The Youth Festival is a week of fervent, devoted prayer and encounter with Jesus Christ, especially in His living Word, in the celebration of the Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This event – according to the experience of many – has the power to direct us to the Lord. Precisely that is the first step for “a rich young man” which the synoptic Gospels tell us about, (cf. Mt 19,16-22, Mk 10,17-22, Lk 18, 18-23) who went, actually rushed, towards the Lord, full of fervour and longing to find the Teacher and to inherit eternal life, genuine joy. This year’s theme of the Festival is the question this young man directed to Jesus: “What good must I do?” These are the words that place us before the Lord, Who turns His gaze towards us, and by loving us, He invites us: “Come and follow me!”
The Gospel does not mention to us the name of that young man, which shows that he might be any one of us. He, besides having great possessions, seems to be well educated, have a nice manner, and be urged by a healthy caring, that leads him into the quest for genuine happiness, for life in its fullness. This is the reason why he sets out on a journey to encounter the Teacher who is trustworthy, authentic and reliable. He finds such an authority in the person of Jesus Christ and that is why he asks Him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10,17). However, the young man by asking this, presumes on the good he needs to acquire by his own resources. The Lord responds to him with a counter question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (v.18) In this way, Jesus directs him to God, Who is the only and the supreme Good from which every good comes to us.
In order to help him come to the source of goodness and genuine happiness, Jesus emphasises the first step one needs to take, namely to learn to do good to one’s neighbour: “If you would enter life, keep the commandments'' (Mt 19,17). Jesus brings him back to earthly life and shows him the path to eternal life – the path of concrete love of neighbour. Yet, the young man responds that he has observed all of these; but he realises that respecting the commandments is not enough for happiness. Then Jesus gently looked at him. The Lord recognises the longing for fullness that this young man carries in his heart and his healthy caring, which urges him to seek for more. This is why He felt affection and gentleness towards him.
Besides that, Jesus also recognises the weak point of his interlocutor, who is too attached to the many material possessions he owns. Therefore, the Lord suggests another step, which is a shift from the logic of “merit” to the logic of gift: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19, 21). Jesus is changing the perspective: He invites him to reflect not on how he would ensure eternity, but on complete self-giving in this earthly life, imitating the Lord in this way. This is the invitation to further growth, shifting from the logic of fulfilling regulations in order to obtain a reward, to the invitation to unconditional and complete love. Jesus is asking of him to abandon those things that burden our hearts and prevent love. What Jesus is suggesting is not that a person be deprived of everything, but that a person be freed and enriched by encounters. If the heart is burdened by material goods, the Lord and one’s neighbours become just one of many goods. When we aspire to have and to desire much, our hearts become saturated, suffocated, and this makes us unhappy and incapable of love.
Ultimately, Jesus is suggesting a third step – to follow Him: “Come and follow me!” “Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him” (John Paul II., Veritatis Splendor, 21). In return we would obtain an enriched and happy life, filled with the faces of so many brothers and sisters, fathers, mothers and children… (cf. Mt 19,29). Following Christ is not a loss, but it is a priceless gain, while the renunciation that we are invited to, refers to the obstacle that prevents that journey. However, the heart of the young rich man was divided between two masters: God and his fortune. Being afraid of risk and the loss of his wealth, he returns home, saddened: “At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mk 10,22). The young man did not hesitate to ask the important question, but he did not have enough courage to accept the answer – the invitation “to be unchained” from himself and his fortune, so as to “connect” with Christ, walk with Him, and discover genuine joy.
My friends, Jesus is also saying to each one of you: “Come and follow me!” Have courage to live your youth by entrusting yourselves to the Lord and by walking with Him. Allow yourselves to be won over by His gaze full of love, that frees us from the seduction of idols and false wealth that promises life, but brings death. Do not be afraid to receive the Word of Christ and to accept His invitation. Do not be discouraged like the young man from the Gospel; rather, turn your gaze to Mary, our great model in following Christ, entrust yourselves to Her, who by her words “behold, the servant of the Lord”, unconditionally surrendered to God’s invitation. Her life is complete, selfless giving, from the Annunciation to Calvary, where She became our Mother. Let us turn our gazes to Mary so as to find strength and receive the grace that enables us to profess our own “fiat”. Let us turn our gaze to Mary, so that we might transform our lives into a gift for others. By caring for a couple in Cana, She teaches us to be considerate of others. With Her life, She shows us that our joy is in God’s Will, and to accept it and live it is not easy, but it reveals to us genuine joy. Yes, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation, are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1).
Dear youth, on your journey with the Lord Jesus, inspired also by this Festival, I entrust you all to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our heavenly Mother, by invoking the light and the power of the Holy Spirit. May you daily be guided by the gaze of God who loves you so much, so that in the encounter with others, you may be the witnesses of a new life you were all given as a gift. I pray for that and I bless you, asking you to pray for me too.
In Rome, at St. John Lateran,
On the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, 2021