“Do you know the commandments?”
Christ's response to the rich young man, telling him to keep God’s commandments, is proposed to all youth, John Paul II wrote. God’s commandments “determine the essential bases of behavior, decide the moral value of human acts, and remain in organic relationship with man's vocation to eternal life.”
“In the words of divine Revelation is inscribed the clear code of morality, of which the tablets of the Decalogue of Mount Sinai remain the key- point, and the culmination of which is found in the Gospel: in the Sermon on the Mount and in the commandment of love.”
This code of morality is also “inscribed in the moral conscience of humanity,” he wrote. The pope noted that St. Paul called conscience a “witness” to the moral law written in the gospel.
“The upright conscience responds with an interior reaction to man's corresponding deeds: it accuses or excuses,” St. John Paul II wrote. “But the conscience must not be distorted; the fundamental formulation of the principles of morality must not surrender to deformation by any kind of relativism or utilitarianism.”
The pope told young people that “Christ asks you about the state of your moral awareness, and at the same time he questions you about the state of your conscience. This is a key question for man: it is the fundamental question of your youth, one that concerns the whole plan of life which must be formed precisely in youth … The value of this plan depends in an essential way on the authenticity and rectitude of your conscience. It also depends on its sensitivity.”
“Man carries with him the treasure of conscience, the deposit of good and evil, across the frontier of death, in order that, in the sight of him who is holiness itself, he may find the ultimate and definitive truth about his whole life,” JPII wrote.
In response to Christ’s statement about the commandments, the rich young man is able to say that he has observed the commandments from his youth; in other words, he has cultivated what the saintly pope called a “moral personality.”
“It is my hope that your youth will provide you with a sturdy basis of sound principles, that your conscience will attain in these years of your youth that mature clearsightedness that during your whole lives will enable each one of you to remain always a 'person of conscience', a 'person of principles', a 'person who inspires trust', in other words, a person who is credible,” he wrote.
St. John Paul II also expressed his hope that everyone could experience the loving gaze that Christ gave to the young man in that moment, which contained “a summary and synthesis of the entire Good News...an affirmation of man and of humanity” that Christ alone is capable of giving.
“When everything would make us doubt ourselves and the meaning of our life, then this look of Christ, the awareness of the love that in him has shown itself more powerful than any evil and destruction, this awareness enables us to survive.”
"What must I do?"
For the rich young man, simply following God’s commandments does not seem to be enough, and he asks: “What do I still lack?” Christ replies: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."
St. John Paul II described this desire to transition from following “mere moral obligations” to a “higher” and “deeper” dimension of spirituality, which he said is the first calling to the “particular vocation” of the priesthood.
“If such a call comes into your heart, do not silence it!” he wrote. “Let it develop into the maturity of a vocation! Respond to it through prayer and fidelity to the commandments!”
“During youth a person puts the question, 'What must I do?' not only to himself and to other people from whom he can expect an answer, especially his parents and teachers, but he puts it also to God, as his Creator and Father. He puts it in the context of this particular interior sphere in which he has learned to be in a close relationship with God, above all in prayer. He therefore asks God: 'What must I do?', what is your plan for my life? Your creative, fatherly plan? What is your will? I wish to do it...the young person, boy or girl, constructs his or her plan of life and at the same time recognizes this plan as the vocation to which God is calling him or her.”
This vocation could also be to marriage, the saint said, a sacrament which he warned must not be distorted.
He warned against attempts “to impose on environments and even entire societies a model that calls itself 'progressive' and 'modern',” which “transforms a human being and perhaps especially a woman from a subject into an object.”
This model reduces the whole content of love to pleasure, and nor should children, the fruit of a loving union, be seen merely as “an annoying addition.”
Seek the truth “where it is really to be found,” the saint exhorted. “If necessary, be resolved to go against the current of popular opinion and propaganda slogans! Do not be afraid of the love that places clear demands on people. These demands-as you find them in the constant teaching of the Church-are precisely capable of making your love a true love.”
“The Church and humanity entrust to you the great reality of that love which is the basis of marriage, the family and the future. The Church and humanity firmly believe that you will bring about its rebirth; they firmly believe that you will make it beautiful: beautiful in a human and Christian way,” he wrote.
"Growth in stature and in wisdom"
Family bonds that we learn about and develop as young people should lead us to “gradually experience this social bond which is wider than that of the family,” to begin to “share in responsibility for the common good” of all humanity, St. John Paul II wrote. Education plays a vital role, but “the knowledge which frees man does not depend on education alone...though education, the systematic knowledge of reality, should serve the dignity of the human person. It should therefore serve the truth.”
“Youth should be a process of 'growth' bringing with it the gradual accumulation of all that is true, good and beautiful,” he wrote. “To be truly free means to use one's own freedom for what is a true good. Continuing therefore: to be truly free means to be a person of upright conscience, to be responsible, to be a person 'for others'.”
The pope, at the close of his letter, encourages the young to ask difficult questions in their pursuit of the truth.
“My hope for you young people is that your 'growth in stature and in wisdom' will come about through contact with nature. Make time for this! Do not miss it! Accept too the fatigue and effort that this contact sometimes involves, especially when we wish to attain particularly challenging goals. Such fatigue is creative, and also constitutes the element of healthy relaxation which is as necessary as study and work.”
“I repeat these words of the Mother of God and I address them to you, to each one of you young people: 'Do whatever Christ tells you'.”