.- 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 âambassadors of hopeâ 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 âwith open arms.â
The Pope based his remarks on the word âAlive,â the name of the Archdiocese of Sydneyâs 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 âabundantly.â
âThe 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,â he noted. âSo it is only natural that we should ask how best to do this.â
The Israelites, he said, had to âchoose lifeâ by turning away from their false gods and then by obeying Godâs commandments in order to rightly worship the true God. While idolatry seems unlikely in the present age, Pope Benedict said, âsometimes people worship âother godsâ without realizing it.â These âfalse gods,â 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. âInstead of bringing life, they bring death.â
Love, too, is obviously something good, Pope Benedict said.
âWithout it,â he continued, âlife 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.â
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 âto grasp at power for its own sake, to seek to dominate others or to exploit the natural environment for selfish purposesâ it too becomes an idol.
All these âcults,â the Pope said, lead people to try to âplay Godâ and to seize total control âwith no regard for the wisdom or the commandments that God has made known to us. This is the path that leads towards death.â
Worship of the true God, however, is the way to choose life. True worship of God means ârecognizing in him the source of all goodness, entrusting ourselves to him, opening ourselves to the healing power of his grace and obeying his commandments.â
Pope Benedict referenced the parable of the Prodigal Son, who he said sought the âillusory pleasuresâ 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 âoffer a way out, he said âYou now know that, instead of bringing life, it brings death.â
The disadvantaged youthâs âcourageousâ acceptance of help from family, friends, and âAliveâ program staff had returned them to the path of life, just like the Prodigal Sonâs return, the Pope said.
Having returned to the right path, the Pope said the youths could help others do the same.
âDear friends,â he exhorted, âI 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.â
Those who had taken the wrong path, Pope Benedict noted, were âparticularly loved by Jesus, because once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing message.â While the self-righteous criticized Jesus, âit was those who were willing to rebuild their lives who were most ready to listen to Jesus and become his disciples.â
âYou can be sure that, just like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus welcomes you with open arms,â the Pope proclaimed. âHe offers you unconditional love â and it is in loving friendship with him that the fullness of life is to be found.â
The capacity for deep and lasting love, the Pope said, is âhard-wiredâ into every person but is evident only if we sacrifice our preference to serve others and to give our lives for others, âabove all for Jesus.â Doing that, he said, is what it means to be truly alive.
Pope Benedict then voiced his prayer for the youths, saying:
âLet 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.â