"That hour decided the course of John's life, and he never forgot it," Cantalamessa said, and stressed the importance of helping young people today understand not only what God and the Church expect of them and what they can offer to the Church and to society, but also to help youth understand what Jesus himself can offer to them.
He pointed to how John described his experience with Jesus as the "fullness of joy" and an "abundant life," and urged members of the Church to accept Francis' invitation in Evangelii Gaudium to "a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them."
"I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord," he said, continuing to quote Francis.
Cantalamessa said it is possible to encounter Christ today because He is risen and alive, and that after this personal encounter takes place, "everything is possible."
Speaking directly to youth, the papal preacher said they have a special mission "to rescue human love from the tragic drift in which it had ended up: love that is no longer a gift of self but only the possession – often violent and tyrannical – of another."
Pointing to the self-sacrificial "agape" love shown by Jesus on the cross and the desiring, "eros" love that "welcomes, that pursues, that desires, and that finds joy in being loved in return," Cantalamessa said these two types of love are linked, and cannot be separated from each other.
God both desires man and exercises charity toward him, he said, explaining that learning how to love like God "is not a question of renouncing the joys of love, attraction, and 'eros,' but of knowing how to unite 'eros' and 'agape' in the desire for another, the ability to give oneself to the other."
Learning how to do this will not happen "in one day," he said, and told youth to start preparing themselves now to give themselves either to another person in marriage, or to God in a consecrated vocation.
This preparation, he said, can begin now with something as simple as a smile or a gift of one's time or service in one's family, parish or volunteer work, which "so many of you are already quietly doing."
Elise Harris was senior Rome correspondent for CNA from 2012 to 2018.