Pope Benedict XVI met with disadvantaged youth at Sacred Heart Church on the Darlinghurst campus of the University of Notre Dame Australia on Friday. Exhorting them to become “ambassadors of hope” to others, despite their regrets and disadvantages, he asked the youths to commit themselves to a lifelong friendship with Jesus Christ, who the Pope said welcomes them “with open arms.”
The Pope based his remarks on the word “Alive,” the name of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Social Services Agency program which is assisting the at-risk youth. He considered the nature of life and being alive, noting that Christ wished mankind to have life “abundantly.”
“The most basic instinct of all living things is to stay alive, to grow, to flourish, and to pass on the gift of life to others,” he noted. “So it is only natural that we should ask how best to do this.”
The Israelites, he said, had to “choose life” by turning away from their false gods and then by obeying God’s commandments in order to rightly worship the true God. While idolatry seems unlikely in the present age, Pope Benedict said, “sometimes people worship ‘other gods’ without realizing it.” These ‘false gods,’ he explained, almost always center upon material possessions, possessive love, or power.
While noting that material possessions are good in themselves, the Holy Father said that greed and the refusal to share what we have with the needy makes them into false gods. “Instead of bringing life, they bring death.”
Love, too, is obviously something good, Pope Benedict said.
“Without it,” he continued, “life would hardly be worth living. It fulfils our deepest need, and when we love, we become most fully ourselves, most fully human. But how easily it can be made into a false god! People often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative. People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs rather than as persons to be loved and cherished.”
The abuse of love, such as that found in permissive approaches to sexuality, is also a false god that brings life rather than death.
Power, when used responsibly and properly by good leaders, can transform humanity for the good. However, when used “to grasp at power for its own sake, to seek to dominate others or to exploit the natural environment for selfish purposes” it too becomes an idol.
All these “cults,” the Pope said, lead people to try to “play God” and to seize total control “with no regard for the wisdom or the commandments that God has made known to us. This is the path that leads towards death.”
Worship of the true God, however, is the way to choose life. True worship of God means “recognizing in him the source of all goodness, entrusting ourselves to him, opening ourselves to the healing power of his grace and obeying his commandments.”
Pope Benedict referenced the parable of the Prodigal Son, who he said sought the “illusory pleasures” promised by false gods but was welcomed home with joy when he returned to his father. The Pope noted that many in the audience had personal experiences similar to those of the Prodigal Son, whether through drug or alcohol abuse, criminal activity, or self-harm. While such sins may have once seemed to “offer a way out, he said “You now know that, instead of bringing life, it brings death.”
The disadvantaged youth’s “courageous” acceptance of help from family, friends, and “Alive” program staff had returned them to the path of life, just like the Prodigal Son’s return, the Pope said.
Having returned to the right path, the Pope said the youths could help others do the same.
“Dear friends,” he exhorted, “I see you as ambassadors of hope to others in similar situations. You can convince them of the need to choose the path of life and shun the path of death, because you speak from experience.”
Those who had taken the wrong path, Pope Benedict noted, were “particularly loved by Jesus, because once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing message.” While the self-righteous criticized Jesus, “it was those who were willing to rebuild their lives who were most ready to listen to Jesus and become his disciples.”
“You can be sure that, just like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus welcomes you with open arms,” the Pope proclaimed. “He offers you unconditional love – and it is in loving friendship with him that the fullness of life is to be found.”
The capacity for deep and lasting love, the Pope said, is “hard-wired” into every person but is evident only if we sacrifice our preference to serve others and to give our lives for others, “above all for Jesus.” Doing that, he said, is what it means to be truly alive.
Pope Benedict then voiced his prayer for the youths, saying:
“Let his Spirit guide you onto the path of life, so that you obey his commandments, follow his teachings, leave behind the wrong turnings that lead only to death, and commit yourselves to a lifelong friendship with Jesus Christ. In the power of the Holy Spirit, choose life and choose love, and bear witness before the world to the joy that it brings.”