform all aspects of their life, so that they learn how love “means to be steadfast, reliable and faithful in commitments,” particularly in work, study and friendships.
“Our friends expect us to be sincere, loyal and faithful because true love perseveres even in times of difficulty,” he notes.
The Pope also prays that young people will lead lives “guided by a spirit of service and not by the pursuit of power, material success and money.”
The temptation away from this is present in the culture, which often “pressures us to seek immediate goals, achievements and pleasures,” fostering “fickleness more than perseverance, hard work and fidelity to commitments.” This, he says, is nothing more than the promise of “false happiness.”
“How many people are surrounded by material possessions, yet their lives are filled with despair, sadness and emptiness! To have lasting joy we need to live in love and truth. We need to live in God.”
This higher path, he warns, will not be without its occasional falls, as “the experience of sin, which is a refusal to follow God and an affront to his friendship, brings gloom into our hearts.”
Yet God in his mercy “never abandons us” and always offers the possibility of “being reconciled with him and experiencing the joy of his love which forgives and welcomes us back.”
“Dear young people, have frequent recourse to the sacrament of penance and reconciliation! It is the sacrament of joy rediscovered,” the Pope says.
He brings his message to the youth to a close by offering some models of youthful holiness for them to emulate. First among them is the early 20th-century Italian student Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Despite experiencing “many trials during his short life, including a romantic experience that left him deeply hurt,” explains the Pope, Pier Giorgio always found the Christian life a joy, “even when it involves pain.”
This experience of joy and pain is why it’s unfair and untrue to depict Christianity as “a way of life that stifles our freedom and goes against our desires for happiness and joy,” Pope Benedict states.
On the contrary, Christians are “men and women who are truly happy because they know they are not alone,” because God is “always holding them in his hand.”
“It is up to you, young followers of Christ, to show the world that faith brings happiness and a joy which is true, full and enduring.”