MEETING WITH A GROUP OF DISADVANTAGED YOUNG PEOPLE
OF THE REHABILITATION COMMUNITY
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Church of the Sacred Heart, Sydney
Friday, 18 July 2008
Dear Young Friends,
I am pleased to be with you at Darlinghurst today, and I warmly greet all those
taking part in the â€śAliveâ€ť programme, as well as the staff who run it. I pray
that you will all benefit from the assistance offered by the Archdiocese of
Sydneyâ€™s Social Services Agency, and that the good work being done here will
continue long into the future.
The name of the programme you are following prompts us to ask the
question: what does it really mean to be â€śaliveâ€ť, to live life to the full?
This is what all of us want, especially when we are young, and it is what Christ
wants for us. In fact, he said: â€śI have come that they may have life, and have
it abundantlyâ€ť (Jn 10:10). 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. So it is only natural that we should ask how best to do this.
For the people of the Old Testament, this question was just as
urgent as it is for us today. No doubt they listened attentively when Moses
said to them: â€śI set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life,
then, so that you and your descendants may live in the love of the Lord your
God, obeying his voice, clinging to him â€“ for in this your life consistsâ€ť (Dt
30:19-20). It was clear what they had to do: they had to turn away from other
gods and worship the true God who had revealed himself to Moses â€“ and they had
to obey his commandments. You might think that in todayâ€™s world, people are
unlikely to start worshipping other gods. But sometimes people worship â€śother
godsâ€ť without realizing it. False â€śgodsâ€ť, whatever name, shape or form we give
them, are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material
possessions, possessive love, or power. Let me explain what I mean.
Material possessions, in themselves, are good. We would not survive
for long without money, clothing and shelter. We must eat in order to stay
alive. Yet if we are greedy, if we refuse to share what we have with the hungry
and the poor, then we make our possessions into a false god. How many voices in
our materialist society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as
many possessions and luxuries as we can! But this is to make possessions into a
false god. Instead of bringing life, they bring death.
Authentic love is obviously something good. Without it, 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.
How easy it is to be deceived by the many voices in our society that advocate a
permissive approach to sexuality, without regard for modesty, self-respect or
the moral values that bring quality to human relationships! This is worship of
a false god. Instead of bringing life, it brings death.
The power God has given us to shape the world around us is obviously something
good. Used properly and responsibly, it enables us to transform peopleâ€™s
lives. Every community needs good leaders. Yet how tempting it can be to grasp
at power for its own sake, to seek to dominate others or to exploit the natural
environment for selfish purposes! This is to make power into a false god.
Instead of bringing life, it brings death.
The cult of material possessions, the cult of possessive love and
the cult of power often lead people to attempt to â€śplay Godâ€ť: to try 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. By contrast,
worship of the one true 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: that is the way to choose life.
A vivid illustration of what it means to turn back from the path of
death onto the path of life is found in a Gospel story that I am sure you all
know well: the parable of the prodigal son. When that young man left his
fatherâ€™s house at the beginning of the story, he was seeking the illusory
pleasures promised by false â€śgodsâ€ť. He squandered his inheritance on a life of
indulgence, and ended up in abject poverty and misery. When he reached the very
lowest point, hungry and abandoned, he realized how foolish he had been to leave
his loving father. Humbly, he returned and asked forgiveness. Joyfully his
father embraced him and exclaimed: â€śThis son of mine was dead, and has come
back to life; he was lost, and is foundâ€ť (Lk 15:24).
Many of you must have had personal experience of what that young man went
through. Perhaps you have made choices that you now regret, choices that led
you down a path which, however attractive it appeared at the time, only led you
deeper into misery and abandonment. The choice to abuse drugs or alcohol, to
engage in criminal activity or self-harm, may have seemed at the time to offer a
way out of a difficult or confusing situation. You now know that, instead of
bringing life, it brings death. I wish to acknowledge your courage in choosing
to turn back onto the path of life, just like the young man in the parable. You
have accepted help â€“ from friends or family, from the staff who run the â€śAliveâ€ť
programme: from people who care deeply for your well-being and happiness.
Dear friends, 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. All through the Gospels, it was
those who had taken wrong turnings who were particularly loved by Jesus, because
once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing
message. Indeed, Jesus was often criticized by self-righteous members of
society for spending so much time with such people. â€śWhy does your master eat
with tax collectors and sinners?â€ť, they asked. He responded: â€śIt is not the
healthy who need the doctor, but the sick â€¦ I did not come to call the virtuous
but sinnersâ€ť (cf. Mt 9:11-13). It was those who were willing to rebuild
their lives who were most ready to listen to Jesus and become his disciples.
You can follow in their footsteps, you too can grow particularly close to Jesus
because you have chosen to turn back towards him. You can be sure that, just
like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, Jesus welcomes you with open
arms. He offers you unconditional love â€“ and it is in loving friendship with
him that the fullness of life is to be found.
I mentioned earlier that when we love we are fulfilling our deepest need and
becoming most fully ourselves, most fully human. Loving is what we are
programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not
talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about real love, the
very heart of Jesusâ€™ moral teaching: â€śYou must love the Lord your God with all
your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strengthâ€ť
and â€śYou must love your neighbour as yourselfâ€ť (cf. Mk 12:30-31). This,
if you like, is the programme that is hard-wired into every human person, if
only we had the wisdom and generosity to live by it, if only we were ready to
sacrifice our own preferences so as to be of service to others, to give our
lives for the good of others, and above all for Jesus, who loved us and gave his
life for us. That is what human beings are called to do, that is what it means
to be truly alive.
Dear young friends, my message to you today is the same one that Moses proposed
all those years ago. â€śChoose life, so that you and your descendants may live in
the love of the Lord your Godâ€ť. 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. That is my
prayer for each one of you this World Youth Day. May God bless you all.