Faith Matters

Pope Francis: 'Life in front of the mirror is no good'

A month after his visit to Ireland, Pope Francis has been on his travels again, this time to the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In a gruelling four-day schedule, the Pope reflected on the countries' difficult pasts. During a meeting with older people in Riga, Latvia, he recalled that many of those present were victims of "the horror of the war, then political repression, persecution and exile". Yet they had "remained steadfast" and "persevered in their faith", he said: "Neither the Nazi regime nor the Soviet regime could extinguish the faith in your hearts." Francis also addressed the next generation, telling them not to give up in the face of difficulties and to join Jesus' 'revolution of tenderness'. In the cathedral square in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, he spoke to a crowd of thousands of young people after listening to their stories and witness

Pope Francis spoke to young people in the Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania during his visit to the Baltic this week. He told them to not get "trapped in a maze, but follow a path that leads to the future". Picture by AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

I listened to your witness as a friend, as if we were sitting close to one another in some bar, telling one another about our lives as we drink a beer after going to the theatre or cinema.

But your lives are not a piece of theatre; they are real and concrete.

Perhaps all this helps us to think back on your stories and to find in them the footprint of God, for God is always passing through our lives.

He is always passing by. A great philosopher said: "I am afraid when God passes by - afraid that I do not notice him."

Like this cathedral, you have times when you think you are falling apart, fires from which you think you can never rebuild.

Think of all the times this cathedral went up in flames and fell apart. Yet there were always people ready to start rebuilding; they refused to let themselves be overwhelmed by hardship: they never gave up.

There is a lovely Alpine song that goes like this: "In the art of climbing, the secret lies not so much in not falling down, but in not staying fallen down."

Always start over again, always, and that's how you will climb.

The freedom of your nation, too, was won by men and women who did not flinch before terror and misfortune.

God gives us the grace to be strong, to lift ourselves up and to keep moving forward in life.

There are always people in life who give us a hand to help us pick ourselves up.

We should let ourselves be carried along by a current of grace - the Lord saves us by making us part of a people.

He places us within a people, and our identity will be through our belonging to a people.

No-one can say,"I am saved on my own." We are all interconnected, we are all 'networked'.

God wanted to enter into this web of relationships and he draws us to himself in community; he gives to our lives the deepest sense of identity and belonging.

So don't let the world make you believe that it is better to do everything on your own. On your own, you never get there.

Yes, you can manage to arrive at success in your life - but without love, without companions, without belonging to a people, without that beautiful experience of taking risks together.

You can't move forward on your own. Don't yield to the temptation of getting caught up in yourself, only looking after yourself, being tempted to become selfish or superficial in the face of sorrow, difficulty or temporary success.

Let us say once again: "Whatever happens to others happens to me."

Let us swim against the current of that individualism which isolates us, makes us egocentric and makes us become vain, concerned only for our image and our own well-being, concerned with our image, with how we look.

Life in front of the mirror is no good. On the other hand, life is beautiful with others, in our families, with friends.

We are Christians and we want to aim for holiness. Aim for holiness through your encounters and your fellowship with other people; be attentive to their needs.

Who we really are has to do with our being part of a people. Our identity exists in walking together, of struggling together, of loving together.

Identity does exist in belonging to a family, to a people. An identity does exist that gives you love, tenderness, concern for others.

An identity does exist that gives you the strength to struggle and at the same time the tenderness to caress.

Each one of us knows how beautiful it is to belong to a people, but also how tiring it is - and even, at times, painful.

But that is the basis of our identity; we are not rootless. We are not rootless people.

Prayer and song keep us from getting caught up in this world alone. Prayer can certainly be an experience of 'spiritual warfare', but it is in prayer that we learn to listen to the Spirit, to discern the signs of the times and to find renewed strength for proclaiming the Gospel each day.

How else could we fight the temptation to become discouraged by our frailties and our difficulties, and those of others, and by all the dreadful things that happen in our world?

What would we do if prayer did not teach us to believe that everything depends on us, when we are alone and wrestling with adversity?

As Saint Alberto Hurtado used to say, "Jesus and I are an absolute majority."

Seeing the frailty of others gives us perspective; it helps us not to go through life licking our wounds.

It is no good living by complaining. It is no good living to lick our wounds.

How many young people leave home for lack of opportunities, and how many are victims of depression, alcohol and drugs?

How many of the elderly are lonely, without anyone to share the present, and fearful that the past will return?

You, young people, can respond to these challenges by your presence, by your encounter with others.

Jesus invites us to step out of ourselves and to risk a face-to-face encounter with others.

It is true that believing in Jesus can often demand taking a leap of blind faith, and this can be frightening.

At other times, it can make us question ourselves, and force us to abandon our preconceptions.

That can involve anguish and we can be tempted to discouragement.

But stand firm - following Jesus is a passionate adventure that gives meaning to our lives and makes us feel part of a community that encourages us, a community that accompanies us, and commits us to the service of others.

Dear young people, following Christ is something worthwhile. Do not be afraid to take part in the revolution to which he invites us: the revolution of tenderness.

If life were a theatre piece or a video game, it would be limited to a precise time, and have a beginning and an end, when the curtain falls or one team wins the game.

But life measures time differently, not with the time of a theatre piece or a video game; it follows God's heartbeat.

Life does not stand still; it always involves moving forward, seeking the right way without being afraid to retrace our steps if we make a mistake.

The most dangerous thing is to confuse the path with a maze that keeps us wandering in circles without ever making real progress.

Please, as young people, don't let yourselves get trapped in a maze, but follow a path that leads to the future.

Don't ever be afraid to put your trust in Jesus, to embrace his cause, the cause of the Gospel, the cause of humanity, of human beings.

Because he never jumps off the ship of our life; he is always there at life's crossroads.

Even when our lives go up in flame, he is always there to rebuild them. Jesus gives us plenty of time, lots of room for failure.

Nobody has to emigrate from him; he has a place for everyone.

There are many people out there who want to capture your hearts.

They want to sow weeds in your field, but if, in the end, we entrust our lives to the Lord, the good grain will always prevail.

:: From an address by Pope Francis to a meeting with young people in front of the cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania on September 22

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