Pope Francis' Words Of Encouragement
"Jesus does not lie to us; he takes us seriously."
Pope Francis told this to a group of young people during his apostolic visit to Paraguay a couple of years ago. He was talking about life as a football game where people need to decide which team to play for.
"Jesus doesn't tell us that we will be stars, celebrities, in this life," Pope Francis said. "He tells us that playing with him is about humility, love, service to others."
On a recent plane ride, I started reading "The Courage to Be Happy," a collection of Pope Francis' talks with young people around the world. I kept marking the pages because I found his messages refreshing and inspiring.
Pope Francis' words are full of hope, but he is also clear about the challenges and sacrifices needed to persevere in faith. How different from the messages young people keep hearing from ads, magazines and social networks!
A lot of the reflections really spoke to me and I wanted to share them with you. For example, the pope told students of Jesuit schools in Italy and Albania that Jesus is close to young people as a companion who helps, understands and never abandon us. The pope's words centered on freedom and service but also included practical advice like saying that constant spiritual formation helps us to discover how truly close Jesus is in our lives.
He added more about freedom and service: "Being free to choose goodness is demanding but it will make you into people with a backbone who can face life, people with courage and patience."
In the collection of talks, the pope also calls challenges an invitation to courage, to be a witness to what you believe in. Being anchored in the love of Christ helps us overcome problems, setbacks and failures.
"Even now you are challenged to act with honesty and fairness in your dealings with others, young and old alike," the pope said in the Philippines in 2015.
Love and hope are core themes in all of the prepared speeches, impromptu remarks and answers to young people's questions. Learning how to love means to take a risk, he told young people in the Philippines, while also being honest and fair. The love he talks about is not selfish, but it is life-giving, based on deeds and respect.
The pope is also honest about how Christian hope goes beyond optimism. He told young people in Uganda that hope "will not disappoint us, because God's love was poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit at our baptism."
This hope "enables us to trust in Christ's promises, to trust in the power of his love, his forgiveness, his friendship," he said. Hope involves taking risks and avoiding false promises of fleeting or selfish pleasures.
I think one of the reasons young people feel drawn to Pope Francis is that he makes an effort to take young people seriously. He does not make promises of an easy and carefree life. His words are based on truths but also are a response to his listening to young people.
"What is it that shapes your life? … Where do your hopes and aspirations lie?" Pope Francis asked the youth of Cuba on Sept. 20, 2015. His next question could be directed to all of us: "Are you ready to put yourself on the line for the sake of something even greater?"
The pope is clear that a life of happiness with God, though not easy, is true and long-lasting. It takes courage to be truly happy.
Maria-Pia Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.