Bernardo M. Villegas
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Where Young and Old Meet

          There is so much talk about how the millennials are creatures from Mars and the centennials (the so-called Generation Z) are from Saturn.   They are supposed to be very different from those of us who are over forty.  Well, I have news for you.  Pope Francis, who is the Supreme Pastor for both young and old, has a common message for all generations in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, “Christ is Alive!”  Without denying that there are pressures on the young that are quite different from those experienced  by previous generations (e.g. pornography in the internet, widespread breakdown of marriages, big increase in fatherless families, etc.) Pope Francis touches on eternal truths that are valid for both young and old.  His Chapter 4 entitled “A great message for all young people” is equally applicable to those who are octogenarians or above.  The common denominator between the young and the old is found in three great truths.

         The very first truth is that God loves all of us human beings, although we don’t deserve it: “I want to remind you of it.   God loves you.  Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life.  At every moment, you are infinitely loved.”  It does not matter how young or old you are.  The Pope has some special words for those unfortunate young people whose experience with fatherhood has not been the best.  One’s earthly father could have been distant or absent, or harsh and domineering. Or maybe he was just not the father that one needed.  But all of us can be absolutely certain that we can find certainty in the embrace of our heavenly Father, of the God who first gave us life and continues to give it to us at every moment.  That good Father will always be our firm support, but we will also realize that he fully respects our freedom. That is why we can tragically refuse his love.

         The Pope uses the language of the digital age to convey God’s eternal love for each of us: “For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant.  You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands.  That is why he is concerned about you and looks to you with affection. Trust the memory of God: his memory is not a ‘hard disk’ that ‘saves’ and ‘archives’ all our data.  His memory is a heart filled with tender compassion, one that finds joy in ‘deleting’ from us every trace of evil.  God is a love that does not overwhelm or oppress, cast aside or reduce to silence. humiliate or domineer.  It is the love of the Lord, a daily discreet and respectful love, a love that is free and freeing, a love that heals and raises up. The Lord’s love has to do more with raising up than knocking down, with reconciling than forbidding, with offering new challenges than condemning, with the future than the past.

         The second truth is about the most important Person in the life of each one of us, whether young or old.  It is the truth that Christ, out of love, sacrificed himself completely in order to save us.  He is our great Friend who is willing to stop at nothing for “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  The older we are the more numerous have our sins been.  But we can assure those who are younger that we can sin and stray far from him, but Christ will come to lift us up by the power of his cross.  We should never forget that Christ forgives us seventy times seven.  Jesus saves us because he loves us and cannot go against his nature. We can do any number of things against him, yet he loves us and he saves us.  For only what is loved can be saved.  Only what is embraced can be ransomed.  The love of Christ is greater than all of our problems, frailties and flaws.  Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story.  The older ones among us can tell those who are the youth, those between the age of 16 and 29, that we have felt the embrace of Christ in the same way that he embraced the prodigal son, as he embraced Peter after his denials.  He always, always, always embraces us after every fall, helping us to rise and get back on our feet.  The young should especially be assured that the worst fall, the one that can ruin our lives is when we stay down and do not allow ourselves to be helped up. Going to confession frequently is the way to get up as often as necessary.

         We should shout to the youth that they were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.  As the Pope wrote: “You are priceless!  You are not up for sale!  Please, do not let yourselves be bought.  Do not let yourselves be seduced.  Do not let yourselves be enslaved by forms of ideological colonization that put ideas in  your heads, with the result that you end up becoming slaves, addicts, failures in life.  You are priceless.  You must repeat this always:  I am not up for sale; I do not have a price.  I am free!  Fall in love with this freedom, which is what Jesus offers.”  Christ will forgive you of your sins as many times as you go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Christ saves you over and over again when you go to confess your sins.  Always believe in his mercy which frees you of your guilt.  Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourselves be cleansed by it.  In this way, you can be reborn ever anew.

           Finally, there is the third truth, inseparable from the second:  Christ is alive!  All of us, both young and old have to remind ourselves of this truth 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.   Because he is alive, he can be present in our lives at every moment, to fill us with light and to take away all sorrow and solitude.  Even if all abandon us, Christ will remain, as he promised: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  He fills our lives with his unseen presence; where we go, he will be waiting there for us.  Because he did not only come in the past, but he comes today and every day, inviting us to set out towards ever new horizons.  Jesus is eternally alive.  If we hold fast to him, we will have life, and be protected from the threats of death and violence that may assail us in life.  For both young and old, the key to happiness on earth, which is the necessary prelude to eternal happiness in heaven, is a personal encounter and friendship with Christ.  He quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who wrote that “being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  Yes, Christ is alive and wants to be our Friend! For comments, my email address is