Reflection on "Christus Vivit" ("Christ Lives")

Published: April 6, 2019

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor presented the following reflection on "Christus Vivit" ("Christ Lives"), an apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis, to high school students attending the diocesan Catholic Youth Convention, on Saturday, April 6, 2019, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Little Rock.

Bishop Taylor

Last year Pope Francis convoked a synod of bishops — a big meeting — that focused on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.” Earlier this week he issued a 74-page post-synodal apostolic exhortation — in other words, a reflection on the results — titled “Christus Vivit,” meaning "Christ is Alive."

I have read this document and thought I would share with you a couple of the things Pope Francis has to say. The basic insight that runs throughout the entire document revolves around two questions: What can the Church teach the young? and, What can the young teach the Church?  And the answer to both questions is hope.

Pope Francis reminds everyone: Christ "is the true youthfulness of a world grown old” (32). In this case old refers not to a length of time but rather to the quality of life or lack thereof. For we become old — begin to decay — when we succumb to sadness, resentment, fear, doubt, greed, selfishness and envy — like the rich young man in the Gospels whose “spirit was not really that young, for he had already become attached to riches and comforts” (18).

The basic insight that runs throughout the entire document revolves around two questions: What can the Church teach the young? and, What can the young teach the Church?  And the answer to both questions is hope.

So, you could still be a teenager and yet have lost your youthfulness, your liveliness, have a low quality of life. Or you could be as old as me and still be young, full of joy. This is why St. Paul tells us to “put away the old self” and to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Here, Pope Francis points out, the Greek word for "new" can also be translated as "young" (13).

It is the hope of Christian discipleship to be ever made new in God’s image, and it is you who are young who are in the best position to remind the whole Church of this calling. Pope Francis writes: “Young people can help keep the Church young … they can keep her moving forward” (37). You are not just the world’s future, “you are its present” (64) — you already have a lot to contribute. What you do matters! Already!

Even so, we all face a world full of difficult challenges, many of which can rob us of hope and joy, and even “drug (us) into becoming (slaves) to their interests” (107) — false concepts and temptations that can "uproot us" (180).

And here Pope Francis uses a great image. He writes: “I have sometimes seen young and beautiful trees, their branches reaching to the sky, pushing ever higher, and they seemed a song of hope. Later, following a storm, I would find them fallen and lifeless. They lacked deep roots. They spread their branches without being firmly planted, and so they fell as soon as nature unleashed her power.

"That is why it pains me to see young people sometimes being encouraged to build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now. For it is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and to keep us firmly grounded. It is easy to drift off, when there is nothing to clutch onto, to hold onto.”

Three of the false concepts that can uproot us addressed by Pope Francis are the cult of youth, the cult of ideologies and spirituality without God.

  • The “cult of youth, which dismisses all that is not young as contemptible and outmoded … and everything associated with the youthful body is idolized and lusted after” (182). We see this in the ways that marketing and advertisements use sexuality to manipulate us and even more so in pornography, which leaves you completely empty on the inside. You are only going to be young and good looking for so long, and then what?
  • The cult of ideologies, which ignores history … and deconstructs “all differences so that they can reign unopposed” (181). For instance, gender ideologies — the false claim that there are more than two genders or that you can be a male trapped in a female body or vice versa, or ignoring the historical truth held in every culture from the beginning of time that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
  • “Spirituality without God” — people who cobble together their own set of beliefs, which come from themselves and serve to validate their preferences rather than from God, whose truths they reject because they find them to be too challenging.

To respond to the challenges we face, Pope Francis says we should focus on three great truths that “we should never keep quiet about.” (111). First: “God loves you. ... At every moment, you are infinitely loved” — no matter what! (112). Second: “Christ, out of love, sacrificed himself completely in order to save you” — to set you free from all that oppresses you and holds you bound, all your insecurities and your doubts, everything! (118).

And third: “Christ is alive! We need to keep reminding ourselves of this, because we can risk seeing Jesus Christ simply as a fine model from the distant past, as a memory, as someone who saved us two thousand years ago. But that would be of no use to us: a Jesus stuck in the past would leave us unchanged, it would not set us free” (124). He is alive, right there by your side, ready to accompany you in everything you do. He wants to be your best friend! He wants you to take a little time to get to know him — and in that way, you will be fully alive as well!

And then Pope Francis ends the document with a special message for you, as follows: “Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, attracted by the face of Christ, whom we love so much, whom we adore in the holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters.

"May the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run this race. The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith. We need them!  And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us” (299).

(Most of the examples and applications above are from me rather than from Pope Francis. The numbers in parenthesis refer to the paragraph numbers in “Christus Vivit” by Pope Francis).