Deracination. It is a term that most people – especially young people – don’t know. And that is what makes it one of the most deadly trends in society today. It is something that the Holy Father detests and spends Chapter 6 of Christus Vivit warning young people about. Deracination literally means “uprooting.” In the opening paragraph of “Young People with Roots” Pope Francis describes the beauty of young trees reaching to the sky, seemingly full of endless hope. Yet, the pope explains, there are times when a storm comes and leaves behind fallen and lifeless trees in its wake. With this brief and simple parable Francis calls young people to a life of rootedness.
Francis quickly gets to the heart of the matter as he makes this profound statement in the chapter’s second paragraph: “If we appreciate this issue [rootedness], we can distinguish the joy of youth from a false cult of youth that can be used to seduce and manipulate young people.” Sadly, in one sentence the pope has explained what has happened to so many people over the past 50 years – and not just those who are young, but those who should have known better.
The cult of youth is a contagion that can poison anyone – regardless of age – who buys into the lie that, as Francis says, a youthful body is to be idolized and lusted after while whatever is not young is to be despised. Anyone who has contributed to the more than $16 billion spent each year on cosmetic surgery in this country is – whether intentionally or not – both a worshiper in the cult of youth and a witness to young people that growing old is a bad thing.
Francis contrasts this with the true beauty, “unrelated to appearance or fashionable dress, in all those men and women who pursue their personal vocation with love, in selfless service of community or nation, in the hard work of building a happy family, in the selfless and demanding effort to advance social harmony.” He calls young people to foster deep relationships with those who are elderly, and especially with grandparents. He correctly points out that “The world has never benefited, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations.”
The pope encourages not a mindless following of the path taken by previous generations, far from it. He does, though, encourage a spirit of “being open to receiving a wisdom passed down from generation to generation, a wisdom familiar with human weakness and not deserving to vanish before the novelties of consumer society and the market.” In short he is calling young people to not allow themselves to be turned into commodities, but rather to lead authentic – and therefore racinated – lives.
Listening to the sometimes long stories of parents and grandparents can bring young people in a very personal way in touch with the common human experience of memories of good times and bad, of dreams achieved and dashed, of all that makes life the worthwhile journey that it can be if lived authentically. Thus, as Francis points out, these roots “are not anchors chaining us to past times and preventing us from the present and creating something new.” Instead they are “a fixed point from which we can grow and meet new challenges.”
Not selling out to the deracinating hucksters who sell a brave new world of eternal youth is the great challenge of the post-modern world. Francis continues here to show what he has proposed so often throughout his pontificate: if we are to be successful against the lures of those who represent the deracinating ideologies that tear apart families, parishes, communities, nations, then we have only one place to look for our strength – the Cross of Christ and the Truth of His Gospel.
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