In the second chapter of Christus Vivit Pope Francis continues with his listing of examples of great young people who have followed the call of God throughout Salvation History, but he focuses here primarily on the heaviest of heavy hitters: Jesus and Mary.
After noting that we have very little information about Jesus prior to the beginning of His public ministry, the Holy Father looks to the young man “standing among the crowds on the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by His kinsman John the Baptist, just like any other member of His people.”
The participation of the Father and the Holy Spirit in this event are crucial, and the statement by the Father, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased,” is indicative of the importance of the relationship that all who bear the name Christian are called to strive for. Yet, earlier in his Gospel, Luke implies that Mary and Joseph would also have been “well pleased” with Jesus when he tells us that “He was obedient to them.” And thus early on the pattern is set: Jesus fully immersed Himself in His family relationships and shared fully in the life of the Blessed Trinity as well as His earthly home with Mary and Joseph.
It is this youthful Jesus, the one Who is integrally engaged with His family, who can be such a great example to young people today. For Francis, the family should be the springboard for the fulfillment of each young person’s mission in the world. Jesus, because of His “unconditional trust in the Father,” as well as His earthly family and friends, was able to fulfill His mission with confidence and courage. Young people need to look to that unconditional trust as they make their own, sometimes faltering and false, steps toward the fulfillment of their own missions knowing that the Father is always there to guide, inspire, and, if necessary, pick them up and dust them off.
Because Jesus died at such an early age He is like the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., to so many of us who are older – always young, never growing old, and this gives Jesus an appeal to young people that is of great importance. As Francis himself might say: young people, Jesus is always like you!
But the example of Jesus is not solitary, for there are many who have been followers of Jesus who also serve as shining examples of what it is to be young and to foster a strong and trusting relationship with the Father to the point of living lives of heroic service, and primary among these is Mary, “the young woman of Nazareth.”
As the pope states in his opening remarks on Mary, “She is the supreme model for a youthful Church that seeks to follow Christ with enthusiasm and docility.” My guess is that most, if not all, young people can relate to the enthusiasm of Mary, but few, if any, would want to be thought of as docile. The term has a truly pejorative feel – especially for young women – because of the implication that a docile person is one who is willing to be molded to the will of others. But knowing how Francis feels about such things, it is my guess that he uses the term in its original sense: willingness to learn.
Francis backs up my inference by pointing out that Mary’s “Yes” to God’s call “was no merely passive or resigned acceptance…She was determined; she knew what was at stake.” To the pope, Mary is the epitome of someone who was ‘all in’, and he goes so far as to declare that “Mary did not know the words, ‘Let’s see what happens.’” Further, he describes her as “the woman of strength…who supports and accompanies, protects and embraces. She is the great guardian of hope.” That is not the description of some shrinking violet who lets people walk all over her; it is the résumé of a young woman who is strong and one whose life shows that – understood from a Christ-centered perspective rather than that of the trite clichés of a secular world-view – well-behaved women are those who have the most profound influence on history.
This second chapter concludes with what could be called a litany of young saints, those who from the Church’s earliest days have shown a courage and a holiness that went way beyond their chronological ages. Among these twelve young apostles there are examples of martyrdom, renunciation of the riches of this world, and heroic virtue in the face of persecution and illness. But what stands out among these great witnesses to the Faith is what stands out in the life of Jesus and Mary as well, and what can stand out in the lives of all who trust the Father and are docile to the call of the Gospel: love, hope, and joy.