“What does it mean to live the years of our youth in the transforming light of the Gospel?” (Pope Francis, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christ is Alive, n. 134). This is a pertinent question that Pope Francis does not fail to ask, reaffirming the need to welcome youth as a gift and grace, not as a burden or time to waste.
He even says that “making the most of our youthful years entails seeing this season of life as worthwhile in itself, and not simply as a brief prelude to adulthood.” (Pope Francis, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christ is Alive, n. 135).
Youth is a time of discovery, but it is also a time in which young people sometimes refuse to grow out of their adolescent tendencies and other times accept to grow up into adulthood. Both stages are part and parcel of “being young.”
This time–which is a big part of our life–scares us. We are called to make a series of decisions that forces us out of our comfortable childhood bubble and affect the way we live our lives in the future. These choices influence us at different levels in our lives. In the same way, this is the time when we are called to stop living from illusions and to start living out our dreams.
However, that is where the problems begin: on the one hand, the idea that if we make concrete choices then we compromise the future, which may cause us problems or even block out other possibilities; on the other hand, the idea of making a serious and accompanied discernment, in which Christ is part of the path, leads us to think that we might end up in a religious tangle that has nothing to do with us.
After all, we want to be ourselves! We want to live our dreams! We do not deny God, but we want our personal fulfillment. What do we do? How do we live out our youthful days free from these fears?
Fear of Getting It Right!
Fear is never a good advisor! We must not confuse it with prudence, but we must avoid its advances for it can paralyze us when facing the future. The fear of making mistakes erodes our youth, wastes it with empty futilities that make us lose credibility with society.
However, this fear often underlies another: what if the steps we take towards our dreams work well? What if we go on an assertive path of vocational discernment? The fear of “getting it right” is also evident today. As if, in some way, the vocation swallows us up and prevents us from being who we are, as if the experience of the vocation is only possible if we become someone else.
Well … if that was the case, we wouldn’t be talking about a true vocation or life in God. Let us get rid of our fears! Let us stop using them as an excuse to not set out on our path.
“The love of God and our relationship with the living Christ do not hold us back from dreaming; they do not require us to narrow our horizons. On the contrary, that love elevates us, encourages us and inspires us to a better and more beautiful life.” (Pope Francis, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christ is Alive, n. 138)
There is nothing to fear! In God everything is possible. He addresses the youth, saying: “Arise!” (Mark 5, 41). Those who are young do not stand still, nor allow their lives to stagnate or go with the wind. “Get up!” The “I” that inhabits yourself does not have to disappear! The “I” continues to bloom into full realization for the entire world to see.
The biggest challenge to the “I” is, in effect, letting it be “I.” It seems simple said in this way, but when we are blocked by the idea that the “I” is everything (without having to make choices), we can only fade away to nothing.
We cannot be one thing and its opposite at the same time! Vocational discernment is guided precisely by this discovery of who we are, for these are the foundations that allow us to discover, with authenticity, what we want to be.
In this growth and realization of a “dream steeped in reality and life,” we have the strength that characterizes our youth: boldness! An irreverence that we want to use positively –not to be against everything we are told, but to dare to walk towards what gives meaning and underlies our existence.
This boldness is only possible when it is accompanied by someone who helps us stay grounded as we move forward. We cannot continue in the infantile realm of fantasy! We have to follow the path that leads us to a certain goal without losing focus, without denying difficulties and, above all, without failing to have Christ as a companion on the journey–with Him and in Him, everything is possible.
To look at vocation as something that exists outside of us is to pervert our own vocation. We have to shift our perspective. The vocation is not “a thing” or a path that exists outside of us.
Vocation is the gift of God in us! Like a seed, it already exists within us, so the vocational path is different from what we are commonly told to be: the vocation is not lived “from the outside in”, but “from the inside out”!
This means that vocational discernment is based on two fundamental aspects: the first is directed at the “I” and aims to answer the questions: where is the “seed”? What kind of “seed” is it? The second aspect of discernment is directed at the “we”, that is, the movement “out” of our isolated world. Vocation is a gift in us, for us and the world in which we live.
Think of the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies. Is their “I” just a creeping worm? No! They may live like so, but in their youth, they dare to live in “discernment”. They spend time locked up in themselves, in a suffocating search for what they are. Then, they dare to “go out,” overcome fears and live with the rest of creation. The result: they become beautiful butterflies! They leave behind the idea of a “crawling I” to become a “flying I.”
It is just an analogy, but if you think about it: why do caterpillars turn into butterflies? It is because of God’s gift. Like the caterpillar, the initial “I” is always growing and in deep discovery in their youth. And when the time comes, the courage to break out of their cocoons leads them to be themselves, beyond what they imagined. Maybe it was a “dream to fly”, but God allows that dream to be wrapped in beauty.
God Walks With Us
Our being young is the experience of a path. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or suffocate in the process. We are not alone! God walks with us through the people who accompany us in this journey. Let us dare to live during this time.
“Your youth is not an ‘in-between time.’ You are the now of God, and He wants you to bear fruit, for ‘it is in giving that we receive.’ The best way to prepare a bright future is to experience the present as best we can, with commitment and generosity.” (Pope Francis, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christ is Alive, n. 178)