Building a solid and
enduring life plan
"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit
eternal life"? (Mk 10:17). This is the theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI
for the 25th World Youth Day that will be celebrated in the various
Dioceses of the Universal Church on 28 March , Palm Sunday, in
view of the upcoming International Day to be celebrated in Madrid,
August 2011. In his Message, the Holy Father emphasizes the importance
of hope in Christian life today.
"Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit
eternal life?" (Mk 10:17)
This year marks the 25th anniversary of
the inauguration of World Youth Day in response to the desire of the
Venerable John Paul II for an annual gathering of young people of faith
from throughout the world. It was a prophetic initiative that has borne
abundant fruits, enabling the new generations of Christians to meet one
another, to listen to the Word of God, to discover the beauty of the
Church, and to have a deep experience of faith. This led many of them in
turn to decide to give themselves completely to Christ.
The present 25th World Youth Day is one
step along the way leading to the next international encounter of young
people, scheduled for Madrid in August 2011. I hope that many of you
will be there to experience this grace-filled event.
To prepare ourselves for this
celebration, I would like to offer you some reflections on this year's
theme: "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
(Mk 10:17). It is drawn from the Gospel passage where Jesus meets
the rich young man. It is a theme that Pope John Paul II reflected on in
1985, in a very beautiful Letter, the first ever addressed to young
1. Jesus meets a young man
"As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey" — the Gospel of Saint
Mark tells us — "a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him,
'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus answered
him, Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the
commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you
shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not
defraud; honour your father and your mother'. He replied and said to
him, 'Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth'. Jesus,
looking at him, loved him and said to him, 'You are lacking in one
thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have
treasure in heaven; then come, follow me'. At that statement his face
fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions" (Mk
This Gospel passage shows us clearly how
much Jesus was concerned with young people, with all of you, with your
expectations and your hopes, and it shows how much he wants to meet you
personally and to engage each of you in conversation. Christ interrupted
his journey to stop and answer the young man's question. He gave his
full attention to this youth who was moved with an ardent desire to
speak to the "good Teacher" and to learn from him how to journey through
life. My Predecessor used this Gospel passage to urge each of you to
"develop your own conversation with Christ — a conversation which is of
fundamental and essential importance for a young person" (Letter to
Young People, n. 2).
2. Jesus looked at him and loved him
In his Gospel account, Saint Mark
emphasises that "Jesus, looking at him, loved him" (Mk
10:21). The Lord's gaze is at the heart of this very special encounter
and the whole Christian experience. To be sure, Christianity is not
primarily a moral code. It is an experience of Jesus Christ who loves
each of us personally, young and old, poor and rich. He loves us even
when we turn away from him.
When Pope John Paul II commented on this
scene, he turned to you and added: "May you experience a look like that!
May you experience the truth that he, Christ, looks upon you with love!"
(Letter to Young People, n. 7). It was love, revealed on
the Cross so completely and totally, that led Saint Paul to write in
amazement: "He loved me and gave himself up for me" (Gal 2:20). Pope
John Paul II wrote that "the awareness that the Father has always loved
us in his Son, that Christ always loves each of us, becomes a solid
support for our whole human existence" (ibid.). It enables
us to overcome all our trials: the realization of our sins, our
sufferings and our moments of discouragement.
In this love we find the source of all
Christian life and the basic reason for evangelization: if we have
really encountered Jesus, we cannot help but bear witness to him before
those who have not yet met his gaze!
3. Finding a plan in life
If we look at the young man in the
Gospel, we can see that he is much like each of you. You too are rich in
talents, energy, dreams and hopes. These are resources which you have in
abundance! Your age itself is a great treasure, not only for yourselves
but for others too, for the Church and for the world.
The rich young man asks Jesus: "What
must I do?" The time of life which you are going through is one of
discovery: discovery of the gifts which God has bestowed upon you and
your own responsibilities. It is also a time when you are making crucial
choices about how you will live your lives. So it is a time to think
about the real meaning of life and to ask yourselves: "Am I satisfied
with my life? Is there something missing?".
Like the young man in the Gospel story,
perhaps you too are experiencing situations of uncertainty, anxiety or
suffering, and are yearning for something more than a life of
mediocrity. It makes you ask yourselves: "What makes a life successful?
What do I need to do? How should I plan my life? What must I do for my
life to have full value and full meaning?" (ibid., n. 3).
Do not be afraid to ask yourselves these
questions! Far from troubling you, they are giving voice to the great
aspirations that you hold in your hearts. That is why you should listen
to them. The answers you give to them must not be superficial, but
capable of satisfying the longing you truly feel for life and happiness.
In order to discover the life-project
that will make you completely happy, listen to God. He has a loving plan
for each one of you. You can confidently ask him: "Lord, what is your
plan, as Creator and Father, for my life? What is your will? I want to
carry it out". You can be certain that he will answer you. Do not be
afraid of his answer! "For God is greater than our hearts and knows
everything" (1 Jn 3:20).
4. Come and follow me!
Jesus invites the rich young man to do
much more than merely satisfy his aspirations and personal plans. He
says to him: "Come and follow me!" The Christian vocation derives from a
love-filled invitation made by the Lord, and it can be lived out only by
a love-filled response: "Jesus invites his disciples to give their lives
completely, without calculation or personal interest, with unreserved
trust in God. The saints accept this demanding invitation and set out
with humble docility in following the crucified and risen Christ. Their
perfection, in the logic of faith which is at times humanly
incomprehensible, consists in no longer putting themselves at the centre
but in choosing to go against the tide, by living in line with the
Gospel" (Benedict, Homily at Canonizations, 11 October
Following the example of so many of
Christ's disciples, may you too, dear friends, joyfully welcome his
invitation to follow him, and so live your lives intensely and
fruitfully in this world. Through Baptism, in fact, he calls each of us
to follow him concretely, to love him above all things and to serve him
in our brothers and sisters. The rich young man, unfortunately, did not
accept Jesus' invitation and he went away saddened. He did not find the
courage to leave behind his material goods in order to find the far
greater good proposed by Jesus.
The sadness experienced by the rich
young man in the Gospel story is the sadness that arises in the heart of
all those who lack the courage to follow Christ and to make the right
choice. Yet it is never too late to respond to him!
Jesus never tires of turning to us with
love and calling us to be his disciples; to some, however, he proposes
an even more radical choice. In this Year for Priests, I would like to
urge young men and boys to consider if the Lord is inviting them to a
greater gift, along the path of priestly ministry. I ask them to be
willing to embrace with generosity and enthusiasm this sign of a special
love and to embark on the necessary path of discernment with the help of
a priest or a spiritual director. Do not be afraid, then, dear young men
and women, if the Lord is calling you to the religious, monastic or
missionary life, or a life of special consecration: He knows how to
bestow deep joy upon those who respond to him with courage!
I also invite those who feel called to
marriage to embrace this vocation with faith, working to lay a solid
foundation for a love that is great, faithful and receptive to the gift
of life. This vocation is a treasure and grace for society and for the
5. Directed towards eternal life
"What must I do to inherit eternal
life?". This question which the young man in the Gospel asks may seem
far from the concerns of many young people today. As my Predecessor
observed, "Are we not the generation whose horizon of existence is
completely filled by the world and temporal progress?" (Letter to
Young People, n. 5). Yet, the question of "eternal life"
returns at certain painful moments of our lives, as when we suffer the
loss of someone close to us or experience failure.
But what is the "eternal life" to which
the rich young man is referring? Jesus describes it to us when he says
to his disciples: "But I will see you again, and your hearts will
rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you" (Jn 16:22). These
words point to an exciting possibility of unending happiness, to the joy
of being surrounded by God's love for ever.
Wondering about the definitive future
awaiting each of us gives full meaning to our existence. It directs our
life plan towards horizons that are not limited and fleeting, but broad
and deep, and which motivate us to love this world which God loves so
deeply, to devote ourselves to its development with the freedom and joy
born of faith and hope. Against these horizons we do not see earthly
reality as absolute, and we sense that God is preparing a greater future
for us. In this way we can say with Saint Augustine: "Let us long for
our home on high, let us pine for our home in heaven, let us feel that
we are strangers here" (Tractates on the Gospel of Saint John,
Homily 35:9). His gaze fixed on eternal life, Blessed Pier Giorgio
Frassati, who died in 1925 at the age of 24, could say: "I want to live
and not simply exist!" On a photograph taken while mountain-climbing, he
wrote to a friend: "To the heights", referring not only to Christian
perfection but also to eternal life.
Dear young friends, I urge you to keep
this perspective in developing your life plan: we are called to
eternity. God created us to be with him, for ever. This will help you to
make meaningful decisions and live a beautiful life.
6. The Commandments, the way to authentic love
Jesus reminded the rich young man that
obedience to the Ten Commandments is necessary in order to "inherit
eternal life". The Commandments are essential points of reference if we
are to live in love, to distinguish clearly between good and evil, and
to build a life plan that is solid and enduring. Jesus is asking you too
whether you know the Commandments, whether you are trying to form your
conscience according to God's law, and putting the Commandments into
Needless to say, these are questions
that go against the grain in today's world, which advocates a freedom
detached from values, rules and objective norms, and which encourages
people to refuse to place limits on their immediate desires. But this is
not the way to true freedom. It leads people to become enslaved to
themselves, to their immediate desires, to idols like power, money,
unbridled pleasure and the entrapments of the world. It stifles their
inborn vocation to love.
God gives us the Commandments because he
wants to teach us true freedom. He wants to build a Kingdom of love,
justice and peace together with us. When we listen to the Commandments
and put them into practice, it does not mean that we become estranged
from ourselves, but that we find the way to freedom and authentic love.
The Commandments do not place limits on happiness, but rather show us
how to find it. At the beginning of the conversation with the rich young
man, Jesus reminds him that the law which God gives is itself good,
because "God is good".
7. We need you
Being young today means having to face many problems due to
unemployment and the lack of clear ideas and real possibilities for the
future. At times you can have the impression of being powerless in the
face of current crises and their repercussions. Despite these
difficulties, do not let yourselves be discouraged, and do not give up
on your dreams! Instead, cultivate all the more your heart's great
desire for fellowship, justice and peace. The future is in the hands of
those who know how to seek and find sound reasons for life and hope. If
you are willing, the future lies in your hands, because the talents and
gifts that the Lord has placed in your hearts, shaped by an encounter
with Christ, can bring real hope to the world! It is faith in his love
that, by making you stronger and more generous, will give you courage to
face serenely the path of life and to take on family and professional
responsibilities. Try hard to build your future by paying serious
attention to your personal development and your studies, so that you
will be able to serve the common good competently and generously.
In my recent Encyclical Letter on
integral human development, Caritas in Veritate, I listed
some of the great and urgent challenges essential for the life of our
world: the use of the earth's resources and respect for ecology, the
fair distribution of goods and control of financial mechanisms,
solidarity with poor countries within our human family, the fight
against world hunger, greater respect for the dignity of human labour,
service to the culture of life, the building of peace between peoples,
interfaith dialogue, and the proper use of social communications.
These are challenges to which you are
called to respond in order to build a more just and fraternal world.
They are challenges that call for a demanding and passionate life plan,
in which you use all your many gifts in accordance with the plan that
God has for each of you. It is not a matter of accomplishing heroic or
extraordinary acts. It means allowing your talents and abilities to
flourish, and trying to make constant progress in faith and love.
In this Year for Priests, I ask you to
learn about the lives of the saints, and in particular of those saints
who were priests. You will see how God was their guide and how they made
their way through each day in faith, in hope and in love. Christ is
calling each of you to work with him and to take up your
responsibilities in order to build the civilization of love. If you
follow his Word, it will light up your path and lead you to high goals
that will give joy and full meaning to your lives.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of
the Church, watch over and protect you. With the assurance of my
prayers, and with great affection, I send my blessing to all of you.
From the Vatican, 22 February 2010